This Fear the Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead got off to a rocky start last year. Not only was the show facing impossible expectations from fans of its older sibling, but it was also tasked with chronicling the very beginning of the zombie outbreak. While I wasn’t particularly a fan of the first six-episode story, which saw the characters quarantined in Los Angeles before heading out to sea on a yacht to escape the growing horde, the series did a lot to right the ship in the second season, especially in its second half.
As showrunner Dave Erickson told me in our chat this week after the season two finale, the writers learned a lot in the first season and a half of the series. And the second half of Fear the Walking Dead season two is all the better for it. By focusing in on the characters and creating clear distinctions between the settings and cultures of both shows, I have to say that I now find myself sold on this spin-off—an experiment that’s come into its own over two years.
My conversation with Erickson spanned from Mexico’s unique relationship with death and Nick’s newest addiction to what we can expect from a transformed Travis and a recovering Strand. We also talked a bit about a character who might not be dead after all…
Check out the interview below:
Den of Geek: I’m sure any first season of a series is a learning experience. How did you take what you learned from season one and apply it to the second season?
Dave Erickson: I think the lessons learned really came from season one and the first half of season two, to be honest. I think we bit off a lot of story in the first six episodes and then a considerable amount in the first half of season two. So we made a conscious effort, when we moved into the back half, to slow things down a bit, for lack of a better word, but not too much.
What we tried to do in fracturing the narrative was delve more deeply into the characters and the character relationships. I think it was the first time we had a flashback sequence with Strand, in the first half, just to get a better sense of him as we made our way to Mexico and to his and Thomas’ compound. But in the back half, I think we really started to understand Madison better, Nick, Alicia, that core group. We also had a chance to better explore the relationship between Travis and Chris. Which was crucial in the build-up to the finale, and the loss of Chris and what that did to Travis, and to the family as a whole. I think that is the primary [lesson].
My intention moving into season three is to carry that and to peel back, not just the characters, but also their relationships and have them deepen. I think the more we do with that the more jeopardy we are going to feel, the more danger we are going to feel as we put them through all these apocalyptic scenarios.
Fear the Walking Dead really distinguishes itself from its older sibling through the setting and the people. Why do you find Mexico such a compelling setting for the apocalypse?
Honestly, it was a couple of things. Culturally, there is just a different understanding and appreciation of the dead, and I think that was something we wanted to speak to, definitely in the first half of the season, but primarily with Nick and his relationship with Alejandro and with Luciana and La Colonia in the back half.
That was part of it, but honestly a big part of it as well was we knew we were going to end season one with the boat, and we knew we were going to head off in one direction or another, and I had always wanted to do a border story, I just didn’t think that zombies would become a vehicle by which to do that. So when we had the opportunity to hit the water, I always wanted to head south. There were some practical production issues as we moved from season one to season two, which almost made that impossible, but it worked out thankfully.
I think now what it affords us is we have begun to explore Baja and explore Tijuana a bit, and we will see a lot more of that moving into season three. But we are also in this element with the militia group that Nick encounters and with Dayton Callie’s [character] that Ofelia runs into.
We are also going to start to draw in some elements from just north of the border. So that’s appealing to me in terms of the visuals. [We] started with an urban backdrop and we were able to shoot the pilot in Los Angeles and a big chunk of season one in LA, and there is just something about the lights in LA and about the hills and the way the houses are stacked and the color and particular matter in the air. A lot of those things are consistent with what you see when you are in Baja, I think that’s important to us as well.
Next season will focus on the border and we’ll have a lot more cityscape, but we will also see some of that desert that we encountered when we followed Ofelia on her journey. So there are a lot of things, I think there are just more potential stories to tell there, and I think they mesh really nicely with a lot of the elements of the show.
Mexico has such a unique cultural relationship with death. I mean they have a whole day devoted to death in October. Were you inspired by things like Dia de los Muertos and la Santa Muerte when developing la Colonia?
Yeah, to a certain degree. Alejandro’s spiritual foundation was supposed to be an extension of Celia’s. It was really about Nick trying to find his place in this world, and Nick knowing or suspecting that there was something more to the dead than meets the eye.
The problem, and this is really Madison’s perspective, is that this is not a man on a spiritual journey. This is a man who is looking for his next fix. I do think, initially, in his brushes with the death starting in episode three, there is definitely a physiological response that Nick was getting. There was definitely a rush and a high by being that close to death. So it is a very fine line for him, and I think that he arrives in this community where they are very comfortable with the dead and in some respects it is almost like he has found a permanent dealer, and it is very easy for him to gore up and walk out amongst the [dead].
I think that ultimately proves to be a negative thing for him. What you see Nick do over the course of the season, as he comes to realize that Alejandro, who is in a sense this father figure, is not to be trusted. He comes to realize that Alejandro has his own secrets, and when we finally realize that, frankly, he’s full of shit and he built this cult personality around this falsehood, it does something—not just to Nick because in many respects he has now lost two fathers—it also does something to Luciana, because the one true believer in that community was Lucy. She was a devotee of Alejandro. She was a protector of this community, and I think it is going to be challenging going into the next season for her because she is a woman who has lost everything, and more importantly, she has lost her faith and so how can she rebuild that?
For Nick, he is somewhat accustomed to disappointment. I think the change for him as a character is when he realizes the frailty of this man. When he realizes what Alejandro did, I think he understands flaws because he is a very flawed person himself. Then he essentially, at the end, offers Alejandro an out. I love the irony that part of that out came in him shooting up his mentor, his father figure. I think that gave him the strength to deal with the narcos when they came to take the Colonia.
