Spoilers below for the third episode of Fear the Walking Dead Season 5, so be sure to watch before reading on.
A week before breaking out the helicopter in "Skidmark," Fear the Walking Dead brought over another popular Walking Dead element: Austin Amelio's Dwight. No longer a villain, Dwight stressed John and June out upon their arrival at the Humbug's Gulch faux ghost town, but only because he was looking for Sherry. When the dust initially settled, and John introduced himself, Walking Dead got to see something that they may not have noticed was missing all this time: Dwight smiling. (The episode also had a Big Lebowski reference!)
Fear the Walking Dead star Colman Domingo spoke with CinemaBlend recently about Victor Strand's big hiccup with Daniel's plane, among other things. He also happened to direct "Humbug's Gulch," so I had to ask his thoughts on getting to bring in such a big character like Dwight.
I never thought of it as an introduction to Dwight. . . . I have no history of Dwight, because I do not watch The Walking Dead, so I just took it as what was on the page. And we had a great moment after the initial scene between Dwight and Dorie and June, where I think John Dorie makes a joke about his name, and they have a little laugh. And it's the first time you see Dwight's beautiful smile. Then [Austin Amelio] is like, 'You know, Colman, I've never smiled on The Walking Dead. Dwight doesn't smile.' I said, 'Really? I didn't know that. Well, you gotta smile with John Dorie. This is a guy who has candy, and is named John Dorie. That's gotta make you smile. You can't constantly be in the trenches of the apocalypse. You gotta take a breath and enjoy this man. He's a cowboy.' And he said, 'Thank you so much,' and we just hugged. Because he thought that was really nice to see another part of Dwight's journey that maybe he lost before, when he was with Sherry.
If you haven't ever wanted to make puppy-dog eyes and coo over Dwight before, this might be the perfect time to do so. Fans might not put a lot of thought into the more undesirable side of effects of Austin Amelio's time as Dwight on The Walking Dead. The dude was never in a place where he truly felt comfortable, and no one beyond Sherry seemed to like him enough to call him a friend.
So without anything for his character to cherish in the outside world, Amelio spent almost all of his on-screen time looking pretty dejected and miserable. It'd be hard to do that on a daily basis without feeling a bit of the negative impact on one's emotions. Not that Austin Amelio would complain about such things.
Still, the actor was clearly appreciative to be able to afford Dwight a new dimension after having played him for this long already. Appropriately enough, all it took to make it happen was a brief moment of unexpected humor, which is a motif that runs throughout Season 5.
Here, Colman Domingo talked more about getting to show off more of how Dwight used to be before anyone ever saw him on this show.
I said, 'You can enjoy that. You can have fun with that.' He was like, 'Really? Okay.' I said, 'Yeah, enjoy him.' He just opened up that smile, and you know, Austin Amelio is just a beautiful soul. He's just a good guy, and it was just nice to see. He's always so bogged down with that burn on his face, and he's actually a really handsome man. I said, 'Let's show a little bit of that which was there before the apocalypse.'
I think "Humbug's Gulch" could very well go down as my favorite of all the Fear the Walking Dead episodes, since it's fully on board with living within its western aesthetic, which is what I often want from this show when the situation calls for it. Add in Austin Amelio's debut and that BROTHel joke, and I'm sold.
Here's hoping news of radioactive walkers doesn't permanently wipe Dwight's smile away in the midst of Season 5.
Yes, Fear The Walking Dead Had A Big Lebowski Reference
As viewers will recall from watching "Humbug's Gulch," the sequence that took us into the roadside attraction had a very specific trope from western projects. No, I'm clearly not talking about the walkers bunched up around the windmill, although that would have certainly made John Ford's films a bit more esoteric.
Rather, I'm referring to the tumbleweed that bounced along the ground in the wind. I chuckled out loud when I saw it, especially with the signature music in the background.
When I brought up my appreciation for it, Colman Domingo confirmed that it was indeed a direct reference to the Coen brothers' cult classic The Big Lebowski.
Oh my god, yeah. And that's an ode to The Big Lebowski. That's a nod to the tumbleweed in the opening of The Big Lebowski.
It's the tumbleweed that basically kicks off the whole shebang, which is a great touch for the tonal sensibilities for the episode. Am I bummed that Dwight didn't talking about being careful around beverages, or that Sam Elliot wasn't a permanent resident of the western attraction? Sure I am. But I'm more thankful that Colman Domingo and the rest of the Fear creative team threw in such a distinct non-horror easter egg.
Garret Dillahunt's John Dorie & Deadwood
Given how heavily "Humbug's Gulch" paid homage to western shoot-em-ups of yesteryear, Deadwood vet Garret Dillahunt was one of the most perfect choices to set up with that scenario. Who else could pull off a move as patently absurd as the "San Antonio Split" and then brag about it?
Perhaps surprisingly, or perhaps not, Colman Domingo told me the subject of Deadwood didn't even come up while filming the episode. Not that the actor/director doesn't have his opinions about Dillahunt's other roles. In his words:
Not at all. It's not like we even avoided it. It's not brought up. Garret is just such a compelling actor, and he has so many great gifts and nuances and things that he brings into it. He plays a cowboy very well, and I think that his cowboys are cousins to each other. And we've got the good one. I think we've got the best cousin.
I think a lot of Fear the Walking Dead fans would agree with him on that one. Although if there was some logic-eschewing way to get Garret Dillahunt's Deadwood characters on this show, I would gladly accept that twist.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. This Sunday's episode is going to be a doozy, too, so be sure to stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more exclusive coverage of Season 5.