Fear the Walking Dead Season 4's second episode, "Another Day in the Diamond," started to catch us up on what Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her people were up to before her kids became the highway bandits Morgan (Lennie James), Althea (Maggie Grace) and John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) met in the premiere.
The show flashed back to a timeline about a year after the events of the Season 3 premiere. Madison was leading a community that lived inside of a baseball stadium somewhere in Texas. They had finally found peace, and everything was pretty much hunky-dory, except that their crops were dangerously infested with weevils. Madison was taking care of a little girl named Charlie, who turned up at the diamond sometime before and whose parents were missing. Madison led a party out to look for them. She didn't find them -- she found Naomi (Jenna Elfman) instead -- and it turned out she was never going to find them.
Shortly after the search party came back, a caravan of cars and trucks and a decommissioned city bus showed up in the parking lot outside of the diamond. It seemed like they were about to attack, but instead they rounded up all the walkers milling around into a box truck and spray painted the number of walkers it contained onto a white sheet and stuck it to the side. We've seen these spray-painted numbers in both timelines, first in the premiere -- Althea said they'd started appearing in the area recently but she didn't know what they meant -- and then at the oil storage tanks where the search party found Naomi. It turned out Charlie was a spy who had been passing information to this new group, who Strand (Colman Domingo) calls the Vultures. Their leader, Mel (Kevin Zegers), made himself at home in the parking lot, sitting in a lawn chair and cracking a beer.
Mel explained to Madison that he knows exactly what her people have in their arsenal and how long they can survive with their dwindling food resources. He told her that they could either turn over their stuff voluntarily and join the Vultures or go about their business while the Vultures sit there and wait until Madison's people die, and then they'll gather up whatever they leave behind.
"Either way I end up with that gun on your hip and whatever else I want," he said. "That's not a threat, that's just the way it goes." Madison, of course, turned down Mel's deal.
The Vultures are different than any adversary we've met on The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead, because they're not killers. They just morbidly let nature run its course and then swoop in to pick over the carcass.
"As much as it's a physical threat, it's also a philosophical one," executive producer Ian Goldberg tells TV Guide. "The Vultures are a group that doesn't believe in setting down roots. We're interested in how those two philosophies clash -- the Vultures versus Madison, who has found stability and security and the ability to live in a place that is about more than just survival, it's about living an actual life with moments of hope and love and humor."
EP Andrew Chambliss adds that the existential threat the Vultures pose is not one that Madison can just take up arms against. "We kind of thought of them as a force of nature," says Chambliss. "As Mel says, 'this is just the way it is.' That's the thing that is so hard to fight, because the Vultures really aren't the enemy, it's the world."
The philosophical conflict between our survivors and the Vultures will continue to escalate as Season 4 progresses. Quietly.
"Usually when the bad guys show up, they make a lot of noise, and they're the complete opposite," says star Danay Garcia. "That's what keeps it very interesting for us, because being quiet in the apocalypse is very scary."
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.