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Jason Riley is a major antagonist in AMC's Fear the Walking Dead. He is the second in command of a doomsday cult and the former Weapon's Officer on the USS Pennsylvania. He is the secondary antagonist of the second half of Season 6 and the main protagonist of Dead in the Water.
Before the zombie apocalypse, Riley lived in Chicago, Illinois with his wife Lucy who gave birth to their son Oliver. Having been deployed at the time, Riley had never even met his son. Riley served as a Lieutenant in the US Navy and the Weapons' Officer of the USS Pennsylvania.
Disaster at Sea
A few weeks into the apocalypse, the Pennsylvania was deployed in the Gulf of Mexico with Riley running a number of weapons' drills with his staff. By this point, the sub had been out of contact with command for awhile and Riley was distracted by thoughts of his family and his not being sure if he actually wanted to be a father. This impacted his performance to the point that Captain Renwick expressed concerns about Riley's desire to advance his career towards becoming the captain of his own ship.
In the midst of all of this, Friedman, one of the Pennsylvania's sailors, developed appendicitis and the crew received no responses to their calls for a medevac. When Friedman's condition worsened, the sub's medic Park was forced to attempt an appendectomy, but it failed and Friedman died. During a memorial for Friedman, he reanimated and bit Cook, Bacon and Park and attacked Renwick before Riley finally shot Friedman in the head and put him down. Shortly afterwards, Riley's friend Park brought him news that they had received an Emergency Action Message from command and they discovered a reanimated Bacon wandering the halls. Recognizing that the same thing had happened to Bacon as to Friedman, Riley reluctantly bashed Bacon's head in with a fire extinguisher and sent Pierce to get Renwick and meet him at the Weapons Room while Riley investigated some growling noises nearby. Riley discovered that the reanimated Cook, Bacon and Park had turned enough crewmembers for it to begin spreading throughout the sub before Riley put down Park and took cover in the freezer with Alvarez and Winokur. The three men eventually made a run for it, but Alvarez killed Winokur after he was bitten by a zombified crewmember and Riley himself was nearly killed before McGuire saved him. Riley, Alvarez and McGuire attempted to sneak through the silo hallway to the Weapons' Room, but a panicked Alvarez accidentally shot and killed Farley before being devoured himself.
Riley and McGuire managed to make it to the Weapons' Room where they reunited with Pierce and Renwick. The Pennsylvania received a nuclear launch order which Riley at first advocated for, suggesting that their missile could be being targeted at the source of the outbreak and might bring an end to it. However, after the coordinates turned out to be for Chicago, Riley argued with Renwick, knowing that the strike would kill his family and unwilling to fire upon his own country. Pierce and McGuire sided with Riley against Renwick on the matter before it was discovered that Renwick had been bitten. Riley mercy killed Renwick and, taking both launch keys, announced over the PA system that he was taking command and the crew's only mission now was to get to the surface and home to their loved ones.
As Riley and his companions prepared to fight their way through the sub, Riley was contacted by Walter who was with a group that had managed to make it to the bridge. Riley ordered Walter to blow the sub's ballast tanks, causing it to surface and throwing the walkers around and to the ground. Riley, Pierce and McGuire raced through the silo hallway, but Pierce was bitten on the ankle near the end by a zombified Farley who Riley quickly put down. Rejecting Riley's attempts to help him, Pierce ordered Riley to get home to his family before sacrificing himself so that Riley could escape. After the Pennsylvania surfaced and was beached on the Galveston coast, Riley linked up with McGuire, Walter and five others, the only eight survivors of a crew of a hundred and fifty-five. Riley attempted to give McGuire one of the launch keys, but he rejected it. Walter decided to take the key and Riley warned Walter to protect the key with his life as the two keys must never be in the same room again. The eight survivors then abandoned ship.
On the beach, Riley called his wife who was still alive, much to his relief. However, Riley was forced to listen over the phone as walkers burst into his home and ate Riley's wife and son.
Joining the Doomsday Cult
Falling into a depression, Riley spent weeks, possibly even months camping out on the beach, growing a full beard in the process. As Riley prepared to commit suicide, he was approached by Theodore Maddox who told Riley that "this ain't it, son. The end, this ain't it. Son, this is just the beginning." Riley ended up joining his Doomsday Cult, becoming Teddy's second in command. Because of his former status as the sub's Weapon's Officer, Riley was able to help Teddy coordinate his plan to destroy what was left of the world using the sub's nuclear missiles. However, while the two men had one of the Pennsylvania's two launch keys, Walter had the other one. The cult hired bounty hunter Emile LaRoux to hunt down Walter and retrieve the key for them. While Emile succeeded in killing Walter and retrieving the key, he was subsequently killed by Morgan Jones who took the key for himself and killed the two cultists that came after it.
Hunting for the Key
Months later, Alicia Clark, Wes, Luciana Galvez and Al infiltrated the cult's base at the Holding in order to learn more about them. Riley greeted the group and interviewed them as potential members of the cult. However, Wes revealed to his brother Derek, who was also a part of the cult, that the group was with Morgan Jones. Having somehow learned of Morgan's possession of the key, Riley, Derek and the other cultists turned on them in an effort to get at Morgan and the key. During a struggle, Wes killed his brother and he took Riley hostage in order to force the cult to let them go. Riley survived both the hostage situation and the subsequent fire that damaged the Holding beyond repair and killed many of the cultists. Riley attempted to have Alicia killed and embalmed in retaliation, but she killed Harvey while Riley was out of the room and Teddy, who had taken an interest in Alicia, stopped any further action on his part, much to Riley's anger and dismay.
