'Fear the Walking Dead' Boss on the New Threat — and How Long It Will Last

Dave Erickson breaks down episode four and previews the upcoming conflict as the freshman drama heads into its final two hours of the season.
AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 104, "Not Fade Away," of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead.]

There's a new threat on Fear the Walking Dead — and it's a familiar one to fans of the original zombie drama.

Sunday's episode featured a notable time jump to find the show's central family held within a newly erected safe zone in their neighborhood now that the National Guard has taken control. Outside the guard-patrolled fences, everyone in L.A. has either left town or been gunned down, as the military sees anyone who doesn't voluntarily seek shelter in their 12 communities as a threat to the survivors.

Meanwhile, Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Liza's (Elizabeth Rodriguez) son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) is right that there's something alive outside the walls. However, it winds up being a group executing the sick, who are being taken by new arrival Dr. Exner (Sandrine Holt) in a bid to protect the community. Speaking of Exner, she recruits Liza to join a group she refers to as the government in helping to care for the ill — which now includes Daniel's (Ruben Blades) wife, Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spindola), and Madison's (Kim Dickens) son, Nick (Frank Dillane), the latter of whom is taken against his will.

Here, Fear the Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson talks with THR about the National Guard and how the human threat is familiar to that of the flagship series, as well as what to expect from the oncoming conflict as the series heads into its final two episodes of the season.

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So Chris was right, there is something alive in the distance. Only it's not a hospital, is it? It's the "government" — or so we're led to believe — taking the injured and those at risk of dying and infecting the community and executing them. Is that accurate?

When Madison ventures out and goes beyond the fence and she comes across that massacre, it's essentially the group of people who didn't want to leave. It's people who either because they saw some reason to mistrust, they wanted to stay in their homes and they refused to be evacuated. It's an interesting dynamic where you got civilians who are rightly trying to hold on to what's there's and you also have the National Guard, a group of weekend soldiers who primarily are not battle-hardened people. There's a lot of fear. When you are dealing with the populous with the way this is going down, the soldiers think the military knows more than our family does. There are still questions — you don't know how this is transmitted, you don't know if you can catch it — and it creates a lot of tension and can also make people a bit trigger-happy. The massacre doesn't necessarily have to have been a cleansing of the neighborhood. It was a group of soldiers trying to do their job and met with some antagonism and resistance and, unfortunately, one thing led to another. In the final scene, it's a similar dynamic. A lot of the soldiers, there's suspicion if somebody is refusing to come inside the fences because they're probably sick, and therefore they're a threat.

Is this really the National Guard or could it be an unaffiliated group trying to maintain some semblance of authority?

Lt. Moyers' (Jamie McShane) group, they're the National Guard. We haven't explored that idea about other rogue elements who are out patrolling and doing their own thing, but, for all intents and purposes, this is a military presence and it's a military that's dealing with something that they've never seen before. There's nothing in the playbook on how you handle a zombie apocalypse. So, no, but that's something I might now use in season two.

Now that Nick and Griselda have been taken, how are we going to see Madison and Daniel team to get them back and find out where they've been taken?

They will absolutely work together. One of things that's interesting about this episode is the approach that Travis has to the guard and the approach that Madison has to the guard. Madison has a level of mistrust and Travis wants to believe and have faith. He wants to see some kind of a return and repair to civilization. By the end of the episode, they both know that's not true. What will be interesting in episode five is how they go about trying to retrieve Griselda, Liza and Nick. We will see a couple of unique and very specific ways of collecting all their loved ones — and will see which approach works.

How deadly will episode five be? Will this be Madison and Daniel taking on the Guard and the "government"?

Everything is going to come to a head because five is our penultimate episode and then we hit the finale and the season is done. It will be a clash. It may not necessarily be a clash of our people against the guard, but the tension is going to rise and there may be weapons involved.

Is this really the government, or a rogue group or an extension of the National Guard?

No, it's the National Guard. The idea was that once a state of emergency became clear in various states and it was evident that this was not something that could be handled by local police or sheriffs that it's essentially martial law. The guard is brought in to help and protect the civilians and try to deal with the infected. At higher levels, and we never tell the stories through that filter, but it is clear to the people in charge that the dead are the dead and there's no way to bring them back. All you can do is put them down because there's no cure that you can see, there's no way to make this better, and unfortunately that leads to some draconian measures.

Then why round up the people who are sick? I mean like Nick—he's a drug addict, he's definitely stealing the morphine from the next door neighbor—that's pretty freaking low—but, at the same time, why are they picking up these people? Are they collecting people who they see as a threat?

