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Warning: This interview contains storyline and character spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead.
Frank Dillane’s recovering — some of the time — drug addict Nick Clark has been one of Fear the Walking Dead’s most compelling characters since the series premiered, so it’s no surprise that the Nick-intensive Season 2 midseason premiere is one of the series’ best episodes.
FTWD showrunner Dave Erickson talked to Yahoo TV about why he felt it was time for a Nick episode, and what impact the events of the premiere will have on Nick’s big picture, and also offers some insight into how Nick’s family and friends will be spending their post-apocalyptic days now that the original group is fractured throughout Mexico.
You’ve been saying since the series began that Nick’s (Frank Dillane) experiences as a drug addict have made him better equipped to maneuver the post-apocalyptic world than some of his family and friends. The midseason premiere, which is one of the best episodes of the series so far, really illustrates that.
It does. I mean, yeah, I think Nick has always lived on the fringes. He’s used to living hand to mouth. I think what’s interesting… he makes a very bold statement in the midseason finale. He essentially tells his mother that he can’t die. I think the scary thing for Madison is that he seems to feel more connected to the dead than he does the living. That’s a big part of the reason why she acquaints his fascination, fixation with the dead with his addiction to heroin. It’s a big part of the reason why Madison disposed of Celia [in the midseason finale], because she saw her as a pusher.
The reason we do flashbacks in [the midseason premiere] is… Nick clearly is getting his fix from the dead. There is an adrenaline rush and there is a connection, and I do think it’s feeding his addictive personality, but he’s also very simply lost. He lost his father. I think part of what he’s looking for in that connection with the dead and then part of why he — it’s a short-lived father/son relationship, but his attraction to that friendship between him and Strand — is he’s a kid who lost his dad and really felt as though he’d lost his dad even before his father died. He felt that his father was suffering from depression and was disconnected, and I think that has a lot to do with… I think his addiction pre-existed that, but I also think it definitely pushed it further down the road. I think that’s something real. It’s not just about rubbing shoulders with the dead, it’s really about something that’s missing in him that he’s still trying to find. He will suffer for it and be undone by it as the story plays out. At the end of the day, what he’s going to realize, I think, is it’s better to walk with the living than it is to walk with the dead.
But, yes, we see he can survive very well post-apocalypse.
No specific spoilers, but this episode really is Nick’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He kind of had everything thrown at him that could be.
It’s almost his, it’s our shortened version of The Revenant, putting him through all of that… you’ll see a degree of recklessness to him in subsequent episodes as well. He does have this attitude of his confidence, in the sense of invulnerability, and I think that in this world, that has to be short-lived. I think it was, you put him through these trials, he still survives and wins. He succeeds, he lands in the place that he set off to find. Then it becomes a question of, how do we start to tarnish that to a degree?
In terms of the bigger picture with Nick, is it necessary that he be on his own, on his terms? He left his family. He decided he wanted to be away from them… is that necessary ultimately for him to evolve, to be away from their constant need to protect him, or think he needs their protection?
Probably. There is a certain co-dependency that’s always existed between Madison and Nick. The difference here, normally, if he was going to disappear from home for days or weeks on end, pre-apocalypse, Madison had a sense of where he was and what he was doing, and then just had to hold her breath and hope the phone call didn’t come from the cops or the morgue. Now he is making a statement. He is making a break that has been informed by what is true, which is that everywhere they go, they do seem to leave destruction in their wake. He’s also watching a family that’s beginning to embrace death and the killing of the dead in a way that he is not comfortable with. I think what he finds in Celia… for Madison he finds a new drug dealer, but for Nick, he finds somebody who spiritually is more evolved and has a better understanding of what this world is. To some extent, in some respects, she was speaking his language, but I do think it was important for him to break from his family, and what it allows for is something we wanted to do with, not just Nick, but with Chris, Alicia, really all the kids, all the young adults. We wanted to see a coming of age for each of these characters in very specific ways and I think we will.
Alicia… part of the benefit in fracturing the narrative and sending the family off in different directions is we now have a mother and daughter who have to deal with each other again in the absence of Nick, and I think we’ll see that relationship deepen. We’ll see Alicia develop a better understanding of who her mother is and how her mother relates to Nick.
