The best episode so far of Fear the Walking Dead’s first season was also the season’s penultimate installment, and it set up some serious stakes for the apocalypse survivors going into the finale. Daniel Salazar’s handiwork led to crucial information, without which he and the rest of the residents of Madison Clark’s house would almost certainly have been doomed without any warning.
But will the heads-up be enough for Daniel, Madison, and Travis to form a plan before the impending evacuation? Will Liza and Nick be reunited with their families before “Cobalt” goes down? Who is Strand, that fast-talkin’ guy in the government holding cell who saved Nick’s life, and what’s his plan? And how fantastic was the storytelling — and performance by Rubén Blades — that finally unpacked Daniel’s backstory?
FTWD showrunner Dave Erickson discussed all that and more, including lots of hints about the season finale and Season 2, with Yahoo TV.
Let’s begin at the end, with the doors where Daniel arrives, and there’s something on the other side pounding. Is that the same facility where the medical unit is set up, where Nick is being held?
The geography of everything will be made much clearer going into the finale. In the last scene with Adams, before Travis and Madison storm in, Adams is talking about an arena where he was a guard and where people began to turn. He says there were two thousand people, and “we couldn’t tell who was sick and who wasn’t sick… We ran, and we chained the doors. That’s what I did.“ He’s describing an event that he took part in, something which would have happened a good seven days [prior]. I think Daniel is going to check to see if this place really exists. We’ll find out exactly where it lands between our military compound and the neighborhood in the episode to come.
So it’s not the same place where Liza…
Exactly, it’s not the same place. We’ll get a grasp of that soon.
By the way, Daniel is such a badass; this episode is so amazing for him. We’ve been waiting to find out more about why he knows so much about how the government is going to operate.
David Wiener wrote the s–t out of this episode. It’s always tricky when you’re dealing with torture. That sequence, I think he wrote it with great subtlety, and I thought that got real inflated with great subtlety and sadness. Daniel’s definitely not enjoying what he’s having to do. He sympathizes in some strange way with the person that he’s victimizing. It’s a strange kind of dance.
What you now have is a daughter, Ofelia, coming to realize that although all the stories her father and mother told her about the war and the violence were true, they did not tell her the truth as to which parts Daniel played. That’s something that will become instrumental in that relationship moving forward, and going into the next season. You’re going to have a situation where a daughter is going to have to rely on her father, and a father is going to have to re-earn her trust. That is the one pure thing in his life, as he describes her to Adams. He is badass; I mean, he absolutely is. There will definitely be more to come.
Psychologically, it’s powerful, too. When Daniel is telling Adams that Ofelia lured him there, that she thought he was going to let Adams go eventually… “That is not going to happen,” he tells him. That is a chilling line, but it’s also, as you said, not Daniel enjoying it. He’s really just being honest. This is what he has to do to get the information he needs to survive, and he accepts that.
He’s also describes what he’s doing. He describes where the nerves are more sensitive. It’s all out on the table, literally, because he’s putting his razor blades out in front of him. Then he’s sort of describing why this hurts so much, why this is causing so much pain.
It’s interesting… the classic torture sequence, I think, is Marathon Man, with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. That one’s cold. That’s the strange thing about these scenes, and how they’re written … it’s a strange intimacy. In Marathon Man, it’s cold. You could say it’s horrific. In this, it’s a very strange, surreal vibe, almost a warmth, in those scenes, which I think works really, really well.
One of the things this episode is about is really the two different tracks that Madison and Travis have been following and will continue to follow. In the wake of the National Guard taking Nick and Griselda, and Liza going with them, they want to get their families back. We’ve got Travis, who’s trying to do it through channels, essentially. He doesn’t trust Moyers anymore because he saw the muzzle flashes the night before. He knows the information he provided might have caused someone [to die]. He’s definitely approaching Moyers with a great deal of suspicion and trepidation. But for him, it’s the only way. It’s the only avenue I have to try and find out what happened to my people. He approaches it cautiously, but he does, for the first time, threaten Moyers. He suggests if Moyers doesn’t handle this properly, there’s going to be a lot of unhappy people in there.
Then on the other hand, you’ve got Madison’s realization that Daniel goes to torture this young guy, this National Guardsman. She’s okay with it. Well, she’s not okay with it, but she’s willing to turn a blind eye. When Travis makes it back after his horrific day and Ofelia [tells] him what’s going on, his main concern at that point is, “Did Madison know? Is this who you are? Did you really let this happen?” Which is a perfectly valid question in the pre-apocalypse, and right now, it’s … of course you let it happen, because it was the only way to try and get her son back.
And Travis still has not yet had to do what she had to do in “So Close, Yet So Far,” when she had to kill her friend and co-worker Art.
