7:14pm PT by Josh Wigler
Did 'Fear the Walking Dead' Just Kill One of the Franchise's Most Important Characters?
[This story contains spoilers for the season five finale of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead, "End of the Line."]
As Morgan Jones, Lennie James has been among the most enduring faces of the Walking Dead franchise, appearing in the pilot episode and ultimately becoming the leading man on spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. Those days may be over, based on the Fear season five finale, which ends with Morgan quite literally at death's door.
In "End of the Line," Morgan and his friends fight together to overcome walkers at Humbug's Gulch, an Old West theme park they hope to turn into a new home. They end up needing help from Virginia (Colby Minifie), the self-declared pioneer hellbent on building a new world order. In exchange, Morgan and his group agree to follow Virginia's way moving forward. With their allegiance in hand, Virginia divides and conquers the crew, sending them off into unknown directions. Newlyweds John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and June (Jenna Elfman) are forced apart, as are Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) and his feline sidekick, Skidmark the cat.
As for Morgan, he and budding love interest Grace (Karen David) are separated mere moments after confessing their feelings for one another. Soon after, when they are the only ones left in the Gulch, Virginia shoots Morgan and leaves him for dead, not interested in bringing him into her vision of the future. The final scene features a bloodied Morgan slumped in a doorway, broadcasting a message of hope to his friends ("Just live!") as a swarm of walkers descend upon him. The season ends before we see what happens next.
Is this really the end of the line for Morgan Jones, one of very few characters from the first season of The Walking Dead still alive? (The others on that list: Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon and Melissa McBride's Carol Peletier on the flagship, as well as the currently missing-in-action Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes.) Here's some good news for worried fans: Fear the Walking Dead showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss won't confirm or deny Morgan's fate. The pair will only offer repeated "wait and see" replies when pushed on the subject by The Hollywood Reporter. When original series lead Kim Dickens was written out in the midseason four finale, Goldberg and Chambliss were much more forthcoming in confirming the character's death, controversy surrounding that decision notwithstanding. Their refusal to deliver a solid answer here on Lennie James' continued involvement in Fear the Walking Dead, combined with the fact that viewers never see walkers making physical contact with Morgan, bodes well for the character's survival, however improbable. Cue the avalanche of theories on how he makes it out of this one alive — including one THR floats forward to Goldberg and Chambliss in the interview ahead, all about Morgan's cliffhanging fate and what it means for season six.
Can you confirm Morgan's fate? Fair to say he's dead at the end of the season?
Ian Goldberg: Well, we heard Morgan's last words on the walkie to the rest of his group. He said, "Just live." Obviously, Morgan's in a very difficult spot. He's been shot, he's bleeding and walkers are encroaching on him and he's all alone at The Gulch. So, whether or not he's able to take his own advice and live by those words "just live," we'll have to see what happens in season 6.
Will Lennie James return as a series regular next season?
Andrew Chambliss: Like Ian said, people are just going to have to wait and see if Morgan is going to be able to get out of the dire predicament he is in.
Talk through constructing the ending of the season. How did you decide upon this deadly last stand for Morgan?
Goldberg: Thematically, this has been a season about hope, about bringing people together, about uniting behind a shared mission of benevolence and helping people in the world. That's what the season's been about for Morgan and the rest of our characters and we knew that we wanted to bring them close together only to really test and tear them apart at the end of the season.
This season has also been about two visions for the future. A vision set forth by Ginny and her people, a vision that's much more utilitarian, that's about being ruthless in the name of survival — we've seen what Ginny is willing to do to accomplish that — versus Morgan and his group, which is much more humanist and putting value on all human life and much more about hope and benevolence. We've seen those two visions of the future come to a collision here in the finale and ultimately, in many senses, Virginia and her way prevails in the finale. What was important to us was that even amidst the huge loss — and there is a huge loss in the finale between everyone being split up, Morgan being shot and left for dead — that doesn't mean what they fought for wasn't worth it.
I think what makes it so bittersweet, those final moments, is the fact that Morgan learns even as he's bleeding out that Grace is pregnant and that the symptoms she was experiencing were about her pregnancy. This group fought for a future they didn't even realize was happening and that's the future that Grace was carrying inside of her. That's a tremendously hopeful thing for Morgan to know, even in what could be his final moments. And that's why it was so important for him to communicate that to the rest of the group. Whether those are his final words or whether the group even heard them and what they choose to do with them in season six is a question we'll just have to see when we get there.
