Clever and poignant, “In Dreams” is a fantastic episode of television.
This recap of Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 12, “In Dreams”, contains spoilers.
From the title to an obviously ethereal opening in which Grace wakes up in a glade shining bright with pink blossoms — they’re all throughout the episode as a visual motif — “In Dreams” makes clear that it’s… you know, a dream. But that played-out device prompts an obvious question. If Grace is dreaming of herself as an amnesiac in an alternate future, then what’s happening to her in the present? Is she feverish? Has she had a knock on the head? The possibilities are endless, and they’re what keep things moving in the early going of Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 12.
Grace is saved from a walker by a kindly, spear-wielding stranger named Athena, “like the Greek goddess”, and her fighting style is reminiscent of Morgan’s even before she says her father trained her. When she takes Grace, who can’t remember her own name, back to the dam, where she says she was born and has lived 16 years, things start to become a bit clearer for Grace. She recognises Morgan’s axe, which is rusting outside, and Morgan himself, who greets her at the door with white hair but doesn’t recognize her. He recognizes the name Grace, though, which rather complicates matters since she’s dead and he buried her himself.
Athena, then, is Morgan and Grace’s daughter (she died from childbirth), but Grace thinks they should hold off on telling her until they know what’s going on. Dr Dorie (an aged June, who has Charlie as an apprentice) thinks she’s fine, head injury-wise, but something’s clearly amiss. Daniel is still cutting hair. Dwight has two kids with Sherry and an impressive Old Testament beard. Morgan explains how, after Athena was born and Grace died, everyone put their differences aside and rallied around her. He also thinks he knows a way that Grace can get to know her without telling her what’s going on, so they go out on a run (a supply run, not a jog.)
Proving that Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 12 hasn’t actually forgotten about the main plot, the three of them run into a car daubed with the familiar “The End is the Beginning” graffiti, which Grace recognises. It promptly explodes, catching Grace in the blast, but when she comes to Morgan is gone. She hears his whispery voice imploring her to come back to him. The same sequence of Athena killing a particular zombie keeps repeating itself on a loop, which tips Grace off to the fact that none of this is real and she begins to piece together what actually happened. The car she was travelling in with Morgan on the way to the hospital June was building exploded. She’s unconscious.
Grace realizes that she started hearing Morgan when she discovered things from the past in the dream, so she listens to Athena’s tape recorder, which cues up more memories and, cleverly, snippets of reality, her and Morgan holed up in a vet’s after the explosion, him contacting June on the radio, her unconscious, whoever’s looking for them pulling up outside and opening fire.
Of course, it’s Riley from the Holding on Morgan’s tail, but the recorder cuts out at exactly the wrong time. Grace demands that Athena takes her to the vet’s office, the address of which she heard Morgan say on the radio. She and Athena run into Riley and his group on the way, and both of them collapse to the ground in agony in time with Grace’s present-day contractions. Since they both experience the same pain Grace realizes the two of them are connected and she needs to wake up so Athena can be born.
While riding a white horse that fortuitously shows up out of nowhere, Grace tells Athena about her biological father. The closer they get to the vet’s, the clearer Morgan becomes, and we see more flashes of their attempts to hide from Riley and co. As they arrive, Grace begins to come to terms with the idea that she might not survive, but she finds solace in the fact that everyone will rally around Athena. As Grace and Athena face down the zombified versions of Riley and his goons, Morgan faces down the real thing. It’s a really cool sequence. Morgan is able to whoop everyone and stab Riley, who flees. The Holding goons are looking for the key that Morgan carries, which in the dream Morgan passed down to Athena as a reminder of “the cost of peace”. As Grace collapses in the dream, Zombie Riley grabs her and tries to take the key, which is juxtaposed with Morgan performing CPR on real-world Grace. As he carries out the compressions, Dream Grace has to say goodbye to Athena and Old Man Morgan, secure in the knowledge that they’ll build what they’re trying to build. The whole thing’s rather touching. When real-world Grace wakes up, she tells Morgan she saw their future, and that everything is going to be okay, “because of her”.
After (in the present day now), Riley ambushes Morgan and Grace and demands that Morgan hand over the key. Grace, because of what she heard in the dream, demands he does so, confident that Athena is the future, not that key or whatever it unlocks. But Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 12 pulls the rug. Grace enters labour while listening to Roy Orbison on the tape recorder, and Athena is born… but she isn’t crying. She’s a stillbirth. Grace realizes that she wasn’t seeing her own final moments, but her daughter’s. The future she imagined is a cruel twist on the usual way these kinds of stories play out. It really was all a dream — and for once, you wish it wasn’t.