Fear the Walking Dead chief on why you-know-who had to die

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Oct 16, 2017

SPOILER ALERT! Lots of spoilery goodness ahead!

Executive producer and creator Dave Erickson is saying farewell to Fear the Walking Dead. But before he goes, he chatted with SYFY WIRE in a Season 3 postmortem interview about why you-know-who had to die, why he left an open-ended finale with the fates of most of the characters up in the air, and why he really wanted to blow something up at the end of it all.

In Fear the Walking Dead's explosive finale, lots of people died, a new villain was introduced, and Apocalyptic Madison emerged. The zombie apocalypse series was created by Erickson and The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. Erickson leaves the fourth season of the series in the hands of new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, with Walking Dead executive producer Scott Gimple becoming an executive producer.

While Erickson couldn't talk about what's coming up, because he doesn't know, we do know that a crossover episode is planned between the two Dead shows. And we do know that those evil Proctors are not going to take Nick's blowing up of their dam lightly.

In our interview with Erickson, the writer and producer discussed the decision to kill Troy, Madison going apocalyptic, and why he really wanted to blow up that dam.

What an explosive finale! Literally!

We were scouting Tecate when we went out to do the desert work for Ofelia's first meeting with Jeremiah Otto. And there's aqueducts. They're giant blue pipes that run through the Rodriguez Dam, and so I knew I wanted to blow the dam up but I wasn't sure how that was going to manifest. But that became one of the themes being the idea of resources, and then what violence are you willing to carry out to protect it. It was kind of a gift. We got lucky.

The first time we went to the dam they literally would not let us in... Ultimately they let us shoot all over. So it was fantastic.

The season finale really brought a new bad guy to life in Proctor John, who's not going to be too fond of our heroes, assuming they live.

We were getting toward the end of the season and we knew we wanted to introduce... I hate the expression, but introduce a Big Bad for the last couple of episodes. And we were talking about Ray McKinnon, because he hasn't acted because he's been running Rectify. He did a season on Sons of Anarchy and that's where I met him. Then he was off writing and running his show, Rectify. He was in Budapest because his girlfriend was shooting a movie. He's actually pretty good friends with Kim [Dickens].

We sent him a couple of scenes. The scripts weren't actually done yet. He read those and we had a couple conversations, and he signed on. I'd love to see where that character goes. There's definitely track that has been laid in the last two episodes for that. I don't know if he is coming back, and I don't know if that's something that Scott and company are going to explore.

He's interesting. Ray is such a good actor, but he's also got this strange, questioning intellectual quality about him. And he's a really nice guy.

You went through so much story in the last few episodes, more than a lot of shows might have gone through in two or three seasons. We lost the Ranch. Now we lost the dam. Why go there?

Did it feel like I was wrapping things up? (Laughs) .... There's an open-endedness to the finale in terms of post-explosion, who lives, who dies, with the exception of Madison, those are questions that will be answered going into season four. But emotionally I wanted to [blow up] the dam, but I wanted to build this confrontation between Madison and Nick specifically, and this idea of the acceptance of violence.

In Madison's journey, she gets to a place in the mid-season finale where in normal circumstances she would have put a bullet in Jeremiah very, very quickly. And she doesn't. And Nick takes that role. I think in the mid-season premiere that haunts her a little bit. I think part of the reason she doesn't kill Troy at the end of the premiere is because she's feeling a bit guilt ridden and burdened by the fact that she's effectively made her son a killer. And she does the good thing. She does the charitable thing and lets him go. And I think she comes full circle by the time she gets to Episode 15 because she realizes very quickly that as a consequence we've lost the Ranch, and he's now compromised their place at the dam. There's a trigger there and I think she has no choice but to end him.

Here's the thing, if they'd stayed at the dam, for example, I feel like it's essentially a version of the story we'd already seen at the Ranch, waiting for the zombie invasion or waiting for the Proctors to come, whatever that might be. From a thematic standpoint it was really about taking this question of violence and then having it impact all the characters at once. So it definitely hits Strand in his attack on Salazar, and I think it's the main philosophical question between Madison and Nick.

