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Sunday marked the end of an era on Fear the Walking Dead, as co-creator Dave Erickson’s run on the show wrapped with the conclusion of the two-part season three finale.
Erickson, who announced many months ago his decision to step away from the AMC zombie drama at the end of the season, is only now getting a chance to catch his breath after finishing his work on the AMC drama. “We finished VFX on the finale last week,” says the outgoing showrunner, speaking with The Hollywood Reporter during what’s supposed to be a long-in-the-making vacation. “It’s been dragged out a bit.”
Also dragged out: Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and the others in her world, swept away in copious amounts of water, as her occasionally drug-addled son Nick (Frank Dillane) detonated a bomb that destroyed the Gonzalez Dam at the heart of the third season. The explosive act occurred after Madison had already returned to her violent roots, smashing Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman) in the head with a hammer, widening the growing divide between herself and Nick over the need for violence in the brutal new world order. The final scene of Erickson’s run features Madison washing ashore as water flows from the dam and into the wider world, the fates of the others in her life — daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), conman Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) and killer Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) included — unknown, if only for now.
The show will continue, of course, with Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple joining Fear as an executive producer, alongside incoming showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg. Ironically enough, even as he walks away from the Walking Dead universe, Erickson has clearer thoughts on where the show would have headed under his supervision than ever before — an emotional state that aligns with one of the finale’s subplots, as Madison imagines an alternate reality where she and her loved ones all live happily ever after on Jeremiah Otto’s (Dayton Callie) ranch, long enough at least to enjoy a Christmas feast.
With his final Fear the Walking Dead story in the books, THR spoke to Erickson for one last look back at the zombie apocalypse, a glimpse into what he would have dreamed up for the future, and his thoughts on the news that the series he’s departing will finally crossover with The Walking Dead proper in the near future.
Your run on Fear the Walking Dead is officially over. How does that feel?
It’s bittersweet. I feel like we had a good season. I think we did good work. I think we found something of a rhythm. The irony is that I see season four more than I saw season three, and I had a pretty good sense of season three. There are some things we laid into these last few episodes that I would love to see play out. I would love to see Ray McKinnon’s Proctor John as our big bad going into season four. There are a lot of things I’m curious about. It’s a little bit… it’s sad to say goodbye. It will be interesting to see what Scott, Andy and Ian do going into season four, and what’s hopefully a much longer run.
And just to be clear, even though you have ideas for season four, you don’t expect those ideas are necessarily where the show is going to go next? Have you discussed any of your thoughts with the new showrunners?
God, no. That’s the bittersweet part. When you’re so invested in a story, you have a pretty clear sense of the characters. There are elements, even going back to the pilot, of the show that I would have seen arcing out until probably even season seven. I think it will probably be completely different. It will be its own thing. I’m sure it will be equally great. But I have not had any conversations with the guys about direction. It’s time for them to take it and run with it.
In terms of your ending of Fear the Walking Dead and knowing where you wanted to take them in the grand scheme of things — where did you take them? When you think about the ideas you wanted to express in a theoretical seventh season, do you feel like your final run was able to touch on some of those thoughts?
Yeah. What was crucial to me was to draw a line in the sand between Nick and Madison, specifically. It was also important to tell a story about the rise of Alicia, and have her step out from her mom’s shadow and become her own person and achieve a level of independence, which I think Alicia the character did and Alycia the actor played beautifully. The goal was, thematically, that this was going to be an exploration of violence this season. We talked a lot in the room for the first couple of seasons about Cormac McCarthy and Blood Meridian, and I think Ray McKinnon’s character is very much our version of the Judge. I don’t know if he’s coming back. It would be interesting to see what happens to Proctor John in the future.
Fundamentally, it’s about getting to a place where Madison returns to herself. She starts the season with an attitude of violence and a willingness to do whatever it takes to protect her family. It’s ingrained in her based on her childhood and things she’s had to do when she was a kid. There’s a passing of the baton, going from the midseason finale into the midseason premiere, where Nick took the gun and put down Jeremiah Otto. That’s largely the reason why she doesn’t kill Troy in episode nine. She’s a bit spun out by her son becoming her, effectively. It concerns her. She tries to offer some degree of charity and benevolence by freeing him. What she comes to realize and the audience was already well aware of, we get to the penultimate episode and realize Troy was the one who compromised the ranch and his actions were indirectly about to place the dam in danger, it’s now time for him to go. She realizes that if she had just done what she should have done in episode nine, they would still be on the ranch. This idealized version of what that life would be [that she sees glimpses of throughout the finale] would have been realized. She comes back to herself.
In doing that, Madison really defines Nick. He’s been in a strange and surreal relationship with Troy for the past several episodes. He’s willing to abide by him. He’s willing to guide him. He’s willing to prevent him from killing. But he doesn’t want to put him down. When Madison kills him, I think Nick takes it personally. He sees it as a failure. He also realizes that Madison’s way of life is something he can’t endorse. In the finale, he tries to find a third way. He tries to find a way that’s going to take the thing that everyone’s willing to fight for, the thing that begets the violence — this resource of water — and blow the dam, share the water, so there’s no reason to fight and draw blood, and save his family. If he has to sacrifice himself in the process, he’s okay with that. That’s his idea of an option. It’s not pacifistic, but in his mind, it’s nonviolent.
