[This story contains spoilers for season four, episode eight of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead, "No One Is Gone."]
For anyone holding out hope that Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) survived her grisly encounter with an army of walkers at the end of Fear the Walking Dead's midseason finale, here's some tough news: The powers that be behind the series have confirmed Madison's death, without equivocation.
There will be no eleventh-hour twist to save her from certain doom, no dumpsters to hide under. Speaking with THR, showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg (who took on the roles after the season three departure of co-creator Dave Erickson) made it clear that "Madison's story has come to an end," and that there is no wiggle room for any other interpretations.
"There were thousands of walkers in that stadium that were feet away from her just before they went up in flames," says Chambliss, "so Madison died making that sacrifice for her family."
In the wake of her death, Dickens becomes the second original series regular to depart Fear the Walking Dead this season, following Frank Dillane's exit as Nick. Did Chambliss and Goldberg ever feel like it was too much, eliminating two original Fear the Walking Dead characters in the span of six episodes? Why did they feel it was necessary to kill off the lead of the series, seeing as Dickens is on the record stating that she still felt there were more stories to be told about Madison at the time of the character's death? What will the show look like without the Clark family matriarch, and can we expect to see her in some way, shape or form in the future? Read on for Chambliss' and Goldberg's answers to all of those questions and more.
Can you confirm that Madison is dead, or is there a chance she survived the attack on the Diamond?
Andrew Chambliss: We will confirm that Madison's story has come to an end. She made a sacrifice to save her children and the people she had brought together in the stadium, and we heard that story recounted from the points of view of Strand (Colman Domingo), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Luciana (Danay Garcia). It was really about them talking about the last moments they remember of Madison, and that was about her sacrifice and this act of heroism she did to not just save them, but the philosophy she had built this whole place on: It has to be about more than just herself. It has to be about community. It has to be about everyone. We were really invested in that being the final memory everyone has of Madison going forward.
And just to state it plainly, you're confirming that Madison is dead?
Unlike Dillane's departure, Madison's death was not something that came at Dickens' behest. What went into the decision to kill off the lead of the show?
Goldberg: For us, we started this season with the thematic idea and emotion we wanted to explore being hope, and taking people from hopelessness toward that hope. Madison is the ultimate embodiment of hope. She's someone who is selfless. We see that not only does she fight to protect her own family, but also to bring in people from the outside world who can help themselves into the shelter of the stadium. She's heroic in that way. We've had two timelines this season. Strand, Alicia and Luciana have been on this very dark mission for the first eight episodes. We didn't reveal why until last night's episode, and it's because of who they lost and their reactions to the loss of that hope. It isn't until the midseason finale where they start to rediscover how far they've strayed from what Madison wanted for them, and why she made that sacrifice. It's about them rediscovering that hope, and how to carry it forward in a world that finds a lot of ways to test people who are hopeful and optimistic. For them, it's about taking this incredible legacy that Madison left behind. Hope as a theme is something that's very much going to be a part of the DNA of the show going forward.
What did you discuss in your conversations with Scott Gimple about killing off Madison?
Chambliss: Just reiterating what Ian was talking about thematically. We wanted to have Madison's death really mean something. We see hints of that in that scene around the campfire at the end of last night's episode. Madison said some things to Strand and Luciana and Nick and Alicia right before she died: "No one's gone until they're gone." That's something Madison had to believe in to do what she did. We've seen her in very dark places, previously. She found a way to find hope again and to come back from the dark things she's done. In that same way, we're going to see Alicia, Strand and Luciana do the same thing. Their journey going forward will be about how to reconcile all the dark things they did with the legacy Madison wanted them to carry forward. It's not just those three characters who Madison's death will impact. We'll really see it ripple through all of the characters on the show.
Goldberg: Althea's (Maggie Grace) philosophy through the first half of this season was talking about how important stories are, and how important it is to have these stories recorded. I think you really see that at the end of this episode, when everyone's sitting around the campfire. We see how profoundly affected everyone is by Madison's story and her sacrifice, even people who never met her. They will never be the same. They will be changed by her heroism.
