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'Fear the Walking Dead' showrunner Dave Erickson breaks down the 'Not Fade Away' 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, “Not Fade Away.”]

Occupation! Madison, Travis and Co. traded one problem in for another in the Sunday’ episode of Fear the Walking Dead. Instead of zombified neighbors roaming the streets, now they must deal with the presence of the National Guard, who fenced them in for their own protection. But as we learned by the end of the episode, not every family member was welcome there. And what exactly is happening outside the fence? We spoke to showrunner Dave Erickson to break down the “Not Fade Away” episode and get answers to our burning questions. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You just did an entire episode without a single zombie attack. Did that make you nervous at all?

DAVE ERICKSON: No, it didn’t make us nervous. Actually, it was something we talked about quite a bit because there were opportunities, especially in the sequence where Madison goes beyond the fence. But really what this episode is about to a large degree is the realization that the National Guard has arrived and that may not necessarily be a good thing. And it was really about trying to create this tension and anxiety centered around the occupation of a neighborhood, and what was that going to mean for Madison and the rest of her family. So no, it was a question of focusing on that element in the story and less on a walker attack necessarily. It didn’t make us nervous. Hopefully it didn’t make the audience nervous.

You mentioned when Madison when through the fence, and that was when I was expecting it to happen because I was thinking that you always have to have at least one zombie attack per episode, so I found this surprising in a good way actually, in the sense that I thought I knew what was coming, and I didn’t.

That was also part of it. Robert Kirkman has talked about this in relation to the comic and the other show. Ultimately the real danger is coming from the other humans. This episode was an opportunity to try and dramatize that element of it and really bring to question: What is the motivation of the National Guard? What’s going on on that side of fence? And essentially in that neighborhood she’s walking through, you have a group of holdouts and people who didn’t necessarily want to be moved and didn’t want to leave their homes. And you’re dealing with that tension, plus with the Guard, who are a bit more in-the-know compared to others in their neighborhood and for all intents and purposes more scared than the civilians they are supposed to protect because they’ve seen more of he apocalypse at this point. It really speaks to the discovery that Madison and Travis are going to make in this episode and going into the last two.

So we’re now seeing the military in full force taking control. They’ve set up safe zones behind fences. They’re instilling rules and order. But some of them also seem relatively at ease with the situation, not quite comprehending the magnitude of what’s happening and instead playing golf for crying out loud. What can you say about how you wanted to handle the National Guard presence here?

There are two sides of it. One of the things Robert and I talked about going way back was the opportunity for surreal juxtaposition. So the idea of Moyers, who is played by Jamie McShane, playing golf is just something that seems inconsistent and incongruous with what is going on and that speaks really to his character and his attitude. Moyers is someone unlike many of the guardsman and women, who has seen battles. He’s done tours of Afghanistan. He actually sees this as a campaign and he likes being at war. I think that’s specific to his character.

The others, many of them, and we find this in some of the younger soldiers like Adams — he’s somebody who has a family nearby, and all the guardsmen and women are folks who are from California, so they’re very aware and very concerned with what’s going on with their own families and what’s going on outside of Los Angeles. It creates this interesting dynamic and something we’ll see brought to fruition in episode 5. Because there is a core group of the guardsmen that we spend time with and in counterpoint to Moyers they have a specific POV. And as things continue to unravel, we’ll see some of those relationships and some of those characters begin to fray.

We had a bit of a time jump here as Chris tells us while narrating his video that it’s day 9 since the fence went up and the lights went out. Tell us about the decision to jump those nine days to advance the story.

It was two things. First is, by the end of the season we’re not necessarily at the moment where Rick wakes up from his coma, which is important because you’re going to have a little bit more latitude and more to experience and to explore when we get into season 2. But we also want to progress the apocalypse to a place where by the end of the season it had clearly taken hold and had clearly taken over — at the very least, Los Angeles and the L.A. basin. So I think we needed to give ourselves a little bit of a window to accomplish that.

The other thing is, true to the pilot and episode 2 and episode 3, we’re trying to mount this dynamic where our characters are genuinely learning the apocalypse and they’re slowly catching up. They’ve had a crash course over the first thee episodes, but by putting the fence up and creating this buffer between episodes 3 and 4, and between our family and the apocalypse beyond the fence, it allows us to continue that process and it allows us to let them — Madison and Travis and Alicia and the entire family — experience it in a way that I think would be consistent with as close to the reality of a zombie apocalypse as we could get to.

We see some tension between Travis and Madison this episode all sort of focused around the question of: In a crisis, how much do you focus on your immediate family and taking care of them, and how much do you extend your focus out to the community at large? Madison is staying with her family while Travis has become the unofficial mayor of their safe zone. Who’s right? Or are they both right in pushing each other to pay more attention to the other aspect?

I think they’re both right. The problem is, the plates are shifting. Travis’ inclination — and this goes back to the pilot — he does have faith and trust in the institutions. He does believe things are going to improve and things are going to get better. And Madison has somewhat of a darker edge to her and she’s less trusting. And what you’re speaking to is really the beginning of a conflict that will continue throughout the rest of the season and into seasons beyond, because Travis in an effort to hold on to his humanity and what he thinks is right, the question always becomes: In this world if you are trying to be good and trying to be noble, do you ultimately compromise your family or help them? That’s the transition we’re beginning to see between Madison and Travis. And for Madison being the one that has less trust and actually looks at the video that Chris shows her and takes it upon herself to go off into the DZ to try to understand what is going on — what were seeing is a very ballsy, forward-thinking woman who wants to find truth. And the question is: When she finds that truth, how is that going to bounce off of Travis and how is going to impact their relationship?

