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There’s a classic and presently relevant moment in Marvel’s The Avengers, when Loki and Iron Man square off in Stark Tower. “I have an army,” the Asgardian threatens. “We have a Hulk,” Stark retorts.
Similarly, one can imagine an exchange playing out along those lines if Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan and Kim Dickens’ Madison ever crossed paths in the zombie apocalypse. Yes, the King of the Saviors has a baseball bat — but Madison has a baseball stadium. Pick your side accordingly.
At least, Madison had a baseball stadium. It’s hard to know what’s happening these days at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas, given the shifting timelines at play in Fear the Walking Dead, now two episodes deep into its fourth season. The second hour of the creatively rebooted season skips backward in time to show what happened to Madison (Dickens) and the other members of the Clark family at the end of the third season, which marked Fear co-creator and showrunner Dave Erickson’s final year with the undead franchise.
The exact specifics behind the Clarks escaping the Gonzalez Dam explosion with their lives intact remain unclear. Indeed, there’s little explanation for how the group reunited with Luciana (Danay García) or how they lost track of Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades), but there’s no doubting where they wound up: a baseball stadium outside of Austin, which they lovingly refer to as “The Diamond.” The episode sees the Clarks at their all-time happiest, certainly within the apocalypse, if not even before the walkers came back from the dead; nearly 50 people live in this new community, which is celebrating its first anniversary by the time viewers are invited to check in on the proceedings.
But the status quo soon shifts, as Madison and her family encounter a young girl named Charlie, and venture out into the countryside to search for her family. They instead find Naomi, the paranoid newcomer played by Jenna Elfman, leading to an all-out war against a small army of soggy zombies inside an oil tanker (more details on how that fight came to life ahead), but no sign of Charlie’s family — at least, not until a few hours later, when a group known as the Vultures arrives outside of the Diamond. These scrappy survivors live up to their moniker, waiting for people to die due to the nature of the apocalypse, then swooping in to feast on what’s been left behind.
When the Vultures show up and make their intentions for the Diamond known, Madison makes it clear that she has no plans to surrender. She shows her commitment to the community by doubling down on her efforts to build sleeping quarters within the Diamond, an effort she began at the start of the hour; in the closing moments, the other Diamond denizens join her in the job.
It’s a noble showing from the Fear the Walking Dead protagonist, but is it a fruitless one? It may well be, considering Madison’s conspicuous absence from the group of Clarks who appeared at the end of the season premiere. Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane), Strand (Colman Domingo) and Luciana were last seen surrounding Morgan (Lennie James), John (Garret Dillahunt) and Althea (Maggie Grace) in the final moments of the first episode, but there was — and continues to be — no sign of Madison in the present, post-Diamond timeline.
“That really speaks to the larger themes we’re exploring this season, with isolation and community,” Fear the Walking Dead co-showrunner Andrew Chambliss previously told THR about what’s ahead for Madison this season. “We’re excited to fold her into those themes. We take Madison to some places that people haven’t seen her character go before.”
Not exactly reassuring words for those who are concerned about Madison’s fate moving forward, and for her part, actress Dickens isn’t doing much to reassure the fan base. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, here’s what she says about the new status quo on Fear, what’s ahead for Madison this season, the oil battle she endured alongside Elfman’s Naomi, and what’s at stake as she and the Clarks square off against the Vultures.
Season three marked the end of an era for Fear the Walking Dead with Dave Erickson’s departure. Season four marks the arrival of a new creative direction with Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg as showrunners, and Scott M. Gimple overseeing as well. Leaving season three, what were your thoughts on where the show could go? Did it feel as uncertain for you as the future must have felt for Madison in the last moments of season three?
It’s funny, because it absolutely did feel uncertain. But that was always the nature of the show anyway. We were all sad to see Dave Erickson go, naturally. He was a core part of forming our original Fear family. But we welcomed our new showrunners with open arms. These changes do happen in the business. Dave was moving on, and new creativity and new blood was coming in. We were all on board with it, and we all showed up to do the best we can. But we expect change every season. Season four is a pivotal moment, in that there are new characters and new worlds to explore. It’s the way a genre show like this tends to go: a reinvention every season. That wasn’t really surprising; that level of uncertainty is not unfamiliar to us. Our show started in Los Angeles, and then we went to Mexico, and now we’re back in the United States via Texas. The fact that we change locations and countries definitely informs our stories. It informs the new characters coming into the show this year, and the new villains, and the new locations. It’s always uncertain, really.
Above it all, we know this is the first time we’re ever having a crossover with The Walking Dead, which is huge. What really changes season four is that we’re seeing Madison Clark and the Clark family — the extended family, with Victor Strand, etc. — we’re seeing this family through the eyes of someone else: Lennie James’ character, Morgan Jones. That’s what clearly characterizes the reinvention of season four.
