Sunday's Fear the Walking Dead made a bold choice. The episode, which caught up with what barber/former Salvadoran death squad leader Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) has been up to in Mexico after he disappeared in Season 2, was almost entirely in Spanish.
It made sense to have most of the dialogue be in Spanish since the episode is set in a Spanish-speaking country with Spanish-speaking characters. Creatively, it was the right way to tell the story. But in an era where all art is politicized whether it wants to be or not, it also felt like a political statement of a kind that The Walking Dead franchise usually avoids.
The Walking Dead is apolitical, which is part of what contributes to its massive broad appeal. Its identity politics pretty much come down to "zombies don't care what race, gender or sexual orientation you are, and so we have to cooperate to survive," which is a concept that anyone of any political persuasion can theoretically get behind. But Fear the Walking Dead has always been a little more thoughtful than its big brother.
This season, we're not getting outright social commentary, but we are getting an acknowledgment that there are tensions between the United States and Mexico that wouldn't necessarily be instantly erased in the event of a zombie apocalypse, as we see in the semi-overt racism of the survivalist Otto family. It's not like anyone is talking about building a wall, but telling a border story in 2017 is inevitably loaded. Airing an episode of a show this big mostly in Spanish is notable even if it's trying not be (or shouldn't be).
To its credit, the episode doesn't tilt conspicuously toward political or apolitical. It feels natural that it's almost entirely in Spanish, and doesn't call attention to that fact. Still, there was a split between fans who appreciated the episode's respectful representation of Spanish-speaking characters and fans who were mad they had to read subtitles.
#FearTWD just had an episode without a single white face and hardly any English dialogue. Show me another NA genre show that bold.— Slander (@Slanderpanic) June 19, 2017
The was the best episode yet of Fear The Walking Dead— Dan Ruch 🇺🇸 (@djruch10) June 19, 2017
Fear the Walking Dead takes place in Mexico, there's gonna be Spanish in the show, get over it if you're too lazy to read the subtitles— Damian Gordillo (@oh_heck_damina) June 19, 2017
I'm surprised how much 6 years of Spanish classes helped me understand Fear the Walking Dead w/o subs tonight. It was actually a good ep.— MAR¥ (@RouseMouse1) June 19, 2017
Fear the Walking Dead officially just became better than The Walking Dead, taking good risks. 98% of the latest episode was in Spanish.— Nick Graziano (@NickGraziano) June 19, 2017
I love that they're getting away with cursing cuz it's in Spanish #FearTWD— ⚡️Ashley ⚡️ (@R3ckl3ssHarmony) June 19, 2017
It's kind of cool that The Walking Dead franchise has other ways to alienate fans besides killing off beloved characters in excessively violent ways (and if subtitles are going to drive you away, you're not a good fan anyway).
Dear Fear the Walking Dead... I would be reading a book if that's what I wanted to do.— Author AmyArmbruster (@AmyArmbruster1) June 19, 2017
I would probably continue to watch "Fear the walking dead" If AMC had the good sense to air an English version in the US. ...— William Schaefer (@Billytech) June 19, 2017
@AMCTalkingDead I won't be watching Fear the Walking Dead any more because I don't speak Spanish— Robert Klein (@RobertK14378500) June 19, 2017
a spanish episode is hard to get through, but a full spanish episode focused on one character was terrible. episode was a mistake #FearTWD— ky (@alycified) June 19, 2017
The majority of tweets about the Spanish-language episode seem to be positive, though, so the risk paid off for showrunner Dave Erickson & Co.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.