Not long later, Riley and three other cultists ambushed Morgan and Grace on their way to June's hospital after Grace went into labor. The cultists set a bomb with the explosion knocking Grace unconscious and forcing Morgan to take cover in a vet clinic. Riley ended up haunting the pair in both the real world and Grace's dreams where she killed Riley only to have him come back as a walking and talking zombie that was eventually put down by Morgan. In the real world, Morgan killed Riley's three henchmen and wounded him, forcing Riley to retreat. Riley later returned and demanded the key at gunpoint, threatening Grace's life if Morgan didn't hand it over. Grace instructed Morgan to give the key to him and Riley left without any further violence.
Having gotten the key that they needed, Teddy and Riley began preparations for the coming nuclear destruction. Riley, at Teddy's insistence, reluctantly attempted to convert Alicia Clark to the cult's side, but she kept refusing while Riley pushed for Teddy to kill her. Riley was dismayed when Teddy departed alone with Alicia and Dakota, leaving Riley with the two launch keys to finish their mission if Teddy didn't return.
Following the skirmish with Cole's group, Riley arrived with more of the cult, only to find that Alicia was holding Teddy at gunpoint and that she was warning Victor Strand over the radio of their plans. Riley angrily took the radio and Alicia's gun, but Teddy stopped him from killing her, much to Riley's anger. Teddy and Riley took Alicia to the Franklin Hotel where Riley had discovered that there was an old Cold War-era government bunker that was much better than the Holding. Intending for Alicia to take up leadership of the survivors that he had chosen, Teddy locked her in the bunker with them.
Launching the Nukes
With all of their plans in place, Teddy, Riley and Dakota returned to the USS Pennsylvania where Riley powered up the sub's systems and revealed his past as the Weapon's Officer to Dakota. Having learned of the approach of Morgan's forces from a spy within his ranks, the cult was prepared for their arrival and Riley assured Teddy that Morgan would never be able to stop them based off of his own experiences in a similar situation. While fighting their way through the zombified crew, Morgan and Strand found Riley's bunk and a picture of him with a female companion before the world ended, causing Morgan to realize that Riley was the reason that the cult could pull off their plan.
As Teddy and Riley prepared to launch the nuke, Morgan and Strand finally got into the sub's control room using the keycard of a dead officer that Morgan had put down. Confronted by Morgan, Riley quickly ordered Teddy to pull the trigger and he successfully launched one nuclear missile. Riley triumphantly declared that the single missile contained ten different warheads that would hit various targets and that it couldn't be stopped. Enraged, Morgan ordered Teddy and Riley to leave rather than killing them for their actions.
A short time later, Riley was captured by Rollie and Wes and he offered to lead the two of them, Daniel Salazar, Sarah Rabinowitz, Charlie, Rabbi Jacob Kessner and Luciana Galvez to the hotel containing the bunker where Alicia was located. Daniel, however, had heard a radio transmission with coordinates, but due to his recent psychological issues and no one else hearing it, the group decided to go with Riley instead. Daniel remained suspicious of Riley's intentions and, while the SWAT van was stopped for repairs, questioned him on his motives. Riley stated that he just wanted to see Daniel's face when it all turned to ash and that "I know you doubt us. You think we're -- we're all insane. But it's just the beginning. The phoenix will rise, and quicker than you think." Having had enough, Daniel left Charlie to watch Riley while he went to check on the others.
As Rollie returned to the SWAT van, he also mentioned the phoenix and Daniel realized that he was a spy for the cult. Daniel killed Rollie and Riley charged him in order to get Daniel's gun, only to be shot through the abdomen from behind by Charlie. Mortally wounded, Riley admitted that Rollie had been working for the cult, having lost faith after the events surrounding Daniel's mental breakdown. Riley and Rollie had only been intending to lead the group to a spot where they could all die in the nuclear blasts. With Daniel having been proven right, the group headed for his coordinates instead where they found nothing. Near death, Riley made a final taunt before Daniel yanked him out of the SWAT van in retaliation. Checking Riley's pulse, Wes discovered that he had died just before a CRM helicopter arrived to pick them up. Before leaving, Wes spray-painted "THIS IS NOT THE END" on the road with the word "END" being written on Riley's back. As the helicopter took off, Riley reanimated and wandered off towards a nearby nuclear explosion.
Months later, while returning to get her SWAT van, Al encountered the zombified Riley. Al put Riley down with her knife and, spotting the faded "END" on his back, quipped "you're telling me." By this time, Riley's face was severely burned and all of the flesh on his chest was gone, revealing his ribcage.
- Aside from having an episode named after it, the first time that the USS Pennsylvania is identified by name is when Morgan and Strand find a picture of Riley with the sub's name on his T-shirt.
- Riley is the second living character killed by Charlie after Nicholas Clark.
- Riley's full name is given in Dead in the Water which also gives his rank as Lieutenant.
- As revealed in Dead in the Water, Riley was once a good man, but the events on the Pennsylvania, the loss of his family and Teddy's manipulations presumably drove him insane.