Three episodes into their run on Fear the Walking Dead, new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg have already claimed their first major casualty — a series regular with roots all the way back to the first season of the series.
The episode, “Good Out Here,” takes place across two different moments in time: the long-ago days when the Clark family was living inside the Diamond, and their current encounters with newcomers John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt), Althea (Maggie Grace) and Morgan Jones (Lennie James). In the first of the two time periods, viewers watched Nick (Frank Dillane) leave the comfort of the Diamond for a rare outing, driving through the open world alongside his mother, Madison (Kim Dickens). There, he ran into one of the Vultures who have staked out the Diamond, nearly killing the man.
In the present, Nick accomplishes the goal; he sees the Vulture driving on the road, tracks the man down and brutally kills him. Morgan, charged with watching Nick, tries to convince the young man that there’s more to life than vengeance. Morgan even provides Nick with The Art of Peace, the book he earned from Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) back on The Walking Dead. It would seem that Morgan has made a new friend, and perhaps even gained a new student in the art of aikido.
Well…so much for that.
In the final brutal moments of the episode, Nick is shot point blank in the chest by Charlie, the little girl who infiltrated the Diamond as a mole working for the Vultures. From his perspective, Nick was fighting to save Charlie’s life. From her perspective, clearly, Nick was impeding on her life. With a squeeze of the trigger, Charlie proved to Nick, the Clark family and Fear the Walking Dead viewers that despite what he once said some seasons ago, Nick Clark is not immortal. Indeed, Nick Clark is dead, passing away surrounded by the remaining members of his family.
What went into the decision to kill Nick, the first series regular ever seen in Fear the Walking Dead, way back when the show first started? How will his death impact the characters left behind? For those answers and more, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with showrunners Chambliss and Goldberg about the brutal twist and how it will inform the rest of season four.
What went into the decision to kill Nick?
Andrew Chambliss: It actually goes back to season three, before Ian and I even came aboard. Frank Dillane had asked the producers and AMC if he could leave the show, because he wanted to pursue other opportunities. One of the first things we were tasked with when we came on to run season four was to find a story that would give Nick a fitting sendoff. He’s been with the show from day one, so it was very important to us and to Frank to find a death for him that was emotional and one that would ripple forward throughout the storytelling.
How did Frank react to your vision for Nick’s death?
Ian Goldberg: We should say that Frank has been amazing to work with. We’re big fans of his work as this character over the first three seasons. He was really receptive when we pitched him our idea for how he was going to close out Nick’s story. We think he played it beautifully. He understood the emotional ramifications of it. He was very complimentary and has been great about the whole thing.
How about the rest of the cast and crew? Frank has been with the show from the very beginning. Was this a hard pill to swallow?
Chambliss: It definitely was. Especially for the core cast, who were very close with him going back to the pilot. They really see each other as family. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. Frank broke the news to the core cast himself, and then we followed up with them about how it would affect their characters going forward. I think you can see how connected everyone is, just in those final moments, when Alicia, Strand and Luciana are standing over Nick’s body as he dies. A lot of that emotion is genuine, because Alycia Debnam-Carey, Colman Domingo and Danay García were all very sad to see a co-worker whom they became very close with over the years leave.
Have we seen the last of Nick, given how the season is playing with time? He’s still alive in the past, after all.
Goldberg: It’s safe to say that there’s a lot more story to tell with Nick. We understand, to a certain degree, why he’s so driven and why he’s so violent toward Ennis in this episode. We kind of see the buttons Ennis pushes in him, if it’s the fact that Nick essentially lost Charlie to this other family, the Vultures. He taunted Nick about keeping his family fed, playing on Nick’s feelings of failure about the crops dying. There’s more story to be told with Nick that we think will provide some emotional context for why he’s such a different person when we find him in the present-day story than how we’ve seen him in the Diamond.
Nick used to walk among the walkers. Right now, his brain is still intact. Can we expect Nick to come full circle and become a walker?
Chambliss: All I’ll say is keep watching. Perhaps viewers will have an answer to that next week.
The death scene is cut together in a very emotional way, with a lot of time allowed to linger on the different reactions from the people involved: Alicia, Luciana, Strand, even Morgan. The music swells, and the final shot transitions from Nick’s body resting in peace to Nick peacefully resting in a flower field some time ago. What were your goals with this scene, in terms of its construction?
