[The story of Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her two children, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), is about to come to an end.
At least, it’s coming to an end for one pivotal Fear the Walking Dead figure: Dave Erickson, the man who co-created the Walking Dead spinoff and has served as showrunner from the outset. Season three marks Erickson’s last dance with the Dead, as he hands the reins over to incoming showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg (as well as the flagship Walking Dead‘s showrunner Scott M. Gimple) for season four. After Sunday’s midseason premiere, there are still six episodes left before fans learn the full extent of Erickson’s plans, but for the producer, the end of the line is well within sight.
“I ship the last episode on September 24th,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter, “and then it’s officially over.”
Already, Erickson’s vision for his final arc on Fear is well underway. The two-part midseason premiere, called “Minotaur” and “The Diviner,” respectively, focus on the fallout of Nick shooting ranch ruler Jeremiah Otto (Dayton Callie) in cold blood, an act of violence meant to forge some semblance of peace with Qaletaqa Walker’s (Michael Greyeyes) people. Jeremiah’s death paves the way for Walker and his community to move onto the ranch, which does not sit well with Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman), who goes on a suicide mission to avenge his father. He only stops after Nick reveals that he was the one who killed Jeremiah, leading to Troy’s exile, and almost his death at Madison’s hands. She ultimately decides not to pull the trigger on the banished Troy, a choice that Erickson promises will haunt her for at least the remainder of the season.
Following Troy’s exile, Madison and Walker encounter an even deadlier dilemma: the ranch is swiftly running out of water. They embark on a quest to find the most important resource in the apocalypse, which takes them to a trading outpost (as well as a clever Breaking Bad Easter egg; more on that in a moment), and a reunion with the conman Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). With Strand at their side, Madison and Walker are positioned to link up with Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) and the people at the dam, setting the stage for Erickson’s final Fear the Walking Dead curtain call.
The outgoing showrunner spoke to THR about all those developments and more.
What was the single most important goal for you to accomplish in the midseason premiere, in the wake of Jeremiah Otto’s death in the midseason finale?
One of the main threads that runs through the back half is this question of violence and the use of it, and the lengths to which Madison in particular is willing to go in order to protect her family. Is she doing greater injury than anything else? It was important to set up this idea that in the midseason finale, you see Nick pull the gun on Otto and put him down. It’s interesting to read that. He seems quite coldblooded, but I think it’s important for Nick to realize that he’s not. One of the things we’ve always tried to do on the show is as best as we can, whenever we have a significant death, we don’t want it to just fade away and disappear without dramatic or emotional weight.
What that does is set up Nick’s strange allegiance to Troy, despite the fact that Troy is as evil and sociopathic as we have seen him to be. For Nick, there’s still something very profound in the killing of this guy’s father. It weighs on him. In the premiere, he feels the best way to prevent further bloodshed is to reveal to Troy that he’s the one who put down Otto. It’s an interesting moment for Troy. You have a guy who we’ve seen be hyper violent, someone who doesn’t seem to suffer any remorse, and there’s something about the Clark family where Troy doesn’t quite know where to pocket them. Madison has had an effect on him, and now in some respects it’s Nick’s turn. By revealing what he reveals, he makes something of a leap of faith. He doesn’t know if Troy is going to pull the trigger on him. He doesn’t know if Troy is going to stop. It speaks to this larger connection between them. They both cling to violence on a darker edge, singularly and now together. In some respects, the murder of Otto binds them as we move forward over the course of the season.
Effectively, the premiere sets up this deepening and darkening relationship between Troy and Nick, but also between Madison and Troy as well. Coming off of the midseason finale and the murder of Otto, she makes a choice at the end of the premiere to not put down Troy. It’s the first time we’ve seen her hesitate in that regard. I think she would have shot Otto if he didn’t come in when he did in the midseason finale. Now, there’s no one to save her. Nick isn’t going to show up and take that burden from her again. The fact that she goes against what her instincts usually are, to be remorseless and brutal when necessary, she cuts against it. She’ll suffer for that, in the long run.
Madison decides not to kill Troy. He’s banished, but alive. At the start of the second hour, Nick hallucinates a vision of Troy. Is that a fair way to describe this character’s impact on the season — is it safe to say that Troy is going to literally and figuratively haunt the show this season?
Very much so. I think Ryan Scott wrote the episode with the hallucination that you’re talking about. It’s going to be somewhat figurative and literal as the season progresses, but again, Nick feels a weight over the death of Otto. Some would argue… well, why? Alicia makes the case to him: “You killed an evil man. How many deaths was he responsible? And yet you’re strangely worried about Troy. How many deaths is he responsible for?” It’s our attempt to delve into this thematic of violence and when can it be condoned, when is it justified and when is it not.