It was interesting the way that played out. In the end Madison really wasn't very apologetic about taking a hammer to Troy's head.

That's the thing. Nick has been in this strained relationship with Troy. It's a combination of guilt, and it's also the fact that Troy, despite the evil qualities that he has, there's also some strange charm to him. Nick has gone to a place where he's killed, he killed Jeremiah, and he doesn't want to do that again. And he doesn't see the benefit of it ultimately, even when it's Troy. Even when it somebody so ghastly reprehensible, he doesn't want to put him down.

For Madison at that point, I think she's back in full-on Apocalyptic Madison mode. You're right. She's completely unapologetic.

Strand showed his true colors even though he didn't kill anyone directly. And it's amazing. He manages to squirm out of any situation he gets into.

Strand's resourceful. And then Salazar apparently is immortal. He can't die. He had a scene [in a previous season] on the boat where he took down a couple of guys, and I ended up cutting that scene. I told him afterwards and he was upset. So he called me to make sure that his John Wick moment when he goes to the dam and he takes out the three Proctors, he wanted to make sure that that was in there. And I reassured him it was. Salazar's incredibly bad-ass.

The thing for Strand that was interesting for me is that he is a con man. He connives. He seduces. It's very much about how he manipulates with his words. And I think he's a strategist, but he's never killed. It's putting him in a situation where he's forced to pull a gun. It was interesting to see how he, as a character, handled that. He's not skillful when it comes to killing. As much as Daniel is, and as much as they have this love/hate relationship, Daniel did leave him to die earlier in the season. And I think Strand has not forgotten that. And I think from his perspective in this world, were he to kill Daniel in order to protect the dam, protect himself, but ultimately save Madison and Nick, I think he sees that as a worthwhile cost.

The irony is that when he's forced to confess that to Madison and Nick, they don't see it that way. What they see is a man who's betrayed a friend. And I think for Strand, he was looking at what is the greater good in this situation.

As long as it involves saving himself. Strand obviously feels that Madison and her kids are his family at this point, but I think any greater good for him would involve saving himself.

Oh, goodness, yes. Absolutely. And Nick called him out for that. Yes, he's getting the benefit of protecting his dysfunctional family, his adopted family, but he's very much getting what he wanted in the beginning. The first time Strand went to that dam he went there because he knew water was power. And he knew if he could control that it would put him back in his empire-building mode. And he's been pretty consistent on that. At the end of the day, he still wants what he wants. And he sees an avenue by which he can have control and have power, and he absolutely wants that.

He knew from the very beginning. I think he knew end of last season when we left him at the hotel. He knew, “Okay, I'm going to heal up. I'm going to get well. And then I'm going to go to the dam and try to reconnect with the guy that I did business with back in the day, and that's how I'm going to build my new empire.” There's definite self-interest there.

Well, now he's in the water... probably alive, I'm guessing… The one character who came out of the second half of the season so much stronger was Alicia. She's not a kid anymore. How did you go about developing that in her?

There were a couple episodes, 12 and 13, where Alicia really came into her own. The reason that happened was because Madison was in Mexico at the time. Madison had gone off to try to secure the water and it put both Nick and Alicia in a place where they had to define themselves. Part of the challenge in doing the family drama element of this is how and when do you let the children come of age and break from the parent.

It was always the intention. I noticed a bit of impatience in social media with Alicia specifically. When is she going to rise to the point that she has. It was really just putting her in a situation where she had to. When you're in a scenario where your parent is there, Madison is not a wall-flower. She's incredibly strong. She's the one that conspired to take over the ranch and she's the one who wanted to make this the place where they would plant their flag. To a certain degree, Nick and Alicia went along with that.

They had questions about it and they had questions about Troy, but they backed her. They backed Madison's play. And it was only when Madison absenced herself and went south of the border that they both had to step up. And I think for Alicia, and it's really in 13 which is written by Suzanne Heathcote... she had to put people down. If there was any element of her childhood remaining, it's been buried. I think what we've seen with here is a woman who's become as bad-ass and as powerful as her mother ever was. That's not something I would anticipate changing as we move into season four. She's found her own identity and she's found her own will. And she's not wrong. The truth of the matter is when she says to her mother, "If I have a weapon and I have some supplies, I can survive just as easily as you. Just as easily as Nick."

