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No one’s gone — except for Madison Clark.
The main character of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead was killed off at the end of this year’s midseason finale, putting an end to speculation that’s run rampant since the start of the creatively retooled fourth season. Madison marks the second original castmember to depart the Walking Dead companion series this season; unlike the death of Frank Dillane’s Nick, however, Madison’s exit was not something Kim Dickens requested. According to the season one veteran, showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg (who took over Fear the Walking Dead this year following the departure of co-creator and original showrunner Dave Erickson at the end of season three) were the ones who devised Madison’s death, informing Dickens of the development before production on season four commenced.
“They saw my disappointment,” Dickens tells The Hollywood Reporter about her initial conversations with Chambliss and Goldberg. “They saw what I disagreed with about it. But it was always a respectful conversation. There were a few conversations, and they were always respectful, but they were heartfelt.”
By the time Dickens hopped on the phone with THR to discuss her exit from Fear, little more than twelve hours had elapsed since Madison’s death became public knowledge. Dickens, whose extensive career includes turns on FX’s Sons of Anarchy and ABC’s Lost, is saying goodbye to one of her most recognizable roles, while simultaneously preparing to revisit another of her iconic characters: Joannie Stubbs of HBO’s Deadwood. Dickens confirmed the looming return of the legendary HBO series during her final appearance on Talking Dead; while the totality of Dickens’ next moves remains uncertain, at least one of her future projects will have roots in her past.
Read on for Dickens’ thoughts on the Deadwood revival, as well as her extensive thoughts on leaving Fear the Walking Dead — including whether or not she would play Madison again, given the nebulous way in which the character’s death was portrayed onscreen.
Some fans are clinging onto hope that Madison is still alive, given that we don’t see her actual death. Can you confirm that Madison is dead, or is there some flexibility in the interpretation?
I couldn’t confirm it if there was, obviously, but she’s gone. That’s all I know. (Laughs.) Trust me, that’s all I know. That’s the way we played it.
Would you be open to returning to the series, if the writers concocted a way for Madison to have survived the attack at the Diamond?
Wow. It’s so funny… in all of this heat and in this moment, I never thought about that, and I didn’t expect to get that question. (Pauses.) I don’t know how to answer that. All I can say is that I felt my whole career was leading me to this character. Honestly, I find that the roles find us, as actors, when you’re ready for them, and when you’re ready to be challenged. I have loved this character so much. It has been such an honor to play this fierce and empowered woman who is mature and a mother, and is maybe not your typical idea of a lead for the genre. It’s just been an honor, everything I’ve gotten to play with this character: her benevolent side, her evil side… all of it. It’s been a challenge and a joy, just the complexities of her. I’ve been working for five or six months on letting her go, and that’s been hard, because I knew [about Madison’s death] before going into production. So, I don’t know how to answer that. I’ve had to let it go. Were it to come around and find itself in another show or another place and time? Of course I would entertain it. I love the character. I love the franchise. I love the writing and the storytelling of it. But you really made me stumble there for a minute. I almost got emotional!
Well, people are very emotional about it right now for a myriad of reasons, whether it’s because they were attached to Madison as a character, or because they found resonance in what you said a moment ago: that Madison is a fierce and empowered strong woman at the lead of this franchise, which is not necessarily something seen in this genre very often. I imagine you share the passionate reactions from the fan base today.
Yeah, I do. I do. Thank you for asking the question and making me dig deep a little bit… but ultimately, I love this franchise and everything we’ve done. I love this whole cast. I think we’ve always had a very diverse cast and we’ve always told diverse stories. We’ve always been stacked with strong female characters within this cast, and strong, layered characters of both sexes. To be that type of leader… she wasn’t just a female leader. She was so many other things. She was flawed and complex and real and resonated. She was a leader who was looking not only to survive ever day, but to save her kids, one kid at a time in this world. Eventually, she was trying to create a new world, to start over, not just survive one day at a time.
This is the second major departure of the season, with Frank Dillane leaving earlier in the year. He has made it clear that leaving the show was his choice. It doesn’t sound like this is something you requested. When the decision came down and you had the conversation with Ian and Andrew, did you try to plead Madison’s case? Did you debate it back and forth at all?
