Fear the Walking Dead had faith on its mind in Episode 12 of Season 5, "Ner Tamid." It was surely intentional that the last two words spoken in the episode were "promised land," because this episode was about lost characters wandering in the wilderness in search of something, whether that was a place to call home, in the case of Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) or June (Jenna Elfman), or the rediscovery of lost faith, in the case of Rabbi Jacob Kessner, played by Peter Jacobson.
Every now and then, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead will engage with questions of faith. Characters will wonder about how if there is a God, how could He or She or It allow this zombie apocalypse to happen? Does a religious person hold onto their faith in the face of the breakdown of the world, or do they lose it? What does it even mean to have faith anymore? What happens to your soul in the afterlife when your body gets resurrected as a zombie? (That last one wasn't discussed in this episode, but that's an interesting question to me!) The character who best represents the question of faith on The Walking Dead is Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), an Episcopal priest who lost his faith in the early days of the apocalypse and locked his congregation out of his church, leaving them to die. He was a coward and a traitor at first, but he rediscovered his faith and became a leader of his community, spiritually and otherwise. And he now has a counterpart on Fear in the form of Rabbi Jacob, who lost his faith and his congregation and is now going to try to find it again.
Charlie found Jacob when she was scouting locations for a permanent home for the convoy. She wants to settle down somewhere, because this driving around in a caravan and scavenging supplies reminds her of her time with the Vultures, which ended very badly for everyone except her and June. The rabbi found her, dirty and disheveled after a night spent hiding in a car from walkers, and took her into his synagogue. He told her God brought her here and gave her a brief lesson in Judaism, including the concept of "ner tamid," the eternal flame that signifies God is present, which in his temple is a lamp whose battery is dying, which is causing him a lot of stress.
Rabbi Jacob lives alone in the temple, but he still carries out all the rituals and traditions he did when he had a congregation, because as he tells Charlie, "It works for me. And because of tradition. Tradition is very important. More now than ever." He seems like a devout man keeping the faith after the tragic death of his congregation, and Charlie wanted to stay and live there with the other members of the convoy. God had led her to the promised land. She summoned John (Garret Dillahunt) and June to come see for themselves, but they rejected the idea because the temple just wasn't suited to their needs. But we did get to see John Dorie wear a yarmulke, so that's something. Every episode of Fear the Walking Dead has one thing you never thought you'd see.
And as the episode went on, it was revealed that the rabbi was only going through the motions. His congregation was still there, dead and turned and locked up in another building in the temple complex. And the rabbi lost his faith even before they died. When the world went bad, his congregation came to him for help. Unlike Father Gabriel, Rabbi Jacob let them in, but after a while supplies in the temple were running low, so he left, ostensibly to look for supplies, but really because he no longer believed in God and couldn't lead his congregation. He wandered around, looking for sign to show him what to do. He didn't find it, so he came back, and he found his congregation dead. He survived because he left, he told Charlie. "I'm alive because I didn't believe in God," he said. "If that isn't a clear message, what is?" When he reads the Torah and keeps the ner tamid lit, he's just trying to hold onto what his life used to be. He warned her not to be like him. "Don't lose your people because you can't let go of what you thought this place could be," he said.
While this was going on, John and June were trying to leave the synagogue, which had been swarmed with the remnants of the congregation, and get back to help Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sarah (Mo Collins) deal with an ambush by Logan's (Matt Frewer) men. Rollie (Cory Hart), the guy whose life Dwight spared, made the wrong choice and was now chasing Dwight. But John and June were stranded on top of a parked car amidst a sea of walkers. So the rabbi drew walkers away from John and June by blowing a shofar and luring them into the sanctuary, where they knocked out the ner tamid. God's presence had left the temple, and Jacob and Charlie followed soon after.
John, June, Charlie, and Rabbi Jacob made it back just in time to seemingly scare Rollie and his crew away from Dwight and Sarah's tanker truck, and after the hubbub died down, they had a conversation about faith. June said that she just believed that they would find a place to live. "That's faith, don't underestimate it," Rabbi Jacob said. June may not be religious, but she still believes she'll lead her people out of the desert and into the promised land. Rabbi Jacob, meanwhile, is going to start looking again for what he needs to find, and he won't stop until he finds it. It was hard to tell in that moment whether he meant he'd be setting off on his own, or if he'd be staying with the group, but I suppose we'll find out next week.
Also next week, we'll be finding out more about the mysterious oil field. Dwight was skeptical that Logan's goons would drive off the way they did unless they were up to something, and then the episode's final scene revealed that he was right: They were running a diversion to keep the Helpsters away from the oil field while Logan finally made his way in. He found it. A big confrontation is coming, and hopefully, FINALLY, some people will die. It just feels wrong to go a whole season without anyone dying. It's like watching a whole season of The Office where Jim doesn't look at the camera. It's what we're here for!
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. It's available to stream on Hulu.