Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg speak with THR about the “existential” crises that will define the coming episodes of the AMC zombie drama.
[This story contains spoilers for the season 4B premiere of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, “People Like Us.”]
The late Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) wanted her loved ones to live in a hopeful world — but after a half-season dedicated to violent vengeance, the people left in Madison’s wake have a few more storms to weather before they can realize her dream.
In “People Like Us,” the midseason premiere episode of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, viewers found themselves returning to an apocalyptic landscape where the disparate series regulars were as divided as ever. Despite living in close proximity to one another, the Fear characters are isolated into individual factions: Strand (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay Garcia) are drunkenly holding down the fort at an abandoned mansion; Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is unleashing her rage on walkers approaching the house’s perimeter; John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) is recoving from wounds he sustained two episodes earlier while loving alongside Jenna Elfman’s June (previously known as Laura and Naomi), the two of them watching over Charlie (Alex Nisenson), the little girl who killed Frank Dillane’s Nick; Althea (Maggie Grace) is continuing to operate out of her heavily armed truck, searching for truth; and Morgan (Lennie James) is finally ready to head home.
Morgan’s desire to return to Alexandria defines much of the midseason premiere, as he’s come to accept that people are necessary for his survival and sanity. He tries to convince the others to come back to Alexandria with him, but is only successful in piquing Al’s interest. Before he and Al can start their road trip, however, other circumstances get in the way — namely, a massive storm, one that promises to leave untold amounts of emotional and physical devastation in its wake, not to mention a flying walker or two.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg stress the storm’s function as both a literal and existential threat for the cast of Fear the Walking Dead. Mother Nature serves as an adversary in the back half of the season, but there are other challenges on the way. In their conversation with THR, Chambliss and Goldberg weigh in on what to expect from the back half of their inaugural season, whether or not Morgan’s plan to go back to Alexandria will ever come to fruition, what they’ve learned from the fan reactions to Kim Dickens’ departure from the series, and more.
The first half of season four introduced major characters, and parted ways with some major original castmembers. What are your goals for the second half of the season?
Andrew Chambliss: The second half of season four is really about all of these characters grappling with the emotional and relationship fallout that came from the events of the finale, and the revelation that Madison’s death was all about protecting her family, protecting her community that she had built. The back half of the season is really about all the characters struggling with everything they did in the front half, particularly Alicia, Strand, and Luciana, who had been on a revenge mission. They’re coming to terms with the fact that, for a while, they had forgotten Madison’s philosophy and what she had sacrificed her life for. They’re going to be asking themselves how they can move forward. How they can make amends for everything they did. I think the biggest question that they’re going to be asking is: “What’s next?” When you spend so long seeking revenge and you finally put that aside, what comes next? And that question is something that the rest of the characters are also asking themselves. Morgan, who spent so long running from people thinking he couldn’t be connected to them, he’s now realized he can’t run away from human connection. He’s asking himself, “Where do I belong? Who do I belong with?” And we see John Dorie, June and Al asking all those same questions. The back half of the season is really going to be about grappling with all of these existential questions and these characters coming to a place where they realize what their purpose is going to be going forward.
As a backdrop to all of that, there’s a storm ravaging the season. How did you guys arrive at that as sort of the backdrop for the next several episodes and how does that underline the themes that you’re exploring?
Ian Goldberg: We’ve seen these characters come up against a lot of different adversaries over the course of the series, both walker and human, but one of the things that we’ve never seen them face is Mother Nature, especially on a scale like a hurricane. So, we approached it from a place of just wanting to explore an adversary like we hadn’t seen before, a new obstacle for these people to face. A hurricane is obviously a really difficult challenge to overcome in the world we live in, but in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, it’s even more challenging. It’s also kind of representative of the storm that is going on inside each of these characters. To speak to what Andrew was just talking about, there are questions of who they are, what their purpose is, who they’re going to be going forward. The storm represents that and it will present challenges for them in a lot of different ways. They’re going to be separated by the storm. They’re going to be facing the aftermath of what the storm has wrought on this landscape. It’s going to affect, as we’ll see, the walkers. We’re going to see the impact that a storm like this has on the walkers and just on the environment. It’s going to be quite a challenge for everyone.
Do you view the storm as the main antagonist for the second half of this season, or are there other characters like the Vultures that we should be keeping an eye out for?
Chambliss: The storm is the thing that makes the world a lot harder to live in, but there will be someone cropping up who is going to really test all our characters in ways that they didn’t expect and this antagonist — I don’t want to give away too much about who this person is — may know a lot more about our characters, or have insight into who they are, and what they’re going through in ways that our characters don’t even have.
Is this a returning figure or a new character altogether?
Goldberg: It could be either. We can promise you this person or persons will show up in the back half of the season.
How much time has passed between the midseason finale and the midseason premiere?
Chambliss: Not a lot of time. Probably a month or so. Just enough time for all of our characters to settle into their new existence. As we see in the premiere, when we find them, they’re all living in together in a sense, but not really together. We saw them all around that campfire at the end of the first half of the season and we thought that signified that this group had come together, but when we find them now, we see that they’ve kind of drifted apart both physically and emotionally.