Exactly. Emotionally, there’s a number of things … for Madison, specifically, we reference a somewhat darker past for her in the pilot. When she talks about Nick’s affliction, when she walks through the shooting gallery, and she says it’s a violent place … in my mind, she’s talking about the obvious space that they’re in, but she’s also imagining or re-living some place that she’s been before. She’s got a lot of baggage.
I think she’s traumatized by what she had to do with Arty, and she hasn’t spoken of it. When she goes out to put Mrs. Tran down, and Travis confronts her and says "We don’t know,” it just kills her. What does that make her, if a cure suddenly manifests and everyone’s going to be okay? That’s the same question that is forced on Travis in this episode, when they stop and they see that waitress in the doughnut shop. Moyers is saying that’s not a person. I’m sure there will be, or there has been, some kicking and screaming in Travis’s choice.
I think with his character in particular, this one person who’s desperately holding on to his humanity, it’s important to bear in mind that no one on our show has watched The Walking Dead. We’re only 12 days into the apocalypse, and aside from the initial exposure that our family had in the first few episodes, we’ve been behind this fence, ostensibly being taken care of, as the National Guard wins this war against the outbreak. Travis is clearly not to the point where he’s ready to pull the trigger. That’s something he’s going to have to wrestle with, and something that we will have to deal with in the finale and Season 2, to a certain degree. There is a turn coming.
At the medical facility, when Liza finally finds Griselda, it’s right before she dies. What is Griselda referring to in her angry final speech? Is it Daniel, or is it another situation or person in her life?
I think it’s her relationship not just with Daniel, but with God. I actually like the idea of people trying to interpret it as they would like to. No, she’s not so much talking about Daniel; she’s talking about something much larger than that.
When Daniel and Ofelia find out about Griselda, is that going to change their effort to continue surviving?
Daniel is such a fatalist. I think the fact that he was willing to let Griselda go to the military compound speaks to how desperate he was, and how he knew that she was relatively close to death. When they find out what happened, I think it’s definitely going to shatter him. It’s going to cut him deeply. But I don’t know if he’s going to be that surprised. He said it: When people are taken away on trucks, it basically doesn’t end well. I think his hope at that point is really more about preserving any hope that Ofelia has.
I just realized something: Is that his barber kit razor he’s using on Adams?
That was one of the things he took when they fled his barbershop downtown.
He grabs that. In our mind, this old leather barber kit probably belonged to his father. I don’t think that’s something that he used in El Salvador [to torture people], but I think his father was a barber, and had the war not come, that’s what he would have done in El Salvador. That’s where he would have made his money. So yeah, he brought that with him.
Is there any significance to the evacuation plan being called “Cobalt”?
It’s called that because for a period of time, the code name for Fear the Walking Dead was “Cobalt.” When I first came onboard the show, I think AMC was referring to it as “Cobalt” to keep it a secret, so that was really more of a joke for us.
The guy in the cage tormenting poor Doug about “Mrs. Doug”: Who is he? Is he a con man? He’s a fast talker. He has some very nice things, he’s very nicely dressed, and he mentions Las Vegas.
Colman Domingo plays Victor Strand, and he is a fast talker, and he is a self-made man. We will come to realize in the way that great captains of industry tend to be, there’s something of a sociopathic [nature] about him sometimes. I think what he does to Doug is, he really likes to control his environment, and the situations he’s in. Doug, as we’ve established, is not balanced. He’s emotionally distraught. I think Strand sees Doug as someone who’s going to potentially draw attention to this particular area, and he doesn’t want to do that. And I think he just finds him annoying.
His ability to break him… it’s almost as though he’s keeping up his skills. It’s exercise for him so that he can maintain his execution and his skill. His interest in Nick: We’ll get more into that as the season plays out and into next season. He’s legit, though. We will come to realize he’s a very wealthy individual, and he has assets and resources that may or may not be useful to him. He’ll develop a relationship with Nick. He sees something in Nick that he thinks is worthy. It’s probably the first time that anybody has seen anything in Nick like that. I think it’s quite striking that this person is willing to protect him for reasons yet unknown.
Also, in terms of the socioeconomic world of The Walking Dead, it’s not often that we see people of affluence. There is something appealing to us about introducing this character who had a lot prior to the fall. We will come to realize he was incarcerated because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, probably because he was looking at the real estate and financial markets, they are going to crash, and there’s an opportunity to make purchases when everything gets cleaned up. He’s a very pragmatic guy, he’s very smart, and he’s going to become the latest addition to our large blended family.
So he’s definitely around for a while?
He’s around for a while.
