Major spoilers below for the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead.
When Season 5 began, Fear the Walking Dead was only promising Austin Amelio's Dwight as the big connection with The Walking Dead proper. However, the episodes also introduced an even bigger and more important tie-in by way of that mysterious helicopter group responsible for Rick Grimes' temporary exit from AMC's zombie-verse.
Episode 5, titled "The End of Everything," thankfully offered up some concrete answers and details about the helicopter group, though obviously without showing off all the narrative cards just yet. The episode also revealed what happened to Maggie Grace's Al, and CinemaBlend was lucky enough to talk to the actress about this wildly surprising installment. So without further ado...
Who Is The Helicopter Group?
We don't technically have a name for them, in the sense that they don't seem to have a preferred moniker that hints at their location or their overall purpose, such as the Alexandrians or the Vultures. To that end, though, the word "organization" was thrown around several times, while the word "community" was absent, which is a curious choice in this franchise. Organization implies something large and guided, and on a scale much bigger than the clans we've seen in either series.
While we don't have a name for them, we do know now that part of the group's main focus – at least for the unit that the to-be-discussed Isabelle is part of – is to ensure that the apocalypse doesn't fully destroy humanity and civilization. In an attack on Al's journalistic integrity, here's how Isabelle put it during the ep:
Everything I do is to ensure there’s more than stories left after I die.
Harsh, perhaps, but probably squarely on point for this kind of an advanced group of survivors.
How Large And Advanced Is The Helicopter Group?
From a logical standpoint, audiences have only seen one helicopter at a time, and now know there are at least two males (one deceased) and one female member of this group. As such, it's relatively feasible that this is a tiny group operating under a smokescreen of propaganda. But on the other hand, they do seem pretty damned organized and advanced.
For one, the guy on the radio stated he'd be sending a "reclamation team" to the site to pick up Isabelle in the event that she couldn't find fuel. And the fact that Al got so little sympathy from Isabelle indicates that the group may be so large that there's zero worth in discovering and rescuing other small groups of survivors.
Here's what Maggie Grace told me when I asked about Al's takeaway concerning the group's size.
Just by the tidbits she has, it seems like a culture with a lot of precision, and perhaps a brutal one. It's by no means benevolent. I think Al and her excitement about humanity continuing, and what other kinds of technology they might have, is tempered by trying to gauge how they operate, and what's important to them as a society.
It certainly wasn't a breath of fresh air to have Isabelle turn her nose up at Al's goals of carrying on humankind's story through videos and stories. Plus, seeing how ruthless and demanding Isabelle is at first likely doesn't make Al think warm thoughts about who's on the other end of that walkie-talkie.
Maybe the biggest tactile example of the helicopter group's advanced nature is the jackets that they wear. On top of whatever the wiring in there does, they're designed to withstand walker bites, which is genius. More interestingly, the suits have the three-circle symbol woven into them, which is definitely a more skillful task than painting the circles onto the side of the helicopter.
Here, Maggie Grace talks about that jacket and what Al thinks when she sees it.
There's a lot she doesn't know. I think she even feels that in the scene on the road with the jacket being handed to her, and there's just this gut feeling of 'Get that symbol off of me. I don't know what it means yet.' She has no idea. I personally like to call the symbol 'the Olympics,' but that's just me. I use it as a code word for the organization. 'But yes, if Isabelle is involved with...the Olympics...wink-wink...' [Laughs.] But yeah, I think there's some good indicators here that they have some really advanced technology, and what Isabelle alludes to by the fire is paradigm-shattering and just blows up Al's world.
We have yet to see what the group's home base looks like, but it doesn't sound like we or anyone else from Al's group is going to be welcomed with open arms.
Who Is Isabelle, And Will She Be Back?
Up-and-coming actress Sydney Lemmon landed the guest star role of Isabelle (from Indiana) for The Walking Dead Season 5, and her arrival was like the exact opposite of Georgie's on The Walking Dead, but was still comparatively intriguing. Strange outsiders withholding secrets tend to be the most eye-catching characters in this franchise.
In the simplest terms, Isabelle is a dedicated member within the helicopter group, and is apparently a seasoned pilot as well. She's part of a supply-gathering group, though it's not clear if everyone in her organization carries on the same jobs, or if there are others doing completely different duties. (That much can be assumed, but it's hard to confirm.)
Isabelle and Al's dynamic in "The End of Everything" plays up on the tonal changes floating throughout Season 5. Things start off with Isabelle as the stoic, silent soldier, but Al's humane nature ends up cracking through. To the point where Isabelle not only rejects protocol and spares Al's life, but also shares a deep and emotionally transparent kiss with Al, hinting at a future where the two could find more reasons to like each other.
