[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's season two finale, "North," of Fear the Walking Dead.]
With the Colonia destroyed and the hotel a lost cause, it's time for what's left of the Clark and Manawa family to head "North."
The season two finale of Fear the Walking Dead featured Madison (Kim Dickens), Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) hitting the open road in search of the missing Nick (Frank Dillane), following on the heels of Travis brutally murdering two individuals (and accidentally killing a third) over their role in the death of his son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie). With blood on their hands and in their past, it's all about day-to-day survival now - an even more pressing concern for Nick, who ended the season at the border between Mexico and the U.S., surrounded by heavily armed soldiers.
Of course, there's also the appearance of a new mystery character played by Dayton Callie, fondly remembered by Sons of Anarchy fans as Chief Wayne Unser, and someone who had plenty of crossover with Dickens on HBO's Deadwood. How will he factor into the AMC zombie drama moving forward, and can fans expect a reunion between the erstwhile Joanie Stubbs and Charlie Utter? For that answer and more, THR spoke with showrunner Dave Erickson about where Fear goes from here, the decision to kill off a main character in the form of Chris, and reflections on the season now that it's finished.
Richard Foreman Jr/AMC
The big headline of the episode is the death of Chris. At what point did you decide to kill off "Killer Chris," and how did you decide that death would be the appropriate end for his arc?
We knew relatively early. The goal was always to put Travis through the wringer. He's been the moral compass of the show. He's tried desperately to hold on to his humanity. We really wanted to bring him low, and the only way to do that ultimately was to basically force him to break his promise to [his late ex-wife] Liza. The last thing he said to her was he would protect Chris. In failing to do that, we've now taken Travis to a much different place, which will manifest in season three. We saw a big hint of it at the end of the penultimate episode. (Laughs.) That was always part of the design. It didn't come into focus until we were in the room in season two and really looking at how we would arc out all of the characters. There was a lot of shifting as to how that would happen and who was going to carry it out, but that was always part of the fabric of the narrative.
What went into the decision to depict Chris' death so there were no loved ones to bear witness to his demise? Was there another version of this where Travis watched Chris die?
There was never a version, but always a conversation. For me, and it's what we saw, even though the story was told by someone who might not be the most reliable narrator … it's true. That's what happened. Chris is dead. There's something about it, for me, as a dad, almost worse in some respects to not be there, and to have to imagine what it would have been like. In terms of turning Travis and getting him to a place where he would act the way he did, it had a large part to do with his inability to hold his son at the end. It would have been a much different scenario if he had been there and at least been able to say goodbye to him and at least had some opportunity. In episode 13, the last thing Travis did was damn his son as he drove off. That's the last moment this father and son shared. For him to find out that he's lost Chris forever, it was crucial emotionally for turning him into the monster he turned into.
Chris was a divisive character. Some loved to hate him, others just hated him, and others were compelled by his journey through the dark side. What do you think made him so polarizing?
He was challenging. You're talking about someone who was already quite alienated before the apocalypse began. There was already a lot of anger in that kid and a lot of resentment, and it was taken to the nth degree with the death of his mom. In an effort to deal with his grief and his mourning, he went to a very dark place and eventually found a group with Derek, James and Brandon, who embraced him to a degree. That was the final thing that pushed him over the edge. It's interesting, because in one of the last conversations Travis has with Chris, he did more or less school his father. The things he said about this world and their place in it were true to some degree. I think the irony is through his death, Travis has embraced that side of it, and realizes this is a dark place with very little light and very little chance of finding it again. I actually found him compelling as a character. We tried to write him and depict him in a way that felt as honest to the circumstances as we could. I know there were people who thought he was going to progress and essentially become the villain of the show, which was not the case. But that's not to say that won't play out with another one of our characters.
Travis kills Brandon and Derek in cold blood, and kills Oscar by accident. The guests are close to killing Travis, if not for Alicia's interference. Did you ever consider killing Travis here, or was Travis always designed to unleash this brutal act of violence and live to tell the tale?
The brutal act of violence was always going to be there. There was always a point for me that Travis needed to be consumed by the apocalypse once and for all. There were versions where Travis, rather than let the family be exiled, took it upon himself to leave. There were a number of things on the table. But it was always about breaking him down to sort of a more primal, root level, so we could build him back up again. Travis, in some respects, has been challenging for some of the fans as well, because he's so stubbornly insistent on holding on to his better angels and those of the other characters. I think we really had to put him through the wringer to get him to a place where it felt honest, where it felt like he was finally at the place where he understood what the world is and behave accordingly.