This is probably one of the last points where luxury items like expensive watches and diamond cufflinks will matter. We see that even with Chris and Alicia when they’re blowing off steam ransacking the “rich people” house. They already recognize the chandelier and the evening gowns don’t mean a lot. In The Walking Dead, a can of beans and a can opener are way more valuable than diamond cufflinks.
That, to me, is the interest. Strand is somebody who’s an expert when it comes to shipping currency — figuring out what has value and what doesn’t have value. He knows he can give away his Rolex because his Rolex isn’t going to matter much. The guard probably still thinks that this is going to be okay, ultimately. He’s distracted by the shiny things. The thing with Alicia and Chris, it’s also something of an act of rebellion against what’s going on around them. It is very much, “None of these things matter anymore.” The life that family built is no more important than the life they’d built in their more modest home. Everything is being destroyed, and I think they sort of join that parade.
There’s a little moment with them in the house, where Alicia is trying on clothes, and Chris sees her and doesn’t look away immediately. She doesn’t tell him to. Is that a hint at a potential romance down the road?
We have talked about that. I won’t say yes or no. I think there’s a little bit of a creepy stepsister/stepbrother thing, which we probably will avoid. I think it’s an innocent moment, and it has a certain flirtatious quality to it. But though they’re only about a year or two apart in age, I think she’s far more worldly, far more advanced in her thinking than he is. He’s very much the loyal kid brother at this point, who wants to do right by her, and we’ll see more of that, actually, in the finale. Who knows? Never say never.
On to Moyers. Did he ever have any intention of taking Travis to Exner, or was that just a ruse to get Travis out of the safety zone and give him a taste of what’s really going on?
I think he did have some intention of doing it. I think the reality was when they stopped, because they saw Kimberly in the doughnut shop, I think Moyers saw that as a teaching opportunity. I think Travis is a challenge as a character for some in the audience, because he hasn’t gotten to the place where he’s picking up the most immediate weapon and killing zombies. This is, to a large extent, what the killing [of Kimberly] is about. For a character that’s been holding on to his humanity as desperately as he can, you now have a situation where the gun is there, the walker is there, he has two soldiers both telling him basically that is not a person, and if you think it’s a person, that means you think we’re killers. The fact of the matter is that when he refuses to pull the trigger, he’s basically saying, “Yeah, I think you might be murderers.”
As I said before, Travis has never watched The Walking Dead. We’re only 12 days into the apocalypse. I don’t think it’s unreasonable if we’re trying to make this process as realistic as you can in the zombie apocalypse. It’s not unreasonable, especially when you’ve been sort of exposed to it for two days, then you’ve been behind a fence for nine days … Travis has consistently held on to what makes him human. That will cost him. It’s cost him so far, and it will probably cost him again.
Was Moyers doing Travis a favor, then, in his aggressive way, by exposing him to some of the realities of the world outside the safe zone?
I do think to a certain degree, Moyers sees it as what it is: It’s a war. He’s got this company that is not experienced. He says it: These are kids. A lot of the soldiers and a lot of the Guardsmen and women are used to doing their weekend a month … they’re not used to this. He’s trying to keep some cohesion and keep everybody corralled up as best as he can, but he’s also incredibly tough on his men, as a leader. Probably too much so, because as they come to realize, there’s something of a rebellion against him. For him, I think it’s important that he at least attempts to get Travis to understand what this really is.
You just said something about rebellion by his men. Was it not an accident that Moyers didn’t come out of that building, but his men did?
That, I will leave to the audience to decide. I’ll say I love working with Jamie McShane, who played Moyers. I worked with him on Sons of Anarchy, and he’s on Bloodline now. He’s been pointing out to me: “You know, you never see [Moyers’s] body. So who knows? I may not be dead.” Clearly, he has been riding these guys pretty hard. Clearly, he’s a little bit disconnected from where most of his men are emotionally — or he understands it, and doesn’t care. Or he understands it, but they’re soldiers, and you don’t disregard orders, and you definitely don’t drop your gun and walk away.
A little preview of the finale: It’s hard to imagine it’s more action-packed than this episode. What can you say about it?
It is more action-packed than this episode. We come to a place at the end of this episode where our characters have not been able to save their families. Nick is still gone, Liza’s still gone … they don’t know that Griselda has passed yet. You also end with Madison and Travis emotionally in very different places. Madison has allowed the torture of another human being, and Travis … the sad thing for him is, as shocked and traumatized as he is by the fact that this woman he loves could allow that to happen, it worked. Daniel was able to get the information they need to at least take, potentially, the next steps going into the finale. There’s a bit of a fracture between our core couple going into the finale, which needs to be resolved. We will see an effort to bring the entire family back together.
The Season 1 finale of Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday, Oct. 4 at 9 p.m. on AMC.