Troy is interesting to me because going back to the premiere of this season, for all intents and purposes, he could have been our big bad for the duration. I think he started in that respect in episode one, and then evolved and shifted and developed this strange connection with Madison and with Nick. They’re both personally invested in him, and he does represent something in terms of their past sins and the crimes they have committed. He’s the scapegoat. He’s the one who is cast out. As he is cast out, he carries the burden of the things Madison and Nick have done. It’s an interesting moment for her, because I feel like having handed this burden off to Nick and allowing him to kill Otto… letting Troy go is some kind of atonement for her, in a rather short-sighted way. The danger of his return, and the fact that he’s still out there, I think you put it very well: that’s something that does haunt them both emotionally and it will most definitely come back to bite them in the ass.
The second hour of the premiere focuses on Madison and Walker going in search of a new water supply, which takes them to the bazaar — and takes them to some music from Breaking Bad, if my ears aren’t mistaken?
That’s absolutely right. (Laughs.) I tried to be subtle with it. That was probably the moment when I fell the most deeply in love with Breaking Bad, when they did that cold open music video. As we were looking for pieces to incorporate into this world, it had the right vibe to it. It’s a gentle nod of admiration and adoration to Vince Gilligan.
At the bazaar, Strand returns, reuniting with Madison for the first time since season two. His arc in the first half of this season was a subtle one. What can we expect from him in the final half of season three?
It’s interesting. There’s almost an episode missing for Victor. We had at one point done two webisode stories, and we were actually thinking about doing one for Colman. It would have been the first interstitial to feature one of our main characters, and would have explained his story from the burning of the Abigail to his arrival at the trading post. As conceived, what we wanted to do was have him cross with Alex, Michelle Ang’s character from season two. He references at one point how he made one mistake and it compromised him, and in my mind, he did something to protect her and atone for what he had done for her way back in season two, and it put him in debt to the [trading post], which is what kind of jammed him up.
But you’ve seen a Strand who has been broken down. We find him a bit down and out. He’s very much the charming, charismatic man we have always known him to be, but we will see over the course of this season someone who goes back to basics and starts to manipulate situations and work a con eventually, in which he tries to have things both ways. He wants to protect the people he cares about, specifically Madison, but he wants to regain some of the sense of power he once had. The reason he went to the dam in the first half of the season is because he knew that water was power and that’s the main resource. If you can control it, you can define your own destiny. He hasn’t lost that idea. I think he’s going to go to a much darker place to achieve it. In some respects, I think he’s going to compromise his character in the process.
Strand is back with Madison now, and I missed that. The two of them together, Kim and Colman, have such a chemistry in front of the camera and behind the camera. They just enjoy working with each other. I think it comes across in their performances. Strand’s going to make some compromises, which might bite him on the ass, and might spin back on the people he cares about most.
Episode two ends with Madison, Walker and Strand heading toward the dam. Viewers know that Daniel is alive, and a high-ranking member of the dam at that. We also know that his daughter is alive and living on the ranch. What can we expect from that family dynamic over these next few episodes?
To a certain extent, the back half of the season is about reunions. We’ll bring pretty much all of our characters back into one cluster again. There won’t be any happy endings, unfortunately, but what’s interesting is you have Madison and Strand eventually reuniting with Daniel, but as you’ve seen, Daniel does not trust Strand. He does trust Madison to a degree. What you end up seeing is this process, this bargaining, where Ofelia really becomes a chip in that process. You have Madison, who is desperate for water, and now she has the fate of that reunion — whether father will be reunited with daughter is up to her.
What’s interesting to me about these moments as the characters reunite is they’ve all changed in each other’s absences. They’ve all become different people. Madison has gone to a much darker place, and Strand has very much been broken down. Daniel is in a place where he has to assume his daughter is dead, and in that, he’s really put his loyalty in Lola’s hands. It will be interesting when they do come back together and he does realize Ofelia is out there and alive. He’s going to have to ask himself a question: “Is she better off without me?” When he learns she’s safe and secure at the ranch, is it good to bring her back? Is it better that she has her own life to build on? These are the things he’s going to have to decide on when Madison brings him the news.
These are your final episodes of Fear the Walking Dead. Knowing that you were facing the end, were there any bucket-list items you wanted to make sure to address?
Yes, and it’s tricky, because as we got closer and closer to the end of this season, I started to have a very clear idea of what season four would be were I staying on. I think those elements will become more clear as we get toward the end of the season. There’s a very specific arc I’ve had in mind, and it centered on Madison and Nick. One of the books and films I read and watched when I first started working on this show was Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, and to me, there was always going to be some kind of conflict between mother and son. There was going to be a final confrontation between the two of them way down the road. There’s echoes of that as we get toward the end of the season.
It’s an interesting dynamic. I had to close out the story in a way that speaks to Madison’s arc and her seeming devotion to violence and the necessity of it and the willingness to do it, and how does that philosophically compromise her daughter and her son? That does come to a head by the end of this season. We can talk more about it when we get to it. (Laughs.) But emotionally, it’s a strange dynamic. I’m in some respects continuing to lay track toward something that wouldn’t really come to a head until a season seven. But Andy, Ian and Scott, I’m sure they have a plan in place. I’ll be curious to see which way they take it. There were a couple of things on my bucket list that I wanted to cross off, and I’m looking forward to talking about that in more detail when I’m allowed to.