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Performers of The Month - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of July - Alycia Debnam-Carey



The article was written by Ellys Cartin. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

The performers we remember are the ones who transplant us, with seemingly no effort, into the worlds they inhabit. Alycia Debnam-Carey has this very quality, and her artistry makes her the keystone of Fear the Walking Dead. A character's evolution is only partially the responsibility of the writers. The majority of the work is carried by the actor who must often simultaneously show a character's thoughts, history, emotional conflicts and physical strains without the use of speech. Every new character they portray is a canvas they are constantly painting, and they must always be mindful of what has been put on them before. In the episode, Still Standing (5x7), Alicia Clark's one-woman crusade turns into a one-woman rescue mission that brings her face-to-face with internal and external antagonists. It's especially enthralling because she doesn't view her heroism for what it is, but we witness the best qualities of humanity in her actions. It's no wonder that Debnam-Carey's latest gripping performance earned her our readers' votes for July's SpoilerTV Outstanding Performer of the Month.

Debnam-Carey's Alicia has always been marked by determination, and the opening scene of the episode tests her character's will. She stands facing rows of the dead tied to the trees in a twisted form of Red Rover chains. The chains extend farther than the eye can see, and Debnam-Carey conveys Alicia's calculations with a tight swallow as she observes this obstacle. She quietly and calmly speaks the names of the siblings Annie (Bailey Gavulic), Max (Bailey Gavulic), and Dylan (Cooper Dodson) into the radio, as if speaking any louder or faster would cause those chains to break. When they don't answer, she brings her makeshift pipe sword down on the first rope with a swift, forceful slash. She walks purposefully through the woods, weaving through the dead without a second glance until one particularly gory spectacle catches her eye. The perspective lingers on Debnam-Carey's face rather than that of the undead that has drawn her attention. We see her eyes widen gradually, then the space between her eyebrows snaps flat, and we know there's something more out of the ordinary here. She briskly turns and walks away without looking back when Dylan appears to guide her to children's camp, but her cues ensure that we are left feeling unsettled.

Once she reaches the children's camp, Alicia yields to Annie's authority, and the ensuing scene between Debnam-Carey and Gavulic echoes some of the former's other career-best work. She's an incredible scene partner even in the most trivial situations, however, there's a particular spark when she's playing opposite other young adults, especially on this show. She gives us the most honest version of Alicia in these scenes. With her older costars, Debnam-Carey portrays her character as being more tough, more analytical, a realistic presentation of how someone as industrious as Alicia would position herself when others look to her to be an equal partner in leadership. Here with Annie, Alicia can't be that version of herself, so she has to take a different approach. Her first appeal doesn't work, the one in which she criticizes Annie's decisions. Debnam-Carey delivers these warnings in a hushed but hurried tone so that there's no emotional weight to her words. Her roundabout criticism sets Annie on the defensive, and she angrily tries to throw it back at Alicia. Debnam-Carey lets the guilt sink in until she's not even looking Gavulic in the eyes. She hangs her head and turns away, shirking from the familiar bitter determination that Annie is directing at Alicia. Alicia's admission that she is motivated by trying to do something good to make up for the people she hurt and killed doesn't earn her any points for honesty. Alicia's shame as she realizes that the selfish side of her motivations has weakened her ability to convince Annie is shown by the utterly humbled expression Debnam-Carey wears here, as Alicia silently stands back from Annie without any defense to offer.

Just as her character treats the children as equals, Debnam-Carey displays the same attitude in her deference to her younger costars in the scenes they share. This gives their interactions an authenticity that would be overwhelmed by forced sentimentality if her performance contained pity or patronization. Alicia's interaction with Dylan when she discovers his drawings is one such scene that benefits from those choices. When she first opens his sketchbook, her face breaks out in a smile, a reflex at the cheerful vignettes he's created. She turns the pages eagerly, letting the long lost wonder of a normal childhood dazzle her. The later pages contain dark, fearful images, and we see right away in her eyes the scope of this tragedy, and her grief for this childhood lost too soon. Dylan catches Alicia looking at the book, and, even though he takes it away, he tells her how the Red Rover chains came from his nightmares. Annie created them as a form of protection from other people. Alicia doesn't crowd him. She stays as she is, kneeling on one knee, but there's a new concern and awareness when she notes that he is living in his own nightmare. We know at that moment that the children no longer represent a last chance to help someone. The energy in her voice lets us know that Alicia has found something she needs here, something more than hope, the knowledge that this opportunity really could make all the difference.