The final moments of the finale focus squarely on Madison. We don’t fully know what happens to Nick, Alicia, Daniel or Strand — they could all be swept up in the explosion, for all we know. Did you want to leave yourself room to imagine their fates were ambiguous? Is there a version of this story where Nick is dead in your mind, for instance?
Well, you could take it in any direction. There was a version of the story where Troy didn’t die. But when I realized I was moving on, the story we were telling about the Clarks and the Ottos, I wanted to finish that story. It’s something that could have extended into season four and beyond, but not knowing what that was going to be, I wanted to close that door and end the Otto conversation and that narrative and see how it would impact Madison and Nick specifically. So in my mind, there’s a version of the story where everyone bands together, unified, with one common enemy: Proctor John. In that version, the death of Lola would have had a huge impact on Salazar. Having lost Ofelia, Lola became his surrogate. That would have been something to explore. But in any version, Nick survives. There was definitely more story I had for Nick and Madison and Alicia. I would want to keep that core Clark family going for a while long. I’m sure the guys will.
When we spoke after the midseason premiere, you mentioned you were able to cross some items off of your zombie apocalypse bucket list in this final stretch of episodes. What are some examples?
I wanted Madison to return to herself. I wanted to create this very defined chasm between Nick and Madison, because I think the long-term arc of that story would have ended in a confrontation between mother and son. I wanted to blow up the dam. That’s something we scouted in season two when we were looking at the desert sequences between Dayton Callie and Mercedes Mason, and that was the first time we drove by the Rodriguez Dam, and that became a goal as a set piece and the key representation of this great resource for the season. I knew I wanted the dam to blow. I was excited and looking forward to that.
But the thing of it was, I very much wanted to bring everyone back together. The original intention was to have Salazar, Strand, Madison, Nick, Alicia and possibly Troy in one version, and have them all as a very motley dysfunctional crew of survivors, and give them a common goal. That was one version. But it’s interesting. From an emotional and thematic standpoint, I brought it pretty much where I wanted to, and set up some questions for moving forward. Strictly in terms of plot, and who survives and doesn’t survive? It was designed in a way to leave the door open so the new guys can do what they want to do.
If you had continued on with the show, who were the characters in your mind that would still be standing by the very end of the story? Who would have lived through your version of the series finale?
For me, Madison. The thing that’s interesting to me, and one of the questions I asked myself and asked Robert Kirkman very on was of the people in our group, who do you see becoming the Governor? Of our group, who could become a Negan? That’s interesting to me, to watch an evolution of a character and start with them as a hero, and bleed that into antihero, and bleed that into full-on villain. It would have been interesting. In terms of the final conflict within the family, it would have been key. For me, there’s a lot left for Madison specifically.
There would always be tension between Strand and Salazar, especially given that Strand shot Salazar in the face. (Laughs.) Ruben asked me once, “What happens to me? Ofelia’s gone, and he just shot me in the face. What now?” And I said, “Look, there’s a greater good you guys could serve moving forward. There’s a narrative version where you could justify those guys remaining side by side. But that said, there would always be mistrust: ‘You shot me and left me to die. When’s the other shoe going to drop?'” It’ll be interesting to see of those two, which one will survive ultimately. In Daniel, you have someone who knows how to kill and operate in this world and is willing to do whatever it takes. Then you have a Strand, who when he’s forced into violence, which is again hanging that on the larger thematic spine, he doesn’t do it well. It disturbs him. That’s the thing: his line is that “it’s the worst thing that ever happened to me,” and after he’s shot a man in the face, he’s thinking about the way it’s rocked him and upset him. It’s an interesting moment for Strand. He’s a master manipulator. He can talk and strategize, but he’s not a man of violence, which I find ultimately interesting. Madison in this story is a woman of violence. She can embrace that and re-embrace that. It’s something Nick ultimately can’t abide. He loves his mother and he’s willing to sacrifice for her and Alicia, and there’s a certain tragedy in that. He doesn’t want to go to that same place anymore.
It was revealed recently that The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead will crossover in some capacity in the near future. I know there were early designs to thread Fear the Walking Dead together with the CDC, so from your perspective, I’m sure this is a long time coming. Are you excited about the crossover, or at all disappointed that you won’t be involved in finally making it happen?
I am intrigued to watch as a fan to see how the hell they pull it off. (Laughs.) By design, you have two shows that are hopefully very different tonally. That was the intention, coming out of the gate. It’ll be interesting. You have to blend those two tones together in an organic way. And then there are all the reasons we discussed not doing it: the timeline, the geography… so it’s interesting to see how those elements are bridged. I’m sure they have a plan locked in, because I think they’ll start shooting soon. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed to not be part of it, because I think there’s ample story in the Fear world to sustain the show without having to crossover — but it should be interesting…
Clearly, Taqa Walker is showing up in Alexandria, right?
I certainly hope so, because Michael Greyeyes is awesome, and Justin Rain, who plays Crazy Dog aka Lee, is also awesome. That’s the exciting thing. There are so many elements. Luciana is still out there. There are a lot of characters you could thread into the world. It’s kind of a candy store for those guys. There are 17,000 characters on Walking Dead, and now they have a bunch of other characters from the southwest they can integrate. It’ll be cool.
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