But it also put Nick in a position, where for the first time in a while, he was truly doing something selfless. He thought he was handing a gift back to these people. But that ends up not working out the way he expected, and I think that is going to be a bit jarring for Nick going into season three as well.
I was really shocked when you introduced the postapocalyptic border patrol at the end of the season, although it makes a lot of sense. And it comes at a time when one of the big issues in our country is immigration. Did you mean to comment on that issue in the finale?
We had laid out a lot of those stories before the campaign really heated up, to be honest. We didn’t set out to politicize. I think that inevitably whenever you are doing a show, the best horror or the best sci-fi, it does reflect what is going on in any given time. For us specifically, I had always planned on and wanted to do a border story, and I think the timing is such that it has become much more prevalent and much more important.
But we will find out, as far as the militia goes, we will get more information as to why they were there. We will get more information as to what their philosophy and what their intentions are. But there are definitely elements that are importantl socially right now that involve the border, in both sides, that we will see played out over the course of season three. Whether it is about the appropriation of land, whether it is about immigration, whether it is about refugees—which is something we began to explore to a certain degree in season two—all of those elements will play themselves into the narrative. It can’t not.
Daniel and Chris were the major deaths of the season. To me, they were the two characters who seemed to be carrying the most demons this season, too. How did you decide that they were ultimately the ones that had to go?
Working backwards, Chris’ death had a lot to do with Travis. The goal for us was to put Travis through this part where he almost loses everything. And I think it was the only way we were going to get that character to a place where he was going to abandon his moral compass and stop holding so desperately to the humanity of the old world, was to suffer a loss like this. That was always part of the potential narrative that we were going to see through.
With Daniel, it had a lot to do, to a certain degree, with Ofelia and how do we free that character up after she has been, for all intents and purposes, under lock and key. And had been so obligated to her mother and her father, in really following the lie that they had built around themselves for the past 20-25 years of her life.
There is a tragedy in the loss of Griselda for Daniel, and it was really an effort to play out that story and see what the end point would be for a man who had always had something of a defender in his life. She was someone who knew who he was, who knew what he had done, and in some respects I think he found forgiveness as long as she was there. Losing her was a huge blow for him, and in her place, he found his daughter who, where once he had forgiveness, he now found judgement. I think those two elements broke him down, and one of them broke him down to a place where he needed to make peace with his demons, which is what a combination of Celia and Griselda helped him do in the midseason finale. That just seemed like a natural turning point.
That said, I think we said this before, it is important that the characters on the show believe he is gone. Specifically Ofelia. But in my mind, there is a very real chance that we will see the return of Daniel Salazar at some point in the future.
I kept saying we hadn’t seem him die on screen, so he had to be alive!
We didn’t see him burn. [laughs]
That is true. That is what I have been telling everyone, but no one believes me. Going back to Travis, you put him through so much in the two seasons, to the point where he finally snaps in the finale. Why do you like to pick on the guy so much?
[Laughs] I think the fans pick on him more than I do!
It is not so much picking on him. What we tried to do in season one, and then we carried it over, was ask, “What is the reality for a relatively moral person who is going through the changes of this world and how does he really adjust?”
We picked on him because he refused to let go of the old world. It is something that Madison was able to do and Daniel could do. That Strand could do. Even the kids, to a certain degree. Chris was quicker to embrace what the world had become. I just think we needed to pull that narrative as much as we possibly could before he broke.
He had his moment in the finale of season one when he had tried to do right by the soldier, and the soldier came back and it bit him on the ass. But I think that the only way he was going to be catapulted into this new world in any real way, and put in a position where he might actually survive it, was for him to suffer the greatest loss that he could conceive of, or that he could imagine. I think it was part of the reason, not that we did Chris’ death off screen, but it was important that he was not there to witness it first hand because that just added to his upset and that sick twisted feeling in his stomach when he has to hear that these guys, who he abandoned his son to, had put him down. Had let him die. And I think that was the only way to change Travis and put him in a place next season where that man is changed irrevocably. He is not going to be the same person anymore.
That doesn’t mean that he won’t protect Alicia and protect Madison. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t carry love for those people closest to him, but it does mean that he is going to defend them and protect them in a much different way. We are going to see a much more aggressive, a much more apocalyptic, and a much more badass character moving forward.
Strand is one of my favorite characters on the show because he was one of the most enigmatic, and you really humanized him this season, yet he remains very complicated to figure out in the finale where he both selfishly and selflessly helps the group escape the hotel but stays behind. Why did he make the decision to stay?
There are a couple of reasons. I think first of all, he is not a fan of Travis and Travis is not really a fan of Strand. I think something about Madison and Alicia’s willingness to leave with Travis bothers him. I think, frankly, he is a little bit hurt. Especially when you consider that he is still recovering from a knife wound, so he is actually not in a position to hit the road so quickly.
Where we wanted to go with Strand is, you’ve got a guy who we find out where his heart was at the end of the first half of last season, and he has really been a guy in mourning to a certain degree. He has been a guy who is processing the loss and the grief associated with the loss of Thomas. When he says to Madison, “It’s okay,” he means it.
I think what we are going to see as we move into season three, the con artistry of Strand is going to return. We are going to see someone who has recovered from his grief. We are going to see someone who is now on the verge of heading back out into the world and trying to do what Strand has always done: he builds. He will rebuild something. He will figure out what the new currency is in this world, and we will watch him stack that and rise again to a place of importance and a place of strength where he always intended to be.
Oh, I can’t wait! Thanks, Dave Erickson!