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Nick Clark is a long way from home.
As it resumed its second season, AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead doubled down on the fractured dynamics at play within the story. Rather than start to bring the scattered Clark-Manawa clan back together after their dissolution in the midseason finale, the story is pushing this blended family even farther apart — not just for the characters, but for viewers as well.
In “Grotesque,” the first new episode since FTWD hit pause in May, Frank Dillane’s shaggy-haired character embarked on a solo road trip toward Tijuana, finally finding solace in a community by the end of the episode. But he brushed up against his fair share of death along the way, nearly killed at the hands of walkers, the jaws of dogs and the guns of men at multiple points throughout the hour. His situation became so dire, in fact, that he hydrated himself with his own urine. Desperate times and all that.
The episode also shelved the core cast in favor of focusing entirely on Nick, with the lone exception of Madison appearing in the episode’s flashbacks — a series of scenes that culminated in Nick learning of his father’s death in a car accident. Expect this structure to continue as FTWD pushes through the second half of its second season; while not every episode will be entirely focused on one storyline, showrunner Dave Erickson confirms that the fractured storytelling structure will be a prominent part of the season.
Read on for Erickson’s breakdown of the midseason premiere, and a preview of what’s ahead:
What’s the origin story for this episode? Why was this the right way to come back into season two?
It’s a couple of things. We took on a pretty significant amount of story in the first seven episodes. We made a conscious decision to slow things down a little bit in the back half, to let people settle into specific locations and not feel like we’re moving from port to port and from sanctuary to sanctuary quite so rapidly. It felt like, especially after the midseason finale and Nick’s decision to abandon his family and move on, we owed a solid story that was Nick-centric. Those are the two big reasons. We also just wanted to do something very clean with a specific line that would give us more insight into Nick. That’s something we’ve done with other characters in flashback. This was an opportunity to do that here.
The episode plays out as almost a survival movie showcase for Frank Dillane. What was the thinking behind that decision?
Nick more or less ends the first half of the season telling his mother that he’s immortal. The suggestion is when he walks among the dead, he can’t die. We wanted to test that idea over the course of 208 and see what it launches us into for the rest of the season.
Throughout the episode, Nick brushes up against some very deadly situations. A dog bites him; he’s nearly shot. Do these incidents reinforce Nick’s belief in his inability to die, or will they cause him to come back to Earth a little bit?
In the beginning of the season, having survived that, there’s still an element — and you’ll see it in future episodes — there’s still a certain element of recklessness in his choices. I think he comes off of this episode feeling like his sense has been reaffirmed to a certain degree. It’s almost as though if that journey didn’t kill him, nothing can. But he’s going to come back to Earth over the course of the back half of the season. He ends up in a much different place by the finale.
The episode features flashbacks to Nick’s past, specifically the moment he learns about his father’s death. Why show this moment now?
For Nick, he’s somebody who … it’s not the death of his father that made him an addict. He was using before his father died. But it definitely spun him off into a much darker place. We speak to a level of disconnection between him and his dad, and it’s something he’s always been looking for. He has this very strong, co-dependent relationship with his mother. And the reality is that he also has a bit of resentment toward her. Whenever you have a family dynamic where one parent seems weaker than the other, I think there’s a tendency to side with the weaker unit. I think he’s still confused about why his father lost himself the way that he did. He’s very much in search of some kind of connection that’s going to replace that. That’s something we partly hinted at, but never fully realized — and may have a chance to in season three — in his relationship with Strand. Then he meets Alejandro at the end of the premiere, and there’s this possibility there. You see this pattern with Nick, where he dances around these stronger male father figures, and this is what we’re leaning into: one, talking about when the turn came for him, and when he really began his downward spiral; and also to speak to something absent in his life, and something he may still be looking for.
You bring up Alejandro, the leader of the community Nick reaches by the end of the episode. Who are these people, and what are you planning to explore thematically through this new group?
We set things up in the first half with this idea represented through Celia: “The dead are not monsters. This is a continuing evolution. They are not something to be feared. They are not something to be dreaded.” I think Nick starts the season trying to find people who are like-minded in that respect. Also, bare in mind that this is a guy who once an addict, always an addict. Just because he’s not shooting heroin anymore … this was Madison’s great fear last season. He’s replacing his drug with the dead, essentially. As much as he speaks to the spiritual, as much as he seems to be operating on some higher level, there is something very fundamental and base about his fascination and fixation and how it makes him feel and the adrenaline rush that comes with walking with the dead. What we wanted to do in the back half of the season is lean into that idea, and potentially Nick will find out that his expectations are a bit too high and not everything will be as it seems with this community.
Luciana, the new character played by Danay Garcia, is one of the key members of this community. Now that she’s in the mix, what more will we learn about this character and her role in this world?
Luciana is a believer. She’s someone who adheres to the idea, and she articulates it fairly clearly in episode nine, that she believes that this is sort of a purging, essentially. That’s one of the fundamental things this group believes. They believe that the dead have risen. They are not monsters. They’re to be embraced and protected to a certain degree. When this time passes, those who remain and are faithful will essentially be able to inherit the Earth. If you break it down, it’s sort of a “meek shall inherit the Earth” mentality and spirituality. She’s somebody who is a devotee of Alejandro’s. She’s incredibly devoted to these people. There are certain things we learn about Alejandro in episode nine that will challenge our notions of the apocalypse and the rules of zombie-hood. She’s a mouthpiece and the main agent for Nick in terms of introducing him to this world and making him understand what her people believe in. There might be an interesting relationship that develops between the two of them beyond the spiritual and beyond the dead.
