Victor Strand, the seller, taunts Doug, the buyer, with the grim politics of the  apocalypse in the opening of ‘Fear the Walking Dead’s’ fifth episode, “Cobalt.” After Strand breaks Doug with the hard truths of survival and exploitation, he sets his sights on Nick and quickly establishes the motif of the episode- quiproquo. Code Cobalt will prompt civilians to inventory their potential leverage resources, securing their survival…for at least one more day.

The so-called safe zone continues to squirm under the tightening grip of Martial Law. Travis tries to talk sense to Lieutenant Moyers, sharing with him that if Nick and the others that Dr. Exner took do not return, the community will turn on Moyers and the rest of the military. Moyers shows little concern, his gun is law.

Moyers escorts Travis to the quarantine area/ command post, but along the way Travis and the troops encounter a walker. Challenging Travis’s ethics and privilege, the troops guilt him into shooting a walker.

Travis relinquishes, gets the walker in his sights, but he cannot fire–he focuses on her name tag and cannot escape his humanity. It is clear to Travis at that moment that he needs the military– he is a buyer.Had Travis been able to fire at the zombie, Kimberly,Moyers would have no leverage.

Moyers gets his just desserts. The arrogant Lieutenant doesn’t make it out of a conflict with turned civilians- civilians that refused to trust the government.

Some of Moyers able corporals are tired of the oppression.  One attempts to walk off the job, but doesn’t get far. This after Ofelia is nearly quarantined for her social unrest– the frustrated daughter hurls rocks at the safe zone gate and demands the return of her mother.

Luckily her beauty serves her well. Ofelia is romantically linked to the corporal who intervenes on her behalf. Quid pro quo– had Ofelia been an unattractive woman, she would have no leverage. How right you are, Mr. Strand.

Things don’t work out well for Ofelia’s Romeo. Daniel Salazar, Ofelia’s father, desperate for his wife’s safe return, resorts to terrorist tactics. He tortures the corporal, slicing him with a blade, demanding to know the meaning of  the codeword Cobalt. Cobalt is the code to evacuate LA. It calls for the “humane termination” of civilians. Travis, Madison, and Daniel have less than 24 hours to figure out a way to survive.

Daniel and Ofelia’s efforts to be reunited with Griselda are for naught. The poor woman succumbs to her injuries and Liza has no choice but to shoot Giselda before she turns. It is during this encounter that Dr. Exner shares with Liz that all of the dead reanimate.

Meanwhile as guards whisk Nick from his cage, Strand leverages Nick’s return, bribing the guard with expensive cufflinks. In a collapsed society, cufflinks are useless, but what in Nick holds value to Strand?

Strand’s interest in Nick is unclear. Perhaps he sees a malleable apprentice in Nick– someone who is a survivor, but a survivor with an addiction that will keep Nick dependent.

Nick asks Strand why Strand helped him; Strand shares with him that the military is leaving and most of the community will be too pampered to survive. Nick, a heroine addict, will do whatever it takes to get a fix…nothing glamorous or pampered about that. Strand sees in him an ally…a controllable ally.

As Episode Five closes, Daniel Salazar climbs the steps to an arena. The doors are chained and barred, but they are not still. Something on the other side is trying to get out. Previews for ‘Fear the Walking Dead’s’ season finale show the arena is filled with walkers. Between the arena, the military withdrawal, and the crumbling perimeter of the safe zone, the apocalypse is about to escalate.

It’s not only the strong that survive. Bartering, leverage, quid pro quo- these are the politics of the apocalypse. What will Madison, Travis, and Daniel barter to survive…their ethics, their humanity, their bodies?

The season finale of ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ airs Sunday October 4th at 9PM on AMC. What did you think of tonight’s episode? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section.