Death will be claiming another victim on Fear the Walking Dead. When the TV series returns on June 4, Travis, Madison Nick, Alicia and Luci have been separated into two groups. In an attempt to flee the zombie-infested Mexico and return home, both parties find themselves heading towards the U.S. border, albeit via separate routes. However, a patrol force set up on the border has something sinister in store for anyone who crosses their path, and it’s an encounter one main character will not survive.
Ahead of the two-hour Season 3 premiere, showrunner Dave Erickson spoke with CBR about the show’s bleak tone, Travis’ downward spiral, the impact of death on the characters and leaving the series.
CBR: Viewers have used the word “bleak” to describe Fear the Walking Dead‘s second season. How important was it to make this season a little more hopeful?
Dave Erickson: I would say it’s going to be bleak before it becomes hopeful. I don’t know how to do a show about the end of the world and not have it be a little bit bleak. With that said, there’s a lot that has gone on this season, thematically. But I do think one of the questions is, in a quest to protect family, and protect one’s humanity and restore civilization, is it worth it? Are we going to replace what existed before with anything better?
I do think the plan, in terms of construction, is to take things to a very dark place around mid-season and then struggle for some hope by the end. I agree that, at a certain point, if you are watching something in which hopelessness prevails, it becomes difficult to sustain. We ended last season with the death of Chris and the impact that had on Travis. That carries into this season.
Travis murdered the two guys who killed his son. How has hitting rock bottom affected him?
We have a Travis coming into this season who has been consumed by the Apocalypse. You have a Travis who has always been the moral compass of the show. He was the one in Season 1 who was trying to talk to zombies. He’s the one who needed to find a rationalization and understanding to what this world was and why this was happening. His default setting was not violence. In most zombie films, you understand this is the end of the world. You understand the zombies are not real people anymore and you are killing them before the first reel is up. We didn’t want to do that in Season 1. We definitely didn’t want Travis to succumb to that too quickly. And, he didn’t and he fought it.
By that time, in his mind, if he had just found a way to release that, if he had found a way to give up his morality, he could have killed those kids. He could have killed those guys before Chris went off with them. In his struggle to make a point to his son, he lost him. When he realized these guys put Chris down, Travis goes a little mad. That’s the breaking point where he realizes, “Okay, I have been doing it wrong. If I had just gotten a grip on what this world was, my son would be alive.” He carries that into the season. What you’re going to see is a far more apocalyptic Travis. You are going to see someone who has embraced violence in a way never seen before. There is a reservoir of violence and rage. I think that’s something Travis will now use as a sword and shield to protect Madison, Alicia and, hopefully, Nick.
What kinds of stories does this border setting and new frontier allow you to tell?
There’s something about the border that’s always been fascinating to me. The goal was to build to this. There’s something called the ecotone and it’s the idea where two ecological systems collide. It’s where the forest meets the field. It means that the borderline is incredibly diverse and vibrant, and it’s violent because it’s where predators come to seek their prey. That is a point of conflict for the show and a point of conflict for the Apocalypse. We established the militia group at the end of the season. We saw Dayton Callie confronting Ofelia. What we’re going to end up with is a season that’s partly about appropriation, and re-appropriation, of land. We’re going to be in a world where all borders, for all intents and purposes, are arbitrary now that they’ve been erased.
We’re going to see a lot of cross-border action. We’re going to see a lot of conflict between folks on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. We’re going to see people in Dayton Callie’s crew and in that militia group. They are groups that have certain predispositions and certain relationships with people of color. That’s going to be part of the challenge. What’s interesting to me is to take some of the conflicts that exist in the country right now and try to explore them post-apocalyptically, and to see how the rules have been abolished, and when the goal posts have twisted, how do you take back what was taken from you? That’s the fundamental element of the first half of the show going into the back half of the season. It’s a rich backdrop.
It’s always out of the frying pan and into the fire. In what ways is this compound deadlier than anything on the outside?
Nothing is as it appears in the world of The Walking Dead or Fear. We go through a premiere episode where we are confronted with one of our most-violent and interesting characters, this guy Troy, played by Daniel Sharman. We are going to be introduced to an element of danger and jeopardy we haven’t seen before. They are going to be forced to live with that jeopardy and that danger for a period of time. They are going to be arriving at a ranch, which is supposedly safe. You are dealing with a group of men and women who have prepared for, not the rise of the dead, but the fall of democracy. They were prepared to replace it with something else. There’s a definite nation-building quality to this place. And, because of that, there is security. There are resources. There is safety. Part of what is challenging for Madison and family this season is reconciling the need to protect themselves, and for Madison to protect her kids. And, also, not completely lose her humanity. Madison is going to be in a position where she’s working with people, aligning herself with people, who are quite nefarious and violent and, frankly, quite ugly.
One of the show’s main characters dies. What kind of send-off did you want to give them?
We wanted a heroic arc. I think we did that. There’s a certain conventional way to go about a character’s death. We could have done that. Once people see the episode, they will see what I mean. What we chose to do is follow a route where having accomplished something, having saved loved ones that are dear, you now get kicked in the gut by the Apocalypse and the randomness of the violence. The moment itself should be sudden. It should be jarring. It has a very profound impact on all the other characters, all the members of the family. It’s a pivotal moment that drives the rest of the season. That’s the goal whenever you lose a character, especially one that important. It needs to resonate.
What has been interesting about the yin and yang of the two brothers you introduce, Troy and Jake?
There’s definitely an Of Mice and Men quality with these guys. What I love about that relationship is Jake is the eldest. They are children of two different mothers, the same father. Jake was always the golden child. He was the one who went off to college. He was the one trying to build a life. Frankly, he’s someone who would not have settled on the ranch. He would not have returned and lived with his family because he didn’t prescribe to the more violent tendencies of his father and people that followed him. Because of the Apocalypse, he ended up trapped and is now making the best of it. He’s trying to find a more idealistic and inclusive way to build this new nation that they are trying to establish.
Troy is a child of the Apocalypse. We’ve had a couple of characters like this. He’s somebody who was predisposed to this. He was waiting for it to come. There’s an interesting parallel between Troy and Nick. Nick, having lived on the fringes for so long, felt that this world was something he could adapt to and live in. Troy can as well, but he’s a much different animal than Nick. It’s very much this conflict between good brother and bad. The irony is the bad brother is far more functional in this new world than the good brother.
This will be your last season as showrunner. How proud are you with what you have accomplished in this series?
I’m very proud. I think we’re doing good work. We’re leaving everything on the table and that’s all you can really do. The performances have been great. The stories are deeper and richer. Everything is starting to inform itself in a strong way. I’m very proud of the show and the work we’ve done. It’s been a good ride. It’s a little bittersweet. I think we’re going to finish one chapter and we’ll see where the guys take it when they go into Season 4.
Created by Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson, “Fear the Walking Dead” stars Kim Dickens as Madison Clark, Cliff Curtis as Travis Manawa, Frank Dillane as Nick Clark, Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark, Mercedes Mason as Ofelia Salazar, Colman Domingo as Victor Strand and Danay Garcia as Luciana. The new season premieres Sunday, June 4, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.