Given that the premiere focuses almost only on Nick, can we expect this structure to play out through the remainder of the season — isolated episodes, mostly fixated on specific characters?
Yes. We had a situation in the first seven episodes where our entire family was together, and it sometimes felt there were certain storylines that were not being served in specific episodes. By breaking up the family and fracturing the unit, it gives us an opportunity to spend more time and do more of a rotation. So, yes, this is a very Nick centric episode. In subsequent episodes, we’ll lean more heavy into Madison and Strand, or Travis and Chris, and ultimately we’ll begin to bring them back together by the end of the season — but we won’t see a fully uniform family until somewhere in season three. Possibly!
Looking at the other characters, Madison is with Alicia, Strand and Ofelia right now; something of an unlikely combo. What can we expect from this group’s story this season?
There’s an interesting chemistry between Madison and Strand. We’ll see that relationship deepen, and this friendship begin to build. It’s also an opportunity for Alicia. She’s always felt like the odd girl out. She’s mystified in a way by her mother’s devotion to the sibling who leaves and abandons. By separating them from Nick, it affords us an opportunity to dig deeper into the Madison-Alicia relationship. We’ll start to get a better understanding, and more importantly Alicia will get a better understanding of her mother’s relationship with her brother. She really goes through an education of her. She learns her mother in a different way. Then Ofelia is in a strange place right now. She’s lost her father, or so she believes. She lost her mother last season. Now she’s found herself with this group. Her father always said that family is family, but the truth is, these people are not her family. They’re people she was forced to live with. So she’ll make some choices about what to do with her future.
Travis and Chris are together right now. Chris is pretty troubled, to say the least. It’s not the father-son road trip Travis might have had in mind before the apocalypse …
Travis is very much still in fixer mode, and he’s realized that his son isn’t going to course correct by himself. He’s recognizing that his son is suffering and feeling completely alienated and disconnected. There’s a potential of him going to a very violent and dark place, as we’ve seen. Travis feels it’s his responsibility, not just to Chris but also to Liza, Chris’ dead mother, that Chris is taken care of. He’s protecting Chris from himself to some degree, and he also feels like keeping him apart from the rest of the family protects them. It’s something of a father-son road trip, but it’s going to take on an even darker complexion as the season plays out. In some respects, for Travis, it’s really the education of Travis Manawa. He’s going to have to come to terms with the reality of this new world and what the apocalypse actually means. I think we’ll see the student become the teacher over the course of the back half.
There are three main stories in play: Nick on his own, Travis and Chris together, and Madison with Strand, Ofelia and Alicia. What’s the guiding theme across these different threads? What’s the thematic north star for the second half of season two?
In the back half, it has a lot do with place and home. We’ll see Madison attempt to create something, not only to protect Alicia, but also the thing about Nick is that he’s left before. Pre-apocalypse Nick would leave for weeks on end, but he always had a place to come back to. At this time in their relationship, there isn’t. Madison is going to look for a home base and something for her son to return to, which will be challenging for Alicia. She’ll force Madison to confront this notion that she keeps backing the child who leaves, and I don’t, so what’s that about? For Nick, it’s similar. He’s looking for a place where he’s at home, at a certain comfort level, and people understand where he’s at. That’s much of what his relationship with the colonia comes down to. And the thing about Chris, the thing he fears most, and it seems almost insignificant in the face of some of what he’s done and what this world is — the thing that he’s most afraid of is not having a structure surrounding him. He’s always been alienated, and now, faced with a family that thinks he’s a killer, which he is, it makes him that much more confused and that much more upset and enraged at times. For Travis, it’s really about finding a place in which he can heal. It’s not so much about… the obvious place to go would be that they’re all fractured, so now how do we bring them all back together? Ultimately, that’s not really the driving force. It’s about how do we settle in and create some architecture and safety. Thematically, that’s what we were stretching to reach across these three storylines.
You’ve teased that we haven’t necessarily seen the last of Daniel Salazar, despite his explosive ending in the midseason finale. Will his fate be teased at all in the back half of season two?
I would lean toward season three. The value of any character death is that there’s an impact on the audience, but really the characters and family members and friends on the show. For us, Ofelia was always the dutiful daughter. She gave up a big chunk of her life in order to take care of her parents. She came to realize in season one that they were far stronger and easier to adjust to different circumstances than she ever knew. She looks back on that with a certain degree of resentment. Now that they’re gone, it’s a challenge about how is she going to continue? Towards the end of the midseason, Daniel actually became the man she thought he was, which means, he needed her. He started to break down and lose himself. It’s the first time he was somebody who was vulnerable and fragile. I think Ofelia found a modicum of forgiveness by the end, and then he was taken away. So the back half is really about how it impacts her and what she chooses to do with that. What’s important is that she believes Salazar is dead, and my hope is that we can explore a line in season three and see the resurrection of Daniel.
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