Well, if they keep fighting, at least they can keep having make-up sex in a car, so it’s all good, right?

[Laughs] There’s always that.

NEXT: Why does Liza leave her son? Plus, intel on next week’s ‘Fear’ episode.[pagebreak]

There’s this interaction between Madison and Alicia where mom says they need to paint the room again and Alicia responds, “What’s the point?” Is that where we are, stuck in that spot where maybe, hopefully things will go back to normal, or who are we kidding? And people then gravitating towards one of those two viewpoints?

Alicia is interesting because she shares something with Nick because they both lost their dad when they were younger, so she has a fatalist streak. She knows the world is failing, but there’s a dichotomy there because at the same time there’s a lot in the old world that she hasn’t been able to resolve. She’s really had no closure with the loss of Matt. She has a moment in this episode where she pulls out that sewing pin and tries to make her temporary tattoo permanent. It’s really an act of defiance for her, so she’s got a lot of anger. The idea that her mother and would-be stepfather are arguing over what seem to be very domestic issues, that’s an affront to her in light of the greater apocalypse that’s surrounding them.

For some of them, and Daniel Salazar especially, we’re getting to a place where they see the end coming and see it coming from very early on. There are some people who realize we’re reaching points where there will be no return and the world’s going to change permanently. And then there are some who are trying to hold on to some sense of routine and some sense of normalcy. Travis is the extreme of them, and Madison is coming to terms with the fact that things have gotten very, very dark and are not going to get better. And that’s a lot of what this episode is about for both her and Travis. Because by the end of it, she has seen this massacre that took place outside the fence and Travis has seen the National Guard go into a house and ostensibly take down a family that are not turned, and it’s really kind of shattering for both of them.

There’s also a pretty rough scene between Madison and Nick where she catches him looking for drugs and slaps the crap out of him while yelling, “You have no idea!” Isn’t having to deal with a zombie apocalypse enough, Dave? Having her also need to handle a junkie son seems like cruel and unusual punishment. That’s just awful on top of terrible.

It absolutely is, but I think the important thing in that Madison-Nick relationship — and will remain very important over the course of the show — fundamentally it is a family drama. And it if you look back at the pilot and all the issues and conflicts that we established there, it’s important to me that we don’t lose those. It’s important to me that you can’t introduce an addicted son and then not let that story play out. And the thing about Nick is he still needs his fix. He’s not clean.

And when Madison attacks him, it’s frustration with the things that she’s had to do to procure drugs for him. It’s frustration with the fact that deep down she probably enabled him for a long time. And it’s frustration with the walls that have been put up around them. There’s a lot that goes into that moment. And it’s also the betrayal. Even in that early scene where he claims he doesn’t need it anymore, she wants desperately to believe that, but when she finds him the Ramirez house later on and she realizes he’s been stealing drugs form this sick man, I don’t think she’s completely surprised. And that’s really part of the sadness of the moment.

So the big moment at the end happens when they take Griselda to the hospital, but also snatch Nick against his will because Dr. Exner could tell he was a junkie. Liza then decides to join the doctor, leaving her family to go help in the broader community that we talked about earlier. What’s behind her decision there, because she leaves her son, and when she does that, she has to know that she very well may never see him again?

I don’t think that she knows that she’ll never see him again. You have to bear in mind that everybody has been trapped inside this fence for nine days, and we’ve been reassured and told by the authorities — Moyers has said that we are winning. And Exner, when she arrives, she’s very calm and very professional and she realizes that Liza is not a registered nurse but that she has skill and that Liza is somebody that can be an asset and can be a help to her. So in that moment when that take Griselda out to the truck to take her to the medical in the military compound, I think for all intents and purposes Liza believes that things are improving outside the fence. And it’s also an opportunity for her to take care of Griselda.

And also when she realizes Nick is being taken, it’s an opportunity for her to make sure Nick is going to be okay. And well see in subsequent episodes and episode 5 that she fully expects she’s going to see Chris again. She says goodbye to him across the yard and tries to tell him it’s going to be okay. It’s a strained moment because Chris is just watching his mother get on a truck and leave and it’s very upsetting to him. But for Liza, she’s sees this as responsibility. “I’ve been taking care of Griselda and am the reason Nick’s being taken is because of me and I need to take care of these people,” because they have become essentially her patients, which is important for her. The other thing she doesn’t realize is that this is basically the cleansing of the camp, because anyone who could potentially die and potentially turn needs to be removed. So Griselda is obviously not well, and Doug Thompson, the gentleman that they take earlier in the episode — he’s somebody who clearly is depressed and they’re worried what he might do — and then Nick ultimately they know is an addict and Liza inadvertently ratted him out, and when Exner is examining him she can tell he’s high. And if you’re addict you can OD, and if you OD you can turn, and they can’t have that. So there’s a lot going on in that moment. It’s busy.

Tease us up for next week’s episode. We only have two episodes left this season so what can you tell us about next week?

Many of the questions about the National Guard will be answered. And what we’ll see is Travis and Madison — consistent with these two different trajectories they seem to be on — they will address the taking of Nick and Griselda and Liza in very specific and different ways.

For more ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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