With just two episodes left of AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead,” the show had a lot of ground to cover in order to set up next week’s big Season 1 finale. To do that, episode 5, “Cobalt,” had to first address the mystery of the National Guard’s big plan for the surviving L.A. civilians.
Last week's episode ended on a cliffhanger when the National Guard stormed Madison’s (Kim Dickens) house and captured the sick Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) and the drug-addicted Nick (Frank Dillane) in some kind of raid against those that might be potential safety threats if they turn. Episode 5 opens with a chilling scene in which it is revealed where the prisoners of the raid were taken, including Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Madison’s neighbor Doug (John Stewart). After cracking under the pressure of the zombie apocalypse, we find Doug sobbing in a cell with a well-dressed mysterious stranger, played by “Selma” actor Colman Domingo, who sees his weakness and exploits it with his words until Doug finally has an all-out meltdown. That’s when he turns to Nick and a spooky bond is formed between the two.
Meanwhile, back in the neighborhood the National Guard has quarantined, things are starting to get really tense -- and not just between the civilians and the soldiers. Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) is livid that her mother is still missing and starts throwing bottles and debris at a group of National Guard soldiers. Luckily, before they can detain her, her new pseudo-love-interest, Andrew Adams (Shawn Hatosy), talks her down from making a rash decision and offers to walk her home. The moment is dangerous, and it is becoming clear that the soldiers remaining in Los Angeles are having trouble understanding why they should continue to follow their orders.
After the snotty little Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) mouths off to his dad and insults Madison, she starts snooping around the neighborhood only to discover that Ofelia wasn’t too kind to Andrew in return for his walking her home. She discovers the soldier tied up in a bedroom with Ofelia and her father, Daniel (Ruben Blades), standing over him ready to find out where his wife is, one way or another. Daniel asks Madison to take Ofelia away and not allow her to return to the house until he’s done with, presumably, something really bloody and scary that will get the soldier to reveal the location of his wife. Madison isn’t exactly one to condone torturing a United States soldier, but she’s desperate to find out where Nick is, so she turns a blind eye to what’s going on.
While Daniel is looking for answers using his methods, Travis approaches the National Guard’s leader, Lt. Moyers (Jamie McShane) to attempt his method. He informs the major that morale is low on the civilian side of things, but Moyers is only interested in making sure his useful men keep their spirits up -- a task at which he is failing. To get Travis to stop asking questions, he tells the men that they’ll be taking him to see the doctor who is treating the sick so he can bother her instead of him. Unfortunately, while they’re driving through the unsafe zone, Moyers’ men are called in to help a team that’s been overrun by walkers in a nearby building. As Travis is waiting in the car, it becomes clear that the soldiers are losing the battle inside. Two men come running out and tell him that Moyers isn’t coming back and that they’ll drop him off near his house before they desert their positions and retreat to San Diego.
As he’s walking back to his home, he spots Ofelia in shock over what’s happening with her father and Andrew. She tells Travis everything, and he bursts into the interrogation room like a big hero ready to stop Daniel and untie his prisoner. However, before he can go through with it, Daniel demands the soldier reveal what his interrogation tactics have uncovered.
Apparently, the National Guard is planning to execute a military evacuation, code named “Cobalt” (also the title of the episode). It turns out that the U.S. military operation in Los Angeles has gone so bad that the current plan is to evacuate all the soldiers and “humanely terminate” the 11 civilians still living in the fenced-off safe zone. Everyone has until 9 a.m. the following day to escape the area and avoid capture by soldiers. Luckily, that last part should be easy enough given that they’re all far too busy looting to maintain law and order.
With the stakes rising through the roof back in the neighborhood, things don’t seem to be going any better for Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and Nick back at the medical outpost/prison. As Nick is about to be taken away by soldiers, the well-dressed man buys off one of the leaders with some shiny gold rings to keep Nick alive and in his cell. When Nick inquires about the stranger’s sudden generosity toward a heroin addict like him, the well-dressed man shows him a key and tells him that he’ll need him for what’s ahead.
Meanwhile, Liza is learning firsthand what it is going to take to stop this outbreak from taking over the world, and she’s not exactly on board. Doctors and nurses are forced to make difficult decisions about who lives or dies based on whether or not they think they’re infected. Just as her stomach for the job is growing weak, she finally finds Griselda.
It looks like she’s about to stage some kind of breakout when Dr. Exner (Sandrine Holt), who convinced her to come help out in the first place, explains to her that Griselda is going to die and that she needs Liza to help her save humanity as a whole, not just individual people here and there. Together, they wait with Griselda by her bedside as she, in a fevered state, reveals what her husband has been hinting at during his interrogation session throughout the episode. Griselda is having some kind of waking nightmare, and she makes it clear that they had to do unspeakable things to survive the war in their home country, and Daniel is capable of doing them all over again.
The episode ends with Griselda succumbing to her fever and Liza taking the initiative to put a hole in her head before she can turn zombie, proving she’s officially on board with the broader fight against the outbreak. As we head into the Season 1 finale, Nick and the well-dressed man are planning an escape, the neighborhood is about to be destroyed and Liza is starting to find a permanent home with the military -- oh, and there’s an arena full of zombies in the area ready to bust out and wreak havoc. Fans will have to tune in to the next episode at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 4., to find out how it all comes to a close.