Chambliss: It was very important that we sent Nick off with a sense of peace. He’s someone who over the first three seasons had a very difficult time with his family. He was someone who embraced the chaos of the apocalypse. When we found him at the baseball stadium in the beginning of season four, he’s found a connection with nature and providing for his family. He’s starting to see the good in this world. He may have forgotten that in the present-day story. Morgan may have been a little too late, but he started to open the doors for Nick to see that peace again. We really wanted to sell the idea that Nick’s mind and his heart were open. He was maybe on the first steps to a more peaceful way when he died. We want to remember him that way going forward.
In addition to Frank’s desire to leave the show, removing Nick from the story at this point feels logical, given he was the most obvious hub connecting Alicia, Strand and Luciana. He’s Alicia’s brother, he’s Luciana’s lover, and he’s the first Clark that Strand ever met. Was that part of the reason why he had to die?
Goldberg: Nick is a critical part of this group. Those three characters are all emotionally connected to him for different reasons. All four of them have been on this very dark mission that united them. It’s a mission of violence. It’s bleak and somewhat hopeless. What we’re going to be exploring going forward is what that means for Alicia, Strand and Luciana, and how it impacts their mission. Will they take a different course? How will this affect them? And then there’s also Morgan. We saw in episode one that Morgan ran away from the people closest to him because he knows the perils of getting close to people and what happens when you lose people. It’s what he says to Al in his interview: “I lose people, and then I lose myself.” Here, it’s happened again: someone he formed a bond with and started to impart some of his philosophy toward — showing him literally The Art of Peace — and now he’s lost Nick.
What can you say about Morgan’s reaction to Nick’s death?
Chambliss: We’re definitely seeing something different in Morgan here. He stepped in at the last minute and tried to make a connection with Nick, but what he’s really feeling here is the fact that he hesitated and waited too long. There were plenty of opportunities in the episode to show Nick that there’s a better way to live. Morgan’s own fears about connecting with people prevented him from opening up and showing Nick the way. Even doing something as simple as handing him the book The Art of Peace is something Morgan is scared to do. When he walked away from Nick [before Nick killed Ennis], he saw the flowers and was reminded not only of Nick but his own belief that all life is precious. It’s what makes him turn around. Morgan thinks he’s made it back in time to save Nick, but ultimately, in Nick’s death, Morgan is realizing that there’s a price to be paid for putting up walls between you and other people, just as there’s a price to pay for making connections to people.
It’s interesting that both Morgan and Nick have claimed a certain level of immortality in the past, and the two men meet and establish a connection moments before one of them is proven irreversibly wrong. Was that on your mind in the creation of this story?
Goldberg: It was very much on our minds. When you look at the histories of Morgan and Nick, they mirror each other in many ways. Morgan is no stranger to violence. He has had tremendous periods of darkness in his life. We’ve seen it in episodes like “Clear.” He sees something of himself in Nick. We’ve also seen Morgan serve as a mentor and influence on other people in the past. It was something that was interesting for us to explore with Nick.
We’re losing Nick at a moment in the season when Madison’s fate is still very much up in the air. For all we know, Alicia is grieving her brother’s death while simultaneously reeling from her own mother’s death. Was that front-of-mind for you in terms of the timing of Nick’s death, that it would be a real shock while people are so worried about Madison’s currently ambiguous fate?
Chambliss: I would say the one thing we were very conscious of as we were telling these stories over two different timelines was that people would be asking questions about who’s there and who’s not there. We wanted to write the stories and have them unfold in such ways that there are many twists and turns along the journey. Keep watching, because there’s plenty of flashback story to tell and plenty of present-day story left to tell. There’s an interesting chemistry between the two.
Goldberg: Telling stories across time is really about telling one big emotional story. That’s where we started this season: a story of hopelessness building toward hope. That’s where everything comes from for us. The flashback story provides a different emotional context for what we’re seeing in the present day. We’re really excited to see how people react to getting to see two very different sides of these characters, and asking the questions of what happened that made everyone change so drastically?
What’s coming next in episode four?
Chambliss: Because of the two timelines, this definitely isn’t the last time we’ll see Nick. In the present day, we’re really going to feel the fallout of his death, and see Strand, Alicia and Luciana struggle with the question about whether they can continue doing what they’re doing in the face of such a great loss.
What’s your take on Nick’s death? Sound off in the comments and keep following our Fear the Walking Dead show coverage for more.