If this is the end of Morgan's story, what do you hope the viewer takes away from his ending and the journey that brought him to this place?
Chambliss: Whether or not Morgan survives is something viewers are going to have to wait until season six to find out. But Morgan's journey in many ways was about coming full circle with where he started on The Walking Dead in the pilot where we met him. He was a man who was trying to protect his son but was unable to let go of his wife, and that inability to make a hard decision has haunted him ever since. It led to his son's death. It's what drove him into madness, causing him to commit acts of violence against many, many people. And over the course of his journey on The Walking Dead and on Fear, we've seen him slowly claw his way out of that place of violence. Particularly in this season, we've really seen him make some great strides to both make up for the things he has done by trying to make this apocalyptic world brighter, trying to bring a little bit of hope to it. But we've also seen him try to figure out how to live a life that wasn't just about survival, and in many ways, Morgan's confronted many of the demons that he's been carrying with him from his past and he finally found himself in a place where he was willing to open up his heart to another human being again, where he was willing to look towards a future that wasn't just about him, that may be about building a family … and the tragedy of the predicament Morgan finds himself in is that he may not actually get to have the human connection he's finally ready for.
Goldberg: It's a bittersweet thing for Morgan because it marks a huge evolution for him as a character. He's been sort of wrestling with the ghosts of Jenny and Duane for his entire duration on The Walking Dead and Fear, and he's finally in a place where he's able to cope with his grief in such a way that he can move on and have a life with someone.
Chambliss: And now he may not get the chance to move on.
How will the ending of season five fuel what's ahead in season six, with the survivors all stranded and working in different areas under Virginia's rule? What does Fear the Walking Dead look like without Morgan?
Goldberg: We've talked about in previous interviews building toward sort of a game-changer moment for the end of this season, and I think you see in this finale what that game-changer looks like. We see at the end of the episode our people who have formed this makeshift family are now all being separated from the people they care about the most. In season six, we're going to see them living apart from each other, not able to operate the way that they've grown accustomed to operating in the apocalypse. They're now playing by Virginia's rules, living under her thumb, living in her settlements without the comfort and security of each other. So it's going to be a big shift for them, and it will test them. And we'll see how it potentially changes them to lose that nucleus of the family and to have to live under a different philosophy and a different leader.
Structurally, the show is going to reinvent itself because we're going to be seeing characters split apart from each other, but it's also going to open us up to a bigger universe and that is Ginny's ever-expanding settlements. We're going to see where our characters end up, where they're living; and each of those settlements give us a different insight, a different window into a different pocket of the apocalypse. And these settlements will all have their own flavor, their own identity. And so that will also be a big change. And again, it's all about how it's going to change our characters because their circumstances will be drastically different from the ones that they've been in in season five.
If hope and unity have been the big themes of Fear the Walking Dead recently, what do you envision as the theme for season six?
Chambliss: In season five, the thematics of the show really explored how characters can try to maintain hope in a world that tries to tear it down so much, and all of our characters found themselves making real emotional progress in letting go of the trauma of their past and taking steps forward in building relationships with each other and building a sense of a future that they could share together. As that all gets taken away from them at the end of the season and propels us into season six, we're really going to be looking forward to a show that will explore how these same characters are able to hold onto that hope in a world that is much darker, in a world that they have much less control, in a world that they are not connected to each other in the same way they have been; and whether those characters can hold onto their hope, whether those characters give it up, whether those characters go to a darker place, those are all struggles that our characters are going to be facing over the course of season six. It's really going to push everyone to become new versions of themselves. If season five was everyone fighting to become the best version of themselves, season six is going to be about whether or not they're able to hold onto that in the face of so much adversity under Ginny's rule.
The Walking Dead comic books ended this year. Do you imagine Fear reaching an ending of its own soon? Have you had conversations about what a conclusion looks like, given the stories you've set up and the characters you have in play?
Chambliss: We still have plenty of stories we want to tell on Fear the Walking Dead. There's so much ground for these characters to cover that excites us and we're focused on mapping out their journeys in season six and setting up for the stories that come beyond.
Shot in the dark theory time: Madison Clark is alive and she's going to save Morgan from his current predicament. Hot? Cold?
Chambliss: That is a fascinating theory. And we'll just have to wait for season six to see how things go.
Follow THR.com/FearTheWalkingDead for more coverage.