How early on did you arrive at Madison's death as a major turning point in the season? Was it part of your initial pitch when you came to the show?
Chambliss: It was definitely as we were planning what the season was going to be about. We were going to take these characters from a hopeless place to a place of hope. It was shaped around them losing the glue that held them together. It was about taking away the thing that helped all these characters live a better life in the stadium, and seeing how they would react to it and if they could come back from it. That was part of the whole conceit of the season from the beginning.
Were you ever concerned losing Madison was too much for longtime Fear fans to handle, given that Nick was going to die as well due to Frank's desire to leave the show?
Goldberg: We're both huge fans of the Walking Dead universe, both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. It's always difficult and emotional to lose people in this world. For us, we had an emotional story that we wanted to tell, and that was really where we operated from. It just became for us about giving Madison the most emotional sendoff we possibly could. We're very fortunate to have worked with Kim Dickens, who brought so much humanity and a really powerful and wonderful performance. We feel very fortunate to have been able to tell that story.
What were your conversations with Kim like, once you told her about what was happening to Madison? She's described those conversations as "respectful," but also "heartfelt." What do you recall about the back-and-forth with Kim?
Chambliss: These things are never easy. We see how invested the fans are in the characters. It's equally that way for the cast who portray them and for the crew who work with them. These decisions are never taken lightly. In all those conversations with Kim, what we always said to her was that we wanted to honor the character and send her off in the most fitting way possible. We had many conversations with her. I think Kim said to us, and we said to her, that the door is always open. This is something we need to work on together in order to give Madison the best sendoff possible. As Ian said, we couldn't be more pleased with Kim's amazing performance. She brought it, from day one, our very first day of filming this season, until her final scene. We're just lucky we got to work with her, and we're grateful for the amazing work she's done.
Speaking of the door always being open, will we see Madison at all in the second half of the season? Are there any plans for flashbacks?
Goldberg: We can confirm that last night's episode was the conclusion of Madison's story. But we can also say her sacrifice and what she stood for and believed in will continue to live on in the people who survived her. It will affect them in profound ways going forward. We'll continue to see her legacy live on.
Some fans have been skeptical about Madison's death, since we don't see her die, and since Daniel Salazar survived a similar fate only a couple of seasons ago. Did you anticipate those reactions at all?
Chambliss: For us, we were always much more interested in Madison's last act of heroism being her standing there with the gun and the flare as the walkers were descending on her. For us, that was what Madison's whole life was about: protecting her family, and protecting the people she brought into the stadium. We wanted that to be the final image. But there were thousands of walkers in that stadium that were feet away from her just before they went up in flames, so Madison died making that sacrifice for her family.
For anyone who thinks it's open-ended, you would completely rule out the possibility Madison could have survived that moment?
Goldberg: Yes, we can confirm that last night was the conclusion to Madison's story.
There are certainly fans who are upset about Madison's death. The Fear the Walking Dead subreddit is in a particularly bad mood today. What do you say to fans who are having a negative reaction to what happened?
Chambliss: I'd say that we understand it's very hard to lose a character who you've grown to love over three and a half seasons. But Madison's sacrifice and what she stood for will very much be part of the fabric of the show. It's something that every character who heard that story at the end of last night's episode is going to be really wrestling with and trying to figure out how to carry forward, as we go into the back half of the season.
Looking ahead to the back half of the season, how does Fear the Walking Dead fill the void left behind by Dickens, who really was the face of the series? Will one character step up, or will Fear become even more of an ensemble show in the wake of Madison's death?
Goldberg: Fear is an ensemble show. We ended episode 408 with several people around a campfire who never could have envisioned themselves being around a campfire with each other when this season began. A lot of the back half of the season will be about, "How do we exist together? Who are we to each other? What do we do going forward? How do we carry on what Madison lived for? How do we maintain hope in this often bleak world?" There's a lot of things these people will be wrestling with. Those are stories that we're excited to tell, and we're really looking forward to hearing the audience's reaction when we do tell them.
What do you make of Chambliss and Goldberg's reasoning behind Madison's death? Sound off in the comments below and keep checking THR.com for more coverage.