To Build a Fire: Clues to What’s to Come on Fear the Walking Dead
Alright guys—this is a long one but stick with me to the end—Bicycle Girl has some deep thoughts for you this time and some potential insight into what might be ahead in Fear the Walking Dead.
One of the things I love most about The Walking Dead is how you can watch the show for the action of the scenes all the way to the end, turn it off and not think deeply about it and still completely love the show. At the same time, you can also unravel all of the threads of every scene like a sweater and uncover secrets and deeper meanings if you’re so inclined.
I assumed that Fear the Walking Dead would be the same way, and it hasn’t let me down. For this post, I wanted to share a theory I’ve got cooking about two of the characters. It stems from a couple of scenes in the pilot and continues on in last week’s Episode 3 The Dog.
I think if we start unraveling the threads, there are some secrets to what may be ahead this season or the next waiting to be discovered. So grab hold of a yarn and let’s see what we can unravel.
Looking Deeper into Fear the Walking Dead
On the surface, the scene that started this whole theory of mine doesn’t seem like much. It occurs towards the beginning of the pilot when Madison steps into the classroom while Travis is lecturing his English class.
We’ve all seen scenes like this before–the capable teacher breaking through to the student. It’s so familiar that it’s easy to take it at face value and assume all that’s being conveyed is that Travis is good at what he does–getting students to think. After all, he manages to get an answer out of a student that genuinely seems disinterested in the lecture.
But what Travis is teaching is significant. The lecture is on To Build a Fire, a short story by Jack London. The author of famous novels like The Call of the Wild and White Fang, London focused a lot on the struggles between man and nature. In fact, nature is almost always an unseen character in its own right, a villain or at least a foil to the hero, in his works.
I think that choosing To Build a Fire is very significant–not just because of its subject matter but because of its length. It’s definitely not London’s most famous work, but it’s short. It’s less than 8,000 words long, and you can easily read it in under an hour, even if you’re a slower reader (like me!). The text is also available for free online, so you can check it out, and I recommend you check it out if you want to get the full jist of this post.
I think that a short story was intentionally chosen because viewers could read it and discover the clues I’m going to lay out for you.
Before we get too much of this sweater undone, I need to tell you quickly what To Build a Fire is about, and sadly, I have to spoil the end.
Basically, the story is of a man who has recently moved to the Yukon and has only a little experience hiking through the wilderness. He sets off one day on a hike in freezing temperatures, but despite how cold it is, he is not worried about what might happen to him. London says:
“The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.”
Remember that cause it’s important!
So this man who fails to see the significance of things sets off on a walk with his dog.
We never learn their names.
They are just The Man and The Dog.
The walk goes okay at first. The Dog is a little apprehensive because it realizes how cold it is and doesn’t understand why The Man is traveling in the harsh conditions.
Shortly after they head out, The Dog has a close call, stepping into some frozen water. Fortunately, it’s able to lick its paw dry and keep going.
When The Man gets his boot wet, he isn’t so lucky. Realizing he needs to get his foot dry and warm, he attempts to build a fire. And he attempts in vain.
Again and again, nature gets in his way. The Man suffers numerous setbacks. Basically, whatever you could imagine happening to somebody trying to build a fire happens to this poor bastard. At one point, he even gets a fire started, but snow ends up falling from a tree onto it because he put the fire in the wrong spot.
In the end, The Man freezes to death, and The Dog turns and heads off “in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers.”
My theory is that Travis is The Man from the story. He is about to set off into a world that he has no real experience with, only instead of being covered with ice and snow, it is filled with the walking dead.
Of course, we are now only in the beginning of the story. So at this point, we’re just seeing Travis as a man “without imagination.”
He is able to understand that something isn’t right, but the full gravity of the situation–just how bad it is and what must be done–eludes him. He should know better, too, because he told his class himself
Nature always wins.
It was such an important line to remember that AMC made a promo shot with the quote.
There are plenty of examples of Travis’ “lack of imagination”:
- He realized Matt was bitten and that his illness was caused by that, but he did not have the ability to foresee that he needed to be killed to keep from becoming like Calvin was in the tunnel.
- When he returned home and found Dawson in the living room, he could see the man was not in his right mind but did not have the foresight to realize he needed to defend himself.
- When Daniel wanted to teach Chris how to use the rifle, Travis protested, unable to imagine that his son will need to know how to defend himself.
- Although Susan had tried to bite Alicia, Travis stopped Madison from killing her, not able to come to terms with the fact that their neighbor was already dead.
- Despite the fact that the world is crumbling around them, Travis maintained the routine of taking out the trash, trying to continue on with life in the old world, as if he cannot feel the “cold” of the “Yukon” and just continues to hike.
Of course, if Fear the Walking Dead is going to proceed like To Build a Fire, then things don’t look too good for Travis. At some point, he is going to end up in a dire situation, which will force him to have to suddenly fight for survival in this new, strange world.
If nature truly always wins, there’s a good chance Travis will die before all is said and done.
So who will be all right in the end? The Dog.
Nick is The Dog.
How do I know? He said so himself.
It happened in the very next scene of the pilot when the nurse says “I take my dog out when I want to,” and he responded,
“Oh, I’m the dog?”
I believe that the title of Episode 3 didn’t refer to the family’s poor German shepherd dog but to The Dog–to Nick.
After all, during the episode, he was the one who had enough instinct to know they should go next door and get the gun, and he said Susan was dead when Madison said she was sick.
Nick already got his paws wet in the ice twice–once at the ruined church and once with Calvin. Like The Dog, he seems better equipped to live in the world where Nature rules–assuming he can break completely free of the hold man’s drugs have on him.
It’ll be interesting to see if the show continues to seemingly parallel Jack London’s story. I know I’ll be tuning in this week to see if these sparks of a theory can build into a bigger fire.