It's a weird place to put Madison as well, because going into those last couple of episodes essentially she's been abandoned by both of her children. And so as much as she's sacrificed, as much as she's killed, it doesn't matter because pre-apocalypse, apocalypse... you eventually have to let your kids go.

You gave Alicia a new BFF with her lady friend, Diana. Diana was very strong, and yet Alicia scared off a bunch of bad guys all on her own.

I think there's an interesting quality in that she's out on her own for the first time, and I think what she sees in Diana is a woman who's been doing essentially what Alicia now aspires to do. She handles her own shit. She's surviving by herself. As much as Diana would say there's no room for friends, there's an interesting chemistry between the two of them. I think had that attack not taken place and had Diana remained whole without the broke leg, she probably would have gone with Alicia. They may have gone to the dam, but frankly they may not have. That wasn't the intention. Alicia's plan was to go to that hunting cabin and to commune with nature and to figure out what her place in the apocalypse was going to be.

Well, she did just lose her boyfriend.

It's the day after, at most probably 48 hours. That's a big part of the reason. We want to be mindful about the decision Alicia made. We didn't want it to feel arbitrary. We didn't want her to leave just so we could do a couple stand-alone stories for Alicia. And I think losing Jake... I mean she says to him before he goes off with Nick in episode 12, "You're the last good man I know." And what she sees in him is what everybody saw for a time in Travis. I think what she realizes is that good people don't survive. And if you hold on to your humanity too hard, too long, too fast, you ultimately suffer for it. And so I think that was the finale nail figuratively in Jake's coffin, but in her decision to walk away. Because I think what she's recognizing now is... and she says it to Nick in 14, this whole idea of safety in numbers is kind of bullshit.

Nick really had problems taking a life, and then he fell off the wagon pretty much the first chance he gets. Then, of course, he's ready to sacrifice himself to save his family and he blows everything up. What can you tell us about his motivations?

Thematically this question of morality and violence and when to exploit violence, I think what Nick has come to realize is it benefits nothing. "I killed Jeremiah, and look what happened. You spare Troy, and look what happened. And finally you kill Troy." ... It's for Madison the realization that Troy destroyed the Ranch and also compromised the dam. This brings her back to who she's been. And the reality is there is no room for benevolence. And so I think she puts him down as a reminder of that. For Nick, he's looking for an option. He sees a way to protect his family. He sees a way to return the river to the people of the city. It won't be controlled. We talk about resources and water during the season, then the violence that goes along with that and the violence that's required to keep civilization, and I think Nick sees that and rejects it. And if that means he has to die, he's okay with that. It will be interesting to see where the guys take it moving forward. The way it ends the only person we know who makes it to shore was Madison.

Yes, but if you kill off everyone you have no show, or at least a different show. I'm assuming most of them will come back. … You're leaving the series. What has this last season meant to you?

I'm fascinated now by this function of the family. That's where I started in Season 1. I like exploring in these extreme circumstances how these relationships have grown and how our core Clark family has changed. And I think what I like is the idea of comparing the pilot to the season three finale and looking at how much they've grown, and also just how much … just speaking of the actors... just speaking of Alycia and Frank and especially Kim, I just think they've done really good work and it's been fun being part of that family. It's humbling and I have a lot of gratitude.

There is a bitter sweet quality, because I think there are things that are set up in Season 3 for which I had ideas for Season 4, so it will be exciting and wild to watch what the new guys do with it.

What's next for you?

I'm just figuring out what the next thing's going to be. My wife and I are going to adapt, David Cronenberg wrote a novel called Consumed. And Sheri Elwood and I are going to adapt that for AMC. So that's the most immediate thing.

So you're working on something new. That should be exciting.

It is. We just finished the effects on the finale last week. And so I'm going to try to take a little bit of time off and then she and I will start writing.