They want to bring these people to a hospital and treat them because if they can keep them from dying then they won't turn. But, they can't have them with the regular population because if they did turn then, suddenly, Nick bites Madison and Madison bites Travis and then we don't have a show anymore (laughs).

So the executions going on in the distance, these are patients who didn't make it and turned?

They're either holdouts or paranoia and fear that some of our inexperienced soldiers might have. There are walkers, there are infected out there as well. There are people who are huddled up who don't necessarily want to leave or people who have witnessed the massacre that took place outside of the fence that Madison discovers. The operative element is fear and fear of the unknown. Many of the soldiers still see any civilian outside of the fence as someone that could be dangerous. And some of the civilians outside of the fence have seen evidence, not just of what the infected can do, but have seen what some select members of the military have done.

It's similar to The Walking Dead in that you're dealing with a dual threat — of the undead and how horrible the living can be.

Rick (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up in the hospital and the triage outside and the evidence of the military. He sees the aftermath of a battle that's been lost. Then there's that flashback of Shane (Jon Bernthal) trying to get Rick to wake up. You see Shane escaping the hospital and barricading Rick's door and as he looks down the hallway and you see a number of soldiers gunning down people who don't seem infected. At a certain point, it is very much about the danger of the "other" and the "other" is not necessarily the infected.

Should we be worried about Liza going with Dr. Exner? Is this a Grady Memorial-type of place she's going to with a Dawn-like woman?

Liza goes with the expectation that it's not going to be permanent. Griselda is her patient. She realizes that Nick has been taken, and that's on her and she feels responsible for that. Before that question can be answered, other things are going to happen. It's going to get complicated very quickly.

Now that we see what kind of a role the Guard is playing, does this series turn into an "us vs. them" scenario?

It's not going to be a long-term battle with the military. One of the reasons we did this time jump between episodes three and four — and opened up the fence and created this safe-zone —was because we wanted to stay with our blended family within our neighborhood and continue to keep the characters somewhat insulated from the absolute reality of the apocalypse. It also allows the story to move on in a way where, when we get to the end of our season, we're not quite at a place where Rick wakes up from his coma. There's still some real estate to explore, there's still some discoveries for our characters to make in terms of how much the apocalypse has progressed, how much damage has it done, and this is the new reality they're going to have to embrace. There's a turn with the military in which it will not be an ongoing battle for the civilian population vs. the military population.

We know it's been nine days since the lights went out and civilization fell. Did it really take nine days to wipe out a major city like L.A.? Did everyone really die or "head east"?

They died or moved east — or they went west to the water or they went north. It was something of an exodus. We know that there 12 safe zones south of the San Gabriel Mountains. That's the policy instituted by each state. There are pockets of people who are behind fences who are safe for now. And then there's a battle going on outside where the National Guard is and the Army are trying to put down the infected. Unfortunately, it's happening at such a degree —the apocalypse takes hold completely and willfully. And the audience knows in four to five weeks when Rick wakes up, the world is gone. … It's really about trying to lay things out in such a way that when we get to that five-week mark, we're maintaining the reality of the comic and hitting our stride with that.

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There are 12 safe zones nearby. Will we see any of those or meet people from those communities?

No. Probably not in this season because the story is going in a specific direction, but that is a very good question for season two. Our characters, going into season two, are going to be in a very similar situation to Rick. They may go mobile by the end [of season one]; they may have to venture out and they still don't know how bad it is. They've heard — we've heard radio spots this season where we talk about state of emergency and other states, but we don't really reference the international side of it very much. There still is an element of, "Maybe it's better someplace else?" Or, "Maybe it's better in another state or another country?" The idea for our characters by the end of the season is that the entire world has been decimated and that's not something they can wrap their brains around. In fact, the only reason we got that information in season one of the original is because of the CDC story. Our characters aren't going to have the CDC to go to. They're going to have to piece that together a bit more carefully.

Madison beat the crap out of Nick. Now that he's been taken and that's the last interaction she has with her son, is there any hope for him?

There's hope for us all. You can make two choices in the apocalypse: You can either surrender to it or you can maintain your hope and you can maintain the possibility of some kind of change. Nick, in many ways, has been living in his own apocalypse for quite some time. He's one of those characters who seems to be beyond redemption, but the life he's been living for the past six years may be exactly the training that is needed to survive. The people who are the most put-together before the apocalypse strikes are the ones that probably are going to suffer the most. The people who are already living on the fringes, it's almost like the water's a little bit warmer for them.

How do you think the rest of the season will play out? Sound off in the comments below. Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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