Travis and Madison have both killed in cold blood. Now Alicia has killed in cold blood as well, stabbing a man to protect Travis. By all accounts, Alicia was getting along famously with her fellow guests. How are we supposed to reconcile this violent act against someone she lived and fought beside over the past several weeks? What does this buy you with the Alicia character, moving forward?
It's a big shift, and of course we'll deal with it when we get to the premiere and beyond. It's challenging for her, but it's also challenging for Travis and Madison. That's the one thing Alicia was not supposed to do. It was not in her character. Madison expects it from herself and from Travis, and always expected at some level that Nick would go down that road and either die violently or be involved in something violent. For everyone, it was the last thing we expected Alicia to do. But in that moment, she's watching … the tension of that scene is supposed to be a build to the trigger being pulled, and Andres, who has really lost his way in this moment of extreme duress, is about to put Travis down. Alicia acts impulsively. She acts to protect someone she's closer to - someone her mother loves and is part of her family. It's more instinctive. I think it says something about "like mother like daughter," and it's something to explore next season. It's a big turn for her character. It's interesting, because you start to peel it back: If Travis had not returned, if they had not sided with Travis, none of these things would have happened. You now have a hefty dose of guilt to process as we move into season three. The goal for all of the characters but Alicia in particular, we're talking about a young woman who has lost more than anybody else. She's the only character who had a true fix on her future when this all began. She was the somewhat naive and idealistic woman who answered the radio in the premiere, and we really wanted to take strides to move her away from that and make her more of an ally to her mother and a serious apocalyptic figure. Sadly, that's the big turn for her, the killing of a human - and a relatively innocent human. I think that will put her in a fairly murky moral place next season, which should be fun to play.
Turning north toward the border, armed soldiers come out and surround Nick and Luciana, their fates currently unknown. Is this the big story for season three?
It's significant. What we wanted to do moving into season three is really make that our border season. There were a number of elements we wanted to start writing to. One is the militia group we see. They're not regular army, but they will become a fixture in the next season. We'll discover some new characters in season three on the south side of the border as well. But the gentleman that Dayton Callie plays, he's dressed in a somewhat similar fashion to the militia folks, so I think we'll probably be bringing those threads together as well. It's a step toward the very fractured family at the end of the season. I think part of the drive of season three is going to be bringing them back together, slowly but surely. I wouldn't say there's going to be a border war over the course of season three, but the folks Nick runs into at the end of the season will be a factor in that.
You were a writer on Sons of Anarchy, and have written for Dayton Callie before. Was this new character designed specifically with Callie in mind?
One of the things I love about Dayton, is he's one of the most naturalistic actors I know. There's just an ease and a grace to how he plays characters. He has this moral core, but a moral code while playing men who tend to cross lines. Ultimately, his connection to Joanie in Deadwood, his connection to Gemma in Sons, he has a huge heart. I think this is a guy we'll discover has done some unseemly things in his past. It's not that he's atoning for them, but I think he's going to be someone who will factor in to Madison's rise as a leader in season three. He's someone who, in fits and starts, will complement her character and Alicia and a significant group of our family. There's just a tone and manner about him that I love to write for. I've kept in touch with Dayton since Sons. He's a wonderful guy with a great quality. I'm hoping we'll put Kim and Dayton in the same frame in season three.
With season two in the rearview mirror, what are your proudest moments of Fear the Walking Dead's second year? And what were some of the biggest obstacles, that you would explore again if you had a second chance to go back and revise the show?
In terms of the progression of the show, what I'm happiest with is that in the back half of the season, we slowed things down and hopefully not to the detriment of the action and zombie side of things. But it was the first time we got to delve into the characters and the backstory and really define a lot of the relationships between Madison and Travis and Madison and Alicia. That was very important. I would like to continue doing that as we go into season three. I think the first half, the first seven episodes, we bit off a lot of story. It had more of an episodic quality to it, which is something I would like to move away from and continue to move away from as we develop things for season three. But I think fundamentally what's important to me, and always has been, is that we hold on to the core family and remind ourselves that it is first and foremost a family drama. A highly dysfunctional family drama. (Laughs.) I like the idea of filtering the apocalypse and the dead through that. I think we got to a place where the balance was correct as we got to the later episodes of the season. I think that's what I'm most proud of. And hopefully it was still badass and rocked out enough for people.