I obviously let them know what I felt. It wasn’t about my fighting for the character or not fighting for the character, because obviously I fought for the character on a daily basis. It was pretty much decided. They had gone through all of their channels and breaking the season. I wasn’t asked early on: “How would you feel if this is the way it would go?” Basically, it was decided. You don’t really have a choice. It’s ultimately up to the writers and the producers. They saw my disappointment. They saw what I disagreed with about it. But it was always a respectful conversation. There were a few conversations, and they were always respectful, but they were heartfelt. I definitely spoke my mind. I was not in any way battling them though, ever. It’s ultimately the writers’ and producers’ decision in television.
Did you ever speak with original showrunner Dave Erickson about what was going to happen with Madison, and how he would have handled her arc if he had stayed on with the show?
I’m still in touch with Dave. We’ve remained friends. It’s something that’s a secret when this happens; you have to keep it under wraps, which is very tough, even with close friends. Your closest end up knowing, but it’s a secret you have to keep for [several months]. But with Dave, we were in such touch that I did confide to him. He’s in touch with AMC; he’s still a producer, executive producer and creator of the show, so he knew. We talked about it, and he knew my disappointment and sadness. He was sad for us, you know? It’s a character he created. I think he maybe knew [what his plans were for Madison], but he never really told me, and I never really asked him how he saw it finishing. I just did the work on a daily basis. I put my head down and went to work every day. I didn’t need to know all the answers. I just needed to know the lay of the land for each season. I have a pretty good idea of what he imagined, and I think he does, too. But it doesn’t matter. For me, I saw so many stories to tell with Madison, and so many places to go. She could have even become the villain. I love the range that this character could go in and venture into. I was excited to continue playing that, because I’d been playing that. But that’s all. You move on. It’s part of this job. It’s part of the genre. No one is safe. Each season is about reinventing the show in some way. I’m just being honest with my sadness to see the character go, because I want to honor the fans and the story and the character.
How did you set about coming to terms with Madison’s fate? How did you make peace with your time on the show being over, when you felt you still had more to say with the character?
Ultimately, I trust that things are as they should be. I really do. … I found out the information [months ago], and as many other characters have done before on Walking Dead who experience this, you go to work with a secret. Your cast ends up knowing and things like that, but you have to work through knowing about it, and all that disappointment. You work through it. You say your goodbyes. By now, I’m at peace with it and I’m ready to move on and for the next adventure. I’m proud of what I’ve done. You just have to work through it. It’s pretty challenging. But I’d rather have known going in and been able to work through it than if they had surprised me at the end of the season.
What do you remember about shooting your final scene on set?
It was the first sequence [of the episode] with [Althea, played by Maggie Grace]. We were out in the woods. It was a beautiful night. The scene was very fun to shoot. Everybody was in a good mood. It was very loving. It was sort of easy to say goodbye to everyone. We all had a great shoot. It was a great way to go off. It felt really good. We had all spent our time saying our goodbyes, and we all had our different feelings about it. It was a great moment to leave on. I really loved that opening sequence.
You’re saying goodbye to one of your iconic characters, just as you’re about to say hello again to another one: Joanie Stubbs on Deadwood, which you said on Talking Dead is revving up to shoot in the fall. Is that at all a comfort, that you’re about to head back to someone familiar?
Yeah, in a way, it is. It’s another badass female in her own way. She’s obviously much more challenged. But it’s a fun little thing to look forward to, for sure. I look forward to the next things; I know I’m going to be busy. But that one? Yeah, I’m going to put the top hat on again and see my old gang. It’s going to be great. … I’ll be kicking up my heels in the thoroughfare again. Who would have thought? [Deadwood] was a momentous moment for so many of us in that cast. We’ll never forget it. Garret Dillahunt and I still talk about it. It sort of changed our lives. It was one of those moments for so many of us, what the work itself did on a daily basis. It sort of changed you on the inside, working with David Milch on those stories. It’ll be fun to revisit.
What’s your take on Dickens’ Fear the Walking Dead departure? Sound off in the comments below and keep checking THR.com for more coverage.
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