Forget it, John. It's Lawton, Oklahoma. Former police officer John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) investigates a mysterious death in Sunday's Fear the Walking Dead, "The Key," picking up weeks after Virginia (Colby Minifie) separated newlyweds John and June (Jenna Elfman) at Humbug's Gulch. Now a badge-wearing lawman in the settlement that hasn't lost a soul in more than eight months, Ranger Dorie mounts an investigation when he discovers the zombie-chewed body of Ranger Cameron (Noah Khyle) entangled in a barbwire fence on Lawton's perimeter. Pioneer leader Virginia (Colby Minifie) downplays the case as a drunken accident instead of a crime, but John's doubts uncover a conspiracy when evidence quickly points to murder.
When John recovers an earring from the crime scene, he questions if laundry worker Janis (Holly Curran) recognizes it but turns up no leads. The ill-fated Cameron was intoxicated, so says Virginia, but an unopened bottle of moonshine leads John to suspect it was a push — not a drunken stumble — that put the victim in the fence.
Finding the matching earring will link the suspect to the crime scene, but Virginia wants it kept quiet: "A place is only as safe as people feel it is."
Questioning Virginia's little sister Dakota (Zoe Colletti) at the funeral, John learns Cameron was on Dakota's Ranger detail when they would travel outside the gates. That nugget is all John gets before Virginia steps in and ushers her sister along, just as Ranger Marcus (Justin Smith) catches Janis trying to sneak out through the fence.
A bag check turns up stolen supplies and the matching earring, fingering Janis as the culprit and landing her in jail. From behind bars, Janis tells John that Virginia has had it out for her ever since she and late brother Tom (Joe Massingil) refused to kiss ass at the Paradise Ridge community subjugated by the Pioneers.
Janis confesses to a secret romance with Cameron — kept quiet out of fear Virginia would use the relationship against them — but swears she didn't kill him when revealing they planned to run away together. Someone planted the earrings and framed her, but Janis is resigned to her fate: "Ginny's decided it's me. That means it's me."
John urges Virginia to let him do his due diligence and inspect the body, but Virginia judges that "an example will have to be made" out of Janis to maintain order. Dakota approaches John outside and tells him her sister is protecting someone before she's once again hurried away.
At night, John conducts an autopsy on Cameron's zombie-bitten body when two graveyard walkers fall into the fresh grave. Despite damage to the corpse, John walks away with a clue: a shard plucked from Cameron's bloody hand.
John deduces it wasn't walkers that killed Cameron: his throat was slit. John's evidence is the broken grip of a knife handle embedded in Cameron's hand, indicating his attacker has access to the weapons cache kept under lock and key. If John finds the murder weapon, he exonerates Janis.
Snuck into the armory by newly-minted Ranger Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), John determines the murder weapon is a six-inch bladed folding knife with a hand-carved bone handle. But the knife is missing, as is a page documenting whoever checked it out. John leaves to search for the murder weapon, but Strand warns him about taking his discoveries public: "If you go down this path, there's no going back."
John tells Janis that Virginia is protecting someone — maybe Ranger Marcus or Ranger Hill (Craig Nigh) — and if he finds the weapon she couldn't have gotten her hands on, he'll clear Janis of all charges. When Virginia and Strand unexpectedly arrive to witness Janis' confession, she tearfully admits to killing Cameron by pushing him into the fence and watching as he was torn apart by the dead.
In private, Janis says she lied because she has nothing left after the deaths of Tom and Cameron. Janis urges John to take the items she and Cameron squirreled away for their escape and reunite with June, telling him she's "setting us free" by accepting her death sentence. Janis is set to be executed at daybreak.
John plans a jailbreak in the dead of night, but he finds Janis' cell empty. Outside Lawton's gates, John finds Janis tied to a tree and torn apart by walkers.
A furious John returns to town and confronts Strand over the arranged confession, which he claims was Janis' idea. When Strand admits he told Virginia that Janis "was a flight risk," John attacks Strand and leaves him bloodied in the dirt.
"Janis was only going to take the fall," Strand says. "I kept you from going down with her." John says they could have gotten away, but Strand counters, "Virginia would have hunted you down and killed you both."
Later, John is publicly rewarded with a gold key to the future along with a reunion with his Junebug — a prize for his "dogged pursuit of the truth." But the mystery killer has not been brought to justice.
In "Welcome to the Club," Virginia promoted Strand to Ranger when she made him the head of her new army. The episode ended with Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades), also a member of the Lawton community, ditching Cameron so that he could have a secret meeting with Morgan Jones (Lennie James) just outside its gates.0comments
Who killed Cameron? Was it another one of Strand's dirty deeds? Was it Dakota, the younger sister that Virginia would do anything to protect? Or was the Ranger picked off by either Morgan or Daniel, whose pact revealed they're plotting to overthrow Virginia and the Pioneers? The case remains unsolved for now.
Next week: Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sherry (Christine Evangelista) return in "Honey," premiering November 8 at 9pm ET/8c on AMC. Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter for all things TWD.