When I asked Maggie Grace if she thought Al and Isabelle's relationship was more of a foundation or a one-off fling, here's what she told me:
I don't know. I think there's a surprising, unexpected depth of recognition there, and earned respect. I think they're both used to feeling really alone, and it takes them by surprise, and they're not sure how to move forward. You know, I don't think either of these women have romantic illusions about an easy relationship in the context of the apocalypse. But at the same time, it's just so unexpected to find someone you identify with that deeply. There's not even that many people left. [Laughs.] It feels like something of a miracle to come across someone. When the circumstances seem like you're in opposition to each other, and to feel that level of connection and trust in such a short time, I think they're both surprised by it. She feels like someone Al can't afford to lose.
In the episode's final minutes, it seemed like Fear the Walking Dead might actually make the grand decision to send Al off to join the helicopter group and learn about what they're doing. Alas, Isabelle says that the group and its mission is "bigger than both" of them, and that things must stay as they are, with Isabelle lying about not finding anyone.
Here's how Maggie Grace reacted to Al and Isabelle having to say goodbye to each other in that moment.
Yeah, it's definitely a decision that costs them both, I think. It costs them both to walk away. It's incredibly tough. It's a gut-wrenching choice. I think it's the only choice that preserves everyone's safety. Al's, Isabelle's, and the lives of Al's group. But she also has to live with knowing there's this person out there that...I don't think she's felt this alive since her brother died. But even more so, that this wider world and organization exists that has this level of technology. It seems like something Al would be into. [Laughs.]
If this was a modern-day crime show or something, you know Al would have slipped some kind of a transponder onto Isabelle's helicopter that would signify its location upon reaching the rest of the group. Unfortunately, those kinds of devices went extinct when walkers took over.
What Is The Helicopter Group Doing In That Area?
It took a while for Al to get some legitimate information out of Isabelle, but that trust-filled rock climb put the characters on equal footing for once. Isabelle revealed that she was in the area doing what the group normally does, which is to scout supplies useful for purifying water.
If these people are flying to places that are impossible to get to using any vehicle besides a helicopter, then it must be a pretty large-scale endeavor, though Isabelle doesn't reveal anything beyond that.
Isabelle knew about that surplus of helicopter fuel, too, so her group seems to have worked out a lot of travel and transport decisions and strategies during the time when the other survivors have been scraping by. But who's behind it all, and how did they get things organized on such a massive scale?
How Did That Group Member Die In The Season Premiere?
The Season 5 premiere showed viewers a particularly unlucky member of the helicopter group who was impaled and left for dead, which is who Al went back to make a video about. As many likely expected by the time the confession came out, Isabelle killed the guy, whose name was Beckett.
Isabelle brought up the nearby nuclear power plant – the one that Karen David's Grace worked for – and mentioned how they took all the proper precautions and timed everything accordingly. Still, though, Beckett got an eyeful of the radioactive walkers and apparently lost his shit. And because "nobody just walks away," Isabelle had to follow protocol and put Beckett out of his misery.
The reasoning behind the execution ties to the many different maps that Beckett had in his jacket pockets; those were the ones that viewers got a quick peek of whenever Al was looking through them. It wasn't made clear exactly what those maps were showing, but we know now that they're important enough to kill someone over. Here's hoping there's some other way to learn of their importance, in the event that Isabelle never returns.
What Happens Next For Al's Group And The Helicopter Group?
Though Morgan and Alicia would love to know everything Al does about the helicopter organization, they won't be hearing anything in the near future, as Al will remain true to her promise to Isabelle to keep it all under wraps. Al has to lie to her friends about it, but the decision doesn't seem to be informed by anything malicious.
When I asked Maggie Grace if Al's choice to stay silent about Isabelle is a possible sign of the character becoming more untrustworthy, the Fear star did not buy into that line of thinking.
I think this is a weight she has to carry. I don't think she's doing it out of some sort of calculated or strategic benefit. She hasn't done a full cost-benefit analysis and considered them unworthy to receive the information. I think she really took Isabelle at her word. For instance, that they couldn't commandeer the helicopter and live to make it to the other side. There's a lot of stakes around this knowledge that she has to live with. I think she really wants to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Al's desire to remove Morgan, Alicia and the rest out of the path of immediate harm is what will drive her to cordon that knowledge off from everyone else's ears. But what happens if they come across another helicopter and Strand or Lucy tries to commandeer it for the protagonists? Will Al be forced to reveal what she knows in order to stop them from pissing the other group off?
I wonder if it's safe to assume that Isabelle's group is finished with the part of their mission that's tied to these immediate surroundings. I seriously doubt the helicopter group is going to be gone for good, mind you, but our central characters may have to do some traveling of their own in order to cross paths with them again. If only Al had somehow made a copy of the tape with those maps on it...