Fear the Walking Dead is Shakespeare
Dig it. I knew the moment we were introduced to a character named Ofelia that something was up. That meant something. Writers don’t do that without intention. Like in Inception, when we meet Ariadne. Please. No one is named Ariadne. No one except the goddess of labyrinths. Ooohhh… meaning. So what did Ofelia mean for Fear the Walking Dead?
It wasn’t until a very specific scene in Episode 5 that it all came together for me. We see David walking into the kitchen with a yellow bowl that contains the filleted skin of Andrew.
As he approached the sink and set the bowl down it hit me: a pound of flesh. Now, where was that saying from? My first instinct was the bible, and I was wrong. It’s Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, to be exact. And I studied Shakespeare in college. Christ. So what’s the situation with that saying? In Merchant of Venice, the character, Shylock, is exacting a pound of flesh from Antonio who welched on an agreement to pay him back for a loan. In Fear the Walking Dead, Andrew welched on getting the medication for Griselda. So what does her husband, David, do? Exact his pound of flesh. He very specifically skinned his arm, strip by strip. He didn’t break his fingers, pull his nails off with pliers, or slice off an ear. He skinned Andrews arm and kept the skin in a bowl. David is Shylock. Ofelia is…Ophelia. Everyone in this show is a Shakespeare character.
Now, these characters aren’t all in the same play, but they all meet here on the battleground that is Los Angeles. And there is a clue from the very first episode that we were all distracted from. When Travis is in his classroom teaching his students about Jack London’s To Build a Fire, our attention is drawn to the blackboard and the subject at hand. But what is that to the left of the blackboard?
A huge ass poster of Shakespeare. I mean huge, even by English class standards.
OK, they might all be Shakespeare characters but only one of them was named after one. What is the significance of choosing Ofelia? In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Ophelia is most well-known for a speech she gives about different flowers that she is handing out to various people.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.
And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.
There’s fennel for you, and columbines.
There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays.
O, you must wear your rue with a difference!
There’s a daisy.
I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died.
They say he made a good end.
Symbolism, man. From the beginning of the series, I felt there were an inordinate number of flowers and foliage represented in this show. And each of those flowers represents something different:
Rosemary – remembrance
Pansies – thoughts
Fennel – casting out evil, marital fidelity
Columbines – foolishness, innocence, forsaken lovers, flattery
Rue – regret, sorrow, repentance
Daisy – purity, innocence, loyal love, simplicity
Violets – love that is delicate, spiritual wisdom, humility, intuition, faithfulness
Well, hells bells. I bet those particular flowers are all over this damn show. Sure enough, I was right.
Daisies are all over the pilot episode. On the hippie van in Venice…
on the nurses scrubs when Nick is in the hospital…
laid between two memorial candles on a wall.
Purity, innocence, simplicity.
Episode 2: So Close, Yet So Far. Alicia is wearing two blue bracelets adorned with white daises. One for her, one for Ben.
In this episode we meet Ofelia and her parents in their barbershop. What’s on a shelf in the backroom?
Pots of daisies. Purity, innocence, loyal love, simplicity.
Episode 3: The Dog. There are daisies on the chandelier in the Clark home.
The picture over the dining room table by the backdoor at their neighbor, Susan’s, looks like fennel to me: casting out evil, marital fidelity.
Liza and Travis speaking in the kitchen, there appears to be some rosemary by the sink: remembrance.
There are daisies on Alicia’s headboard where Griselda is convalescing, but they are in fragments, the way artificial daisies would look if you took them apart. Innocence falling apart?
And at the end of this episode when Susan is shuffling towards her husband, Peter, soldiers appear behind them and open fire as they embrace and fall to the ground. What is to our right of Susan?
Fennel: casting out evil, and marital fidelity: her walker ass getting taken down while in the loving arms of her husband.
Episode 4: Not Fade Away. Travis goes to his neighbor Doug’s house to talk to him and calm him down. What’s on the bedspread in Doug’s bedroom?
Pansies: thoughts.Doug is overwhelmed by thoughts of what is happening, what will happen, and what, if anything, he can do.
Back at the Clark home, Madison confronts Nick in a spare room and slaps the shit out of him. What’s on the curtains in that room?
Columbines: foolishness, innocence, flattery. Nick got all of that smacked right out of him.
