Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 12 was a beautiful, poignant, and hauntingly heartbreaking episode. While it still faced a few plothole moments that are typical in almost any FTWD episode, it made up for it with a beautifully woven story that left tears in my eyes more than one time. This episode may end up being controversial because of its TV release on Mother’s Day, and for some it might even have needed a trigger warning before it started. But the episode had a powerful — if not heartbreaking — portrayal of a mother’s and her child’s love.
This article has spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 12, “In Dreams.” This review is based on the early AMC+ release on May 6.
Heartbreaking, Beautiful, & Gut-Wrenching
There’s no doubt that the showrunners chose to premiere “In Dreams” on Mother’s Day on purpose. The episode is all about a mother’s love for her child — and her child’s love for her. But the ending took such a dark twist, I was left a bit surprised that they went ahead and premiered it as a Mother’s Day episode after all. I haven’t watched a Mother’s Day episode quite this dark since I watched the first episode of Attack on Titan on Mother’s Day 2014. (And that was by accident, since it was technically released a week before that.)
But I digress…
“In Dreams” was a painstakingly powerful and heartbreaking story. When I realized this was going to be a dream episode, I was skeptical. I don’t typically enjoy dream or hallucination episodes and tend to tune them out. But this one was different. Her dreams were tied to an injury she received when approaching a car bomb rigged by “The End is the Beginning” cult. As a result, she and Morgan couldn’t get medical help and they were left hiding while Morgan frantically tried to wake Grace up before she or her baby died.
Grace’s dream took her years into the future, where she met her 16-year-old daughter Athena. It quickly became apparent that this wasn’t a time jump, considering that everyone seemed to have a perfect life now. However, as she sought to regain consciousness by following Morgan’s real-life conversations with her, she came to believe that her vision was a message of hope. She believed that she would die in childbirth from radiation poisoning, just as her vision foretold. But she was being given a chance by the universe to meet her daughter before she did. Somehow, their consciousnesses were meeting in another universe and saying goodbye as one passed into this life and the other left.
Grace was so certain of this interpretation that she convinced Morgan to give his key to the nuclear sub to the cult leader. She said Athena told her it was the “price of freedom” and that her vision had let her know that everything would be OK in the end anyway.
But it was not to be.
After Morgan followed Grace’s instructions with profound faith (and a lack of any other options that would let them live), Grace went into labor. But things did not turn out as she foretold. Instead, Athena was born stillborn. (The showrunners later explained that this was due to radiation poisoning, and the baby never had a chance to live, even if there hadn’t been a car bomb.) At that moment, Grace realized that it was Athena who was saying goodbye to her.
It was heartbreaking. We see Morgan trying to save little Athena’s life, but the baby simply will not start breathing. We watch as the realization of this devastating death washes over Grace. And all the hope they had of everything being OK — including giving up the key — melts away.
This was a dark, dark episode for Mother’s Day. Not only do many children struggle on this holiday if their mothers have died, but many women struggle on this holiday if they have been trying to have a child and can’t. Or if they had a miscarriage or a child who died, this holiday is particularly heartbreaking for them. (And of course, the same occurs for children mourning their dads on Father’s Day, and men mourning children they have lost.) To portray such a heartbreaking death in such clarity on Mother’s Day — a day when many people are mourning their own children’s deaths, while others are celebrating — was certainly a brave move. But they also did the holiday justice, in many ways. They portrayed just how powerful a mother’s bond can be with her child. And they gave a strong and solemn nod to those who lost babies, portraying just how gut-wrenching such a loss can be.
There were multiple moments in this episode when I felt close to crying. Just a few days ago, I had a dream about my dad (who is no longer alive), where he was young and vibrant, but I could not reach him. It was eery and also cathartic to see an episode like this, portraying many of the emotions that I still felt after waking from such a disturbing dream.
Yes, There Were Plotholes
I’d like to leave the review with the section above, but I feel that a review simply isn’t complete without also mentioning the less-than-perfect parts of the episode. Yes, there were some plotholes. Probably one of the biggest ones was when the cult members were shooting walkers, and didn’t immediately shoot Morgan. Instead, he was able to fight them off to the last one — the man who is second-in-charge.
But then that led us right to another plothole (or shall I say plot armor moment), where Morgan let him walk away without killing him. There was no way that man wasn’t going to call for reinforcements as soon as he got away and bring a reign of terror onto Morgan right as Grace was giving birth. He either needed to kill the man or tie him up and incapacitate him somehow. So when he returned, it wasn’t a huge surprise.
I can buy Morgan taking a leap of faith based on Grace’s dream, because he is a man who needs to believe in a deeper meaning to life. Because of that desperate need, however, I am concerned that this fallout might shake him deeply. He already discovered that the note that had inspired him was left by Dakota, who cost him his best friend’s life. Now he has to realize that a prophecy that Grace delivered was also false hope. Is this going to turn Morgan into a more pragmatic fighter, who simply takes things as he sees them?
This Episode Was Reminiscent of The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 9
Fear the Walking Dead has engaged in moments this season that were callbacks to The Walking Dead or to previous episodes within this series. The moment when Virginia lined up all of Morgan’s friends in the dark, on their knees, was a clear callback to Morgan, for example. John Dorie’s shooting was a callback to Nick’s shooting, even utilizing the same music.
The latest episode was no exception. This was a clear callback to The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 9, when Carl was dying and had a dream of the future. This probably also played a role, at least subconsciously, in why I was so convinced that it was Grace who was going to die. And perhaps they did that on purpose.
In TWD, they teased the flash-forward moments throughout the season, until we finally realized that this was Carl’s dying dream. He wrote about it to his dad, and it played a key role in why Rick ultimately decided not to kill Negan but to keep him in prison. The dream of the future was similar to Grace’s on many levels. Everyone had found a way to live at peace with each other. The enemy had been dealt with and was gone. Everyone was happy and living in a secure home, and they were thriving.
Carl tells Judith, before he dies, that “sometimes kids got to show their parents the way.” That was what Carl did for Rick, and it is perhaps ultimately what Athena did for Grace. I’m not sure how passing along the key really does that, except for buying Morgan more time to eventually track them down and stop them. But even if Athena didn’t leave them with a world-altering message, she did leave them with a message that allowed them to live a little bit longer.