The Red Rover chains break, sending a mass of the dead towards the children's makeshift fortress. The true terror is created through Alicia's reactions to and actions against the horde. Debnam-Carey always excels in revving the atmosphere so that the danger feels imminent and intimate. Her sharp whisper when she asks how many rounds of ammunition the children have. The almost missable fear when she has to repeat the question louder. When they reply none, she exhales as though she's received a sudden punch, but she quickly turns and quietly asks them to let her help. Annie is hesitant, unwilling to return Alicia's weapon and unleash her on the horde. She wants to believe the fence will hold. Alicia's pleas are forceful, but she doesn't attempt to overpower or intimidate Annie into agreement, and the younger girl yields. She goes to hand Alicia her gun as well, but Alicia stops her and tells her to keep it, bolstering Annie's confidence in a moment where it's slipping dangerously. In her motions, as she grips her weapon in both hands and lifts her arms to maximize the power of her swing, while also planting her legs to stabilize her balance on the swaying bridge, Debnam-Carey sets us up for a grueling battle.

Alicia is such a formidable, strategic fighter that it's a challenge to believe her imperiled, but Debnam-Carey paces herself carefully throughout the barrage so that we feel overwhelmed alongside Alicia, as she gradually loses ground. She's in her element at first, despite fighting uphill, but we watch her eyes turn towards the fence that is lined with the dead. Seeing her doubt she can handle this magnifies the danger she's in. She throws all her weight into each stab she throws, but she has to grab on to more than one of the dead to keep her balance as she strikes them. When a radioactive growler comes through the fence, she freezes for only a moment as she steps back but it's enough for her to fall backward. She's able to kill it, but its poisonous blood splashes onto her face. In a daze, she examines the body for the telltale marker to confirm the radiation poisoning. She finds it. We see complete, pure horror in her face. She swipes her hand across her cheek and stares down at the blood on her palm. Gunshots from Annie bring Alicia out her trance. She looks at the fence, so close to being pushed over, and there's no energy left in her frame. She radios Annie and tells her to take the children and escape. With them on their way, Alicia then begins hitting the fence to get the dead to follow her, but she keeps a telling distance, and there's a choked-up rasp in her voice.

We are singularly invested in Alicia's story on Fear the Walking Dead, in part because we have known her the longest and in part, because Debnam-Carey breathes such vivid life into the role. In the final scene of the episode, she stoops over a stream, pausing to look at her contaminated face, before gently scooping of handfuls of water. She looks at her reflection as if it's unknown to her as if it has been profoundly changed in some way. When Morgan (Lennie James) radios and asks if she's alright, Alicia can't answer right away. The seconds where she wrestles to compose herself, to keep herself from weeping, are simply just heavy. We know immediately that she is digging for the courage to stand up, that's she's not sure if she can, that the thought of dying without making that difference she needs to is unbearable. When she learns that the children made it to safety, she can stand, and Debnam-Carey lets a flicker of light show in her eyes as Alicia's determination is renewed. She walks away from the death in the woods. Alicia's reaction to her contamination introduces a new turn for the character, as we see her realize that she doesn't want to simply endure doing good to blot out the failures of her past. She wants to find more meaning in living. It's by no means simple to execute an important chapter in a character's personal development throughout an intense action-packed physical adventure. If anyone is up to the task, it would be Alycia Debnam-Carey who has earned two previous wins for Outstanding Performer of the Month for the role of Alicia Clark.

It was impossible to cover every brilliant moment of Alycia Debnam-Carey’s performance in this episode, so please use the comments section to discuss anything that may not have been covered.


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