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Fear the Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson on 'So Close, Yet So Far' episode

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Justina Mintz/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead, “So Close, Yet So Far.”]

Society is crumbling, people.  You can tell by the riot, the bloodthirsty principal, and the neighbor eating the other neighbor out by the bouncy castle. TOBIAS WARNED US! WHY IS NOBODY LISTENING TO TOBIAS! Well, it’s too late now, and that was evident in Sunday’s second episode of Fear the Walking Dead as panic and mayhem began to set in. We chatted with showrunner Dave Erickson to get answers to some of our biggest questions, including: Is this the last we’ll see of Tobias? (Also make sure to also read our episode Q&A with Kim Dickens.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One of the fun things is watching the characters figure out what’s going on: What is this thing? How do you catch it? What does it do to you when you do catch it? And we have this big scene at the house of Alicia’s boyfriend Matt. Madison and Travis get there and tell Alicia to back away from him because it may be contagious. Madison sees the wound and asks, “Is that a bite? Is that how it happens?” We’ve spoken about this before but you’re walking a tightrope a little bit in terms of you don’t want to make them seem stupid because the audience at this point clearly knows more than they do, but these are natural questions that they have to be asking, right?

DAVE ERICKSON: There’s a reality, and I think when our characters in the pilot are confronted with this for the first time, their initial reaction is “not good.” We don’t go to zombie. It’s more, this person is sick. This person is on something. And yeah, part of the process for the first few episodes is taking these clues and trying to figure out what is causing it. In the typical zombie film the bites are what cause the infection; the bite is what causes somebody to turn and our characters don’t know that yet. They’ve seen Calvin in the pilot was shot. He wasn’t bitten.

It’s actually something they talk about in the scene you’re referring to. They’re trying to figure out what’s making it happen and they’re trying to find some rational explanation, and I think what’s interesting for me and for the audience, is watching them as they tiptoe closer and closer to the truth. What we’ll discover as the season plays out is we’ve timed this in such a way that the audience will always be leaning in and we’ll learn just enough. So, we’ll never want to smack the characters. I don’t think we’ll ever cross that line.

I noticed throughout the episode lots of audio clues as to what’s going on — clues that we hear in our daily life and probably ignore if you live in a big city — things like sirens and helicopters. We hear a lot of helicopters in the background of this episode, Dave.

One of the things we wanted — and we actually did this to a degree in the pilot — we wanted to play the soundscape and we wanted to make sure to keep the characters somewhat on edge. To keep the audience on edge we wanted to always have reminders of something was wrong. Something was off. There is something coming down the pike.

So, yeah, we play helicopters and also we witness one of our early violent acts and it leads to protest. A riot breaks out in downtown Los Angeles. So, it’s all these elements that could just be part of a reaction to a riot that’s going on in the city and that could happen anywhere, but for the audience we know that it’s more to do with people turning and the apocalypse beginning to creep into the show.

For me, a really big moment is when Travis sees a cop filling his trunk with water. That’s a subtext you’ve been following throughout it seems with the question of, not only how do these characters react, but how do the authorities and those in power react? What would they do and how much can we trust them?

In the reality of any apocalypse, the first responders would be in the know sooner — sooner than anybody else. And we actually play this in the pilot a little bit with a doctor at the hospital where Nick has been taken, and the nurse who’s treating him. They know something is wrong because they know when one of the patients codes and they’re taken downstairs something very strange is happening. And so in that scene that you’re referring to, it’s a small scene, but the idea is that police officer is aware of what’s coming and he’s seen something unnatural and he doesn’t know how to process it, and all he does know is he has to take care of his own.

And so the suggestion is, with this wave coming down upon us, that there are certain people who are going to do their jobs and there are some that are going to actually regress into their own and take care of their families, their neighborhoods, and that’s an example of that.

I want to ask you about this scene where Alicia is going to go back to her boyfriend’s house and then Nick starts puking and convulsing as if in a seizure so she stays to help him. He later tells his mom “She tried to leave. I stopped her.” So was he faking that seizure or just taking credit for her not leaving?

He was taking credit. I think it’s true to his character. His mom comes back, she’s gone out to get him his fix because she wants to keep him balanced long enough for them to get in their car, and hopefully, make it to the desert and get away from the danger that’s surrounding them.

And I think that particular scene, you know, he’s an addict and he’s selfish and he wants his pills and he wants more, and it comes off of a moment where [Madison] stares him down and he has to do something to gain favor. So it’s a nice character moment, and I think that Frank [Dillane] played it very well. It was him going through sort of hardcore withdrawal and it led to him seizing, and then he tries to exploit that for his own advantage with his mom later on.

NEXT: Have we seen the last of Tobias?[pagebreak]

Okay, I have to give the line of the episode to Tobias when he says, “When civilization ends, it ends fast.” This kid is the one guy who has it more figured out that anyone. He’s talking about how it starts with looting, how communications will collapse, how the desert is the safest place to be. How does this guy know so much?

I think Tobias is sort of our in-house conspiracy theorist. He’s the one that’s been scouring the Internet for years now and he started to piece together these little stories he was witnessing throughout the country. I think it started from a place of borderline paranoia. It started from a place of he is a kid with an insane imagination, and that just became more and more real for him and he started to get frightened by it. He’s done his due diligence and he’s explored ways to survive. He’s tracked what the breakdown would be and how it would play out. Tobias is a fun character and whether he returns or not remains to be seen, but he has not been eaten yet so, who’s to say?

I was going to ask you that.

Look, if you don’t get bit there’s always a chance, so …

There’s that big moment at the end where Madison will not let Alicia go help a neighbor that’s being attacked by the bouncy castle or whatever. Is this going to be a theme going forward in terms of how do you decide what to risk and when to risk it and whom to risk it for?

It absolutely is. And there’s a scene earlier in the episode where Madison is forced to confront somebody but she’s really defending Tobias. This is an instance where her priority is her daughter, and her daughter has not seen this yet. Alicia doesn’t realize what’s going on and it’s becoming more and more clear to Madison. Alicia’s instinct is to go out and try to help the neighbor across the street, and Madison knows what would be waiting for her if she did that. So, in that moment, it’s more important for her to protect Alicia and keep her kid safe than it is to go and try to save the neighbor — absolutely. Our priority shifts will be really extreme over the course of the first season.

What can you say about the introduction of the Salazars, whom we see offering a little shelter there in that riot.

The Salazars are awesome. Rubén Blades and Mercedes Mason are this this father-daughter team. The Salazars are immigrants. They come from El Salvador. They came to the States in the ’80s and they came fully from the Civil War in El Salvador. We’ll come to learn this as the show plays out, but Mercedes Mason plays a character who is definitely Americanized. She was raised in the States and she sees her parents as being somewhat backwards, you know, of the old country, and she feels that she is their protector. True to our show where we all go through major identity shifts and reinvention, she’s got to come to realize that her parents’ history and their backstory is something will suit the apocalypse part better than her experience as an American kid. So that relationship will continue to develop and become more and more interesting.

Okay, give us a little sneak peak or tease as to what to expect next in episode 3?

We end episode 2 with our great love interests, Travis and Madison, separated. Travis has gone to try to get his biological son and his ex-wife and keep them safe, and Madison has gone to great lengths to protect her son and her daughter, and episode 3 is going to be a coming together.

The irony of the show is you’ve got two parents who are trying desperately to bring together this incredibly dysfunctional blended family, and the great irony is the only way that happens is through the apocalypse and through the end of the world. So, we’ll see the family grow as we move into episode 3.

Make sure to also read our episode Q&A with Kim Dickens. And for more Fear the Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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