When we catch up with him in the premiere, Morgan is gearing up to return to Alexandria. What brought him to that decision and why did that feel like the right idea to introduce in the back half of the season, teasing out the possibility of going back home?
Goldberg: Well, that’s a really interesting question, and it’s complex for Morgan. You know, when we saw him at the beginning of the season, he was in a place where he didn’t want to be around people at all. He left behind the people closest to him in Alexandria and set out on this solo journey believing that was the best way for him to live in this world. He’s in a very different place at the end of [the midseason finale]. He’s sitting around a campfire with people who had been strangers to him. Some had been friends, some had been foes and he’s not running from people anymore. In [the midseason premiere], we see that he’s looking to return to the place where he came from and, obviously, there’s a lot of history there for Morgan. There’s people that he cared very much about, that he left kind of abruptly, but we’re also going to see that there’s a much deeper reason for that for Morgan, an issue that he’s still struggling with emotionally that we’ll see unraveled over the course of the back half of the season. And that journey that Morgan takes is not going to be an easy one and there’s going to be a lot of detours along the way.
In the Comic-Con trailer, we saw Morgan with some familiar words scrawled out on his forehead: “I lose people, I lose myself.” Should we be worried about Morgan backsliding?
Chambliss: That’s certainly a fear that is driving Morgan. He has only [recently arrived at] this place where he feels settled emotionally, where he knows he needs to be with people, but I think a lot of the ghosts of his past are still in his mind and as we see him grapple with the question of why he feels like he needs to leave this group and go to Alexandria. He’s going to be grappling with a lot of the same fears that he had from his past.
How realistic is the return to Alexandria? Could Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead both occupy that same physical space?
Goldberg: Our focus has been, obviously, on Fear the Walking Dead, and what we can tell you is that Morgan has a long, long journey to go on Fear the Walking Dead, and the journey that he speaks about in 409 about going to Alexandria is a part of it — but his arc on this show is far from over. He’s got a lot of emotional terrain to cover.
We see the cast scattered to the winds in this episode, separated into several different character combinations. How did you decide on who would pair up: John and Strand, for example?
Chambliss: One of the questions we asked when we were mapping out the back half of the season was looking at characters who had not had a lot of time onscreen together and who also had interesting emotional counterpoints to each other. I think we see a lot of that in 409. Al spent a lot of time with John Dorie and became close to him, as close as Al lets herself get to people. And now she finds herself with June, and June’s past has been always a bit of a mystery. She’s gone by the name Naomi. She’s gone by the name Laura. She’s gone by the name June. And this is something that is very hard for someone like Al to wrap her head around, someone who values the truth above all else. So, it felt like that was a really interesting pairing for this episode. Likewise, with Strand and Dorie, Dorie is someone who we’ve seen as an eternal optimist and Strand, as we’ve seen in the front half of the season, went through a very dark place where he questioned his own self-worth and why Madison had given him another chance. So, it seems like there’s a lot these two can learn from each other. If people keep watching, they’ll see that these aren’t the only pairings that we’re doing. We’re definitely trying to shake things up a little bit and see new sides of all our characters.
Next week’s episode is a showcase for Alycia Debnam-Carey. Is that indicative of the season’s structure, with each episode focusing on limited amounts of character and story?
Goldberg: What we like about the back half of this season is highlighting the different character pairings and seeing how people who have not spent as much time together are forced together under extreme circumstances. They’re dealing with their own sort of emotional demons, but also with the challenges that the hurricane has presented. There will be episodes that focus more on two characters. There will be some that focus more on the ensemble. It really just depends on the episode. One thing we’re excited about is there’ll be a lot of tonal variety in these episodes. There will be some that are very dark. There will be some that are sort of strange and darkly funny.
A musical episode?
Goldberg: I wouldn’t rule anything out. (Laughs.) What we like is that each episode can feel like its own movie. They have their own tone, and we really just strive for variety.
Aaron Stanford, Mo Collins, Daryl Mitchell and Stephen Henderson are on board for this next batch of episodes. What can you say about what these actors are bringing to the show and the new types of characters that you’re introducing into the apocalypse through these people?
Chambliss: We don’t want to give away too many details about the character specifics, but we will say one of the things that we’re so excited about with the new cas members who are joining for the back half of the season is what they bring to the show in terms of, as Ian was saying, variety. One of the things that is really important in the back half of the show is having moments of humor and lightness interspersed with this very bleak world that everyone is struggling to survive in and all those actors you mentioned bring something very different to the show and it really contributes to us pushing the boundaries of what we can do in the back half of the season.
We’re a couple months removed now from the finale. Do you guys have new takeaways about how it played out onscreen, in the story and the reactions to how Kim Dickens was written out?
Goldberg: We started out the season wanting to tell an emotional story about taking characters from a place of isolation to community and hopelessness to hope. We consider ourselves really fortunate that we got to tell that story and we’re really sort of pleased with how it all came together. We felt like on every level — in performance, in direction, just everything in that finale — it achieved the emotional quality that we wanted for this first eight episodes to have.
Chambliss: And it was all about telling an emotional story that sends Madison off in a way that her sacrifice is something that will really reverberate with our characters going forward, and that philosophy that she had is something that is really going to become a piece of the DNA of the show going forward.