For Chris… Travis sets out to fix him. He’s still in fixer mode, he’s still very much of the mind, “If I can pay enough attention to him, if I can spend enough time with him, I can hopefully turn him back towards the right direction, and he’ll be my little boy again.” It’s not going to be that easy. What we will see over the course of the season is, we’ll develop an understanding that Chris, whether he’s confused, whether he is crazy, he is definitely better suited for this world than even his father is. I think that’s something that will be very difficult for Travis to reconcile.
Madison… obviously she and Alicia are worried about Nick in a larger sense, but he’s not right there in front of them. Madison also doesn’t have Travis there as her partner, as her support. As bad as that is, does the absence of her son and her partner also free her to open up, reveal more about herself and bond with others?
The answer is yes. I think it works in two ways. She’s developed this, definitely has something of a chemistry, with Strand. I think having Strand there without Travis, there’s a certain kismet and she and Strand are cut from the same cloth in many ways, so I think she will share with him in a way. Strangely it’s safer. I think we’ll see a little bit of a deepening of that relationship, which allows us to get a bit more insight into Madison, who she is. Then, absolutely, part of the reason to split everyone off was to force Madison and Alicia into a place where they had to deal with each other. We’ll have an opportunity for Alicia to confront her mother and really demand to know why, “I was always there, I was the good student. I was the dutiful daughter, yet you always favored him.” I think we’ll get a better understanding of why that was. We’ll see Alicia learning about her mother in a way that she hasn’t before.
What about poor Ophelia? She’s the only one there with no immediate family member. Will she embrace this DIY family she’s with?
It’s interesting, because Ophelia was the good daughter for a very, very long time, and I think what she realized in Season 1 was that her parents didn’t really need her protection as much as she felt. They were far more adaptable than she ever suspected, and they lied to her. I think she suffered that rude awakening and then she lost her mother before she could reconcile. And then over the course of the first half of Season 2, we see Daniel get to a place where, for the first time, he actually does need her. She sees a vulnerability in him, this fragility. Just when she’s getting the father back who she can actually care for, which has been largely what she thought her function was, he’s gone, too. She’s now in a place where her obligations are effectively gone. She’s lost both parents in a horrible way, and I think that we might see Ophelia become a little bit selfish. We might see her do for herself for the first time in probably her entire life.
One of the things I love about the midseason premiere is that we get a glimpse at how other people are adapting to this new world, the new world order, right down to how grocery shopping is a very different experience. Is that something you’re going to explore a lot more in the second half of the season?
Yes. It’s something of a barter economy now. Money doesn’t matter, and so we, across the world, would regress into… what do you have of value? What do I have, and how can we trade that? How can we continue to function? There are two ways to approach it: One is you find some simple way of bargaining and bartering, or you just take. You horde and you do it regardless of who it’s going to hurt. That’s also a hint of what we’re going to see, to a certain degree, going into Season 3.
The midseason premiere must have been an incredibly intense physical performance for Frank Dillane. Will we see other episodes that focus in on single characters the rest of the season?
I think it was exhausting for him, and thankfully he got to take a break after we wrapped that episode, while we were shooting the next. Look, Frank is a brilliant actor and that episode, it was written by Kate Barnow, and Dan Sackheim directed it, and everything came together quite beautifully. It’s very spare, and very… I think emotionally it’s quite heavy, but the narrative line was very specific and direct. I think it absolutely exhausted Frank by the end of it, because he’s someone who really invests in such a way that he is, even if it’s a lighter episode, I think he still is emotionally drained by the end.
It felt like we needed to do a Nick episode, especially given what he said and what he did in [he midseason finale]. It’s also somewhat refreshing from a narrative standpoint to be able to break off and focus in one episode on Nick and then in another episode on Travis and Chris and then another episode on Alicia and Madison and Strand. I think it lets you dig a little bit deeper. There’s still plenty of action, and there’s still plenty of drive, but it also, emotionally, lets us steep ourselves a bit more, which is helpful.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.