Episode 5: Cobalt. When David comes to the kitchen with the bloody bowl, the camera cuts to a distraught Ofelia. Directly over her shoulder in a glinting gold oval frame, with a bold blue background, is a stark white flower known as rue.
What does rue represent? Regret, sorrow, repentance. This is the one flower in the play that Ophelia also keeps for herself. This definitely feels like the theme of this episode, if not the whole series.
Man, that is a lot of botany and symbolism! But wait, if everyone in this show is a Shakespeare character, then who’s who? Allow me to speculate:
Ofelia – Ophelia, Hamlet
Daniel – Shylock, The Merchant of Venice
Andrew – Antonio, The Merchant of Venice
Grizelda – Gertrude, Hamlet
Nick – Hamlet, Hamlet
Madison – Lady Macbeth, Macbeth
Travis – Theseus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Liza – Titania – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Alicia – Juliet, Romeo and Juliet
Chris – Romeo, Romeo and Juliet
Strand – Othello, Othello
Nick is obviously Hamlet.
Everyone thinks he’s a lunatic addict who is seeing things, while he struggles with withdrawal and his addiction, finding more drugs, and the different forms of his personality when he’s doped up and when he’s sober. That is Hamlet, right there. Existential crisis, to be or not to be, I’m seeing dead people… Yeah. Hamlet is a play that deals with the effect of a mother’s guilt on her son. The guilt of being an addict’s mother, and the struggle to deal with that guilt, is a theme that plagues both Nick and Madison throughout the series. Will Nick end up with Ofelia? Ophelia loved Hamlet but it didn’t end so well for her… she drown herself. Oops.
Madison is Lady Macbeth from Macbeth.
In the second episode, after she bashes in her principals head, we see her washing her hands off in the bathtub at home. Lady Macbeth is famous for her “Out damn spot, out!” line, where she tried desperately to wash her hands of the blood, and the responsibility, of another persons death.
Grizelda is Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother in Hamlet.
Gertrude has a checkered past which included marrying her husband’s brother, who was also his murderer. Ouch. We know Grizelda and David have a dark past involving violence, murder and death, though it’s never spoken about in great detail. In Hamlet, Gertrude is accidentally poisoned. She doesn’t confess to any sins before she dies and makes no attempts to ease her conscience regarding whether she would be sent to Heaven or Hell. Grizelda flat out tells God that he’s the Devil, that they are one and the same. She doesn’t apologize for any transgressions in her past either. They are both honest women and passionate mothers.
Travis is Theseus.
Mr. Mayor. The man who would organize his community and lead them. This was the role of Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Liza is Titania, Queen of the faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Liza and Travis fight over who will be responsible for Chris, who should have him and when. Titania and her husband, Oberon, have the same fight in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Maybe the Doctor is Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream…
having bewitched Liza into coming with her to the hospital to help. Liza really wants to believe things will be OK and that she can save everyone, but the illusion wears off, and Puck’s promise falls through.
Alicia and Chris are Romeo and Juliet.
The two members of waring families who shall unite them with their love! They haven’t been that keen on each other but seem to be getting closer. Chris pulled Alicia over the wall to save her from walker Susan, even though it pissed her off. And in the mansion when they’re playing dress-up in rich clothes, that stolen glance in the mirror as Alicia started pulling the straps of her dress off her shoulder… yeah something’s going to go down there, for sure.
Strand is Othello, and not because he’s the black guy.
Strand is assembling an army to take into the new landscape. Othello was an army general who did the same. Also, Strand seems to have a loved one, possibly a wife, who is either on the awaiting ship, or is no longer with us, as evidenced by the small picture frame he picks up in his room in Episode 6. Othello strangled his wife, Desdemona, to death because he thought she cheated on him. Will that factor in to Strand’s story?
Back to the first episode in Travis’s classroom, under the Shakespeare poster is a rather prominent poster featuring Antigone, a mythical Greek character.
The name means “worthy of one’s parents” or “in place of one’s parents”. We’ve got four kids here, each having lost a parent, each having, in some way, tried to fulfill the role of parent for someone in the group. Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta. So…incest babies. Nice. Pseudo incest between Alicia and Chris as step-siblings? Inappropriate love between…I don’t want to think about it? Will another character arrive who represents Antigone? Be on the look out, I say.
Season 1 left us with the group getting ready to board a ship. Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, involves a shipwreck. What new characters will emerge? What can we predict for the show based on The Bard’s plays?