The season premiere ended in an exciting way, where Morgan sees the Clarks for the first time… but not all of the Clarks. Where’s Madison? How worried should we be?
You know what? This is the way we tell the stories. (Laughs.) I can’t give away anything about that. I can’t tell you to worry or not worry. The storytelling is magnificent this season. We’re playing with time in a very unique way. The characters are changing from what you have seen before. That’s all I can tell you for now. You’ll have to remain worried and wait to find out, week to week. You can’t even stream it, which I like! It gets harder, week to week.
Fair enough. In episode two, we trip back in time and see how Madison and the other Clarks have survived in the year or so since the Gonzalez Dam’s explosion. It feels like the happiest we have ever seen this family, at least in terms of life in the apocalypse.
I think it’s the happiest we have seen the Clarks since the fall of civilization, for sure. They even seem a little bit happier than then! It’s fun for us to play these characters going through this evolution. And I think it’s even been a little bit longer than a year. When episode two begins, it’s been 365 days at the Diamond, plus there’s the travel time to get there, which took quite a while. I can’t commit to saying the amount of time, but it’s been a good bit of time.
When we find the Clarks and the extended family, they’re in a beautiful place. They’ve created a safe haven. There are farm animals. They’re growing food. They’re working together as a community. Madison is realizing her dream. This is what she wanted to do. She wanted to start over. She didn’t just want to survive. She wanted to find a way forward, which I think is human instinct. The human spirit is so resilient. It’s a great quality to get to portray in this character, especially with how dark she’s been. She’s a complicated character, and such a fantastic role to play.
When we left her in season three, she had narrowly escaped death, and had no idea where her family was. What we gain when we see her again here in season four is that she’s vowed to never let it happen again. By doing so, she’s avoiding all the past mistakes she’s made. She’s not only avoiding those mistakes, but finding a way to make up for them. It’s a very proactive way to live in this apocalyptic society. It’s also a necessary path, this attempt to rebuild society. Getting there requires making up for past mistakes, in order to make a better world.
That better world is under immediate threat at the end of the episode, with the arrival of the Vultures. Madison does not seem like she’s entertaining the notion of negotiating with this group. What’s going through her head when they arrive at the Diamond?
It’s the first time our community has been antagonized in such a big way. Madison goes out there, post-oil battle, covered in oil. She’s lost all of her “give a fucks,” if you will: “I’ll march right out here covered in oil to talk to you guys, because we’re not going anywhere.” That’s Madison’s approach. She’s fully confident in that, and fully confident in her people’s strength as a society and in their barricaded home. At the beginning of the episode, you see Madison building. At the end of the episode, you see Madison building. Nobody’s tearing anything down in her eyes. That motivates the rest of the community.
You mentioned the oil battle, which is your first major sequence with Elfman as Naomi. What was that like to film?
It was Jenna’s first bit of action. She got her feet wet there, so to speak. (Laughs.) It was intense. Each episode, we aim for the fence. We always have a great amount of stunts and challenging locations, but when I read the words “oil tank,” I was like… jeez. We’re in this warm oil that was water with maybe maple syrup in it. I don’t know quite what was in it, but our phenomenal special effects team made it look like oil. And whatever the makeup team puts on us, it would have to look like oil as well. We had to wear wigs, and we were covered in wet suits underneath our clothes in order to stay warm. So we’re standing in this warm tank of weird liquid for an entire day, killing zombies. It’s pretty fun at first, and by the end of the day? It’s disgusting. (Laughs.) I was underwater at times. It’s not for chumps.
Madison and Naomi are meeting here for the first time. What can you say about the dynamic between these characters?
She’s a very confusing character. She has her guard up to an extreme extent. She crosses paths with Madison and the gang. Madison sees her as woman who is having post-traumatic stress, and initially, she thinks maybe she’s the mother of Charlie, the girl we’ve taken in. So she looks at Naomi as a lost soul, as someone who needs to be taken in, and so she invites her in. There’s a point that Madison has turned. She’s more of a benevolent character now, who is making up for the past and past wrongs. This is how that sort of manifests: by saving people and bringing them in, and giving them a home, and that’s what’s happening here with Naomi. But Naomi isn’t a trusting character. She has a mysterious past. So there’s a conflict here between the characters.
Does it shake Madison’s resolve and her benevolence when Charlie, the little girl, is revealed to be working with the Vultures?
As an actor, you question it. But ultimately, it’s a child. That’s what Madison thinks. She’s a parent, and she sees a child who is being manipulated into being a mole. You see it on all of the characters’ faces, the disappointment. Ultimately, it’s not a mistake in their eyes. In their eyes, they still need to save the child.
What will happen to Madison and the community at the Diamond? Sound off with your theories in the comments below, and keep checking our Fear the Walking Dead coverage all season long.
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