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'Fear the Walking Dead' showrunner on the 'badass yacht' and 'seabound refugees' waiting in season 2

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Justina Mintz/AMC

Sunday’s Fear the Walking Dead season finale featured more zombies and more action than the rest of the season combined. In the end, the group was reunited and fled to new ally (?) Strand’s house by the ocean. But in those final few moments, we were treated to two twists. Twist No. 1: Strand’s plan was to get off land entirely and escape the infected by getting to his yacht out in the water. Twist No. 2: Liza would not be going with them. Bitten by a zombie, Liza asked Madison to shoot her before she turned, but Travis showed up and insisted on doing it himself. It was a finale both heartbreaking and hopeful.

We spoke to Fear showrunner Dave Erickson to break down the events of the finale while also looking ahead as to what to expect in what could be a wet and wild season 2. (Read through both pages for the entire interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One of the big things we see in this episode is some of our characters making decisions about whom do you help? And sometimes whom do you hurt to keep yourself and own family safe? Salazar basically attacks the National Guard with a herd of zombies, Strand chooses not to release the other caged people. Madison and Travis do release those people, but earlier on don’t warn their neighbors about the Guard leaving. Talk to me a little bit about these decisions and the characters having to weigh the cost of their own lives versus the lives of others, because that has been a big theme for you throughout this season.

DAVE ERICKSON: It’s a progression. As for the neighborhood, we don’t see it on camera, but we went back and forth. There’s actually a version where they just slam through the gate with the truck and knock it over. And the question came up: What about the people in the neighborhood, because they’re basically ringing a dinner bell for the walkers to come in? In my mind, you don’t see it on camera, but because Salazar is able to figure out how to open the gate — we don’t see Travis get out of the truck but he very well could have jumped out and hit that button and closed the gate. I also think it would have been easy enough for a neighbor to have come and pressed the button and closed the gate as well. What they don’t know is that the National Guard is leaving. In their minds — being Madison and Travis and company — if they were to notify the entire neighborhood, it would raise alarm. It would create chaos. It would make it that much more difficult for them to save Griselda and Nick and Liza.

And Strand is about self-preservation. I think Strand has his reasons for not freeing the group from the pens, and it’s something that Nick goes along with, although it doesn’t sit quite right with him. And then when we get to the moment where Madison and Travis arrive in the holding pens. They’re there, they’re face-to-face with these people, and it’s easy enough for them to let those people out. But fundamentally, that’s one of the things that the show thematically is about. It’s about, who do you save? And ultimately that question that Dr. Exner asks Liza of, “What is family now?” Those choices we see them making over the course of the finale will be drawn into sharper focus as we get into season 2 because it’s going to become that much more personal, and those choices are going to really impact not just strangers, but our family unit in a really profound way.

And what about Salazar releasing all those infected and siccing them on the national guard? This guy is not playing around.

No, he’s not playing around. I think his perspective is that tactically the one way that they’re going to get in and save their loved ones is to create a distraction that is that sizable and dangerous. From his perspective, at that point they know from Adams that the Guard is pulling out, so in his mind these people have damned us, so we’re going to damn them. And it’s the only way they can get in and get their people out and hopefully restore their family. It’s a very, very bold move and also from their perspective, the Guard are equipped to handle that. They have weapons, they’re behind the fences. I don’t think they necessarily think of it a death sentence for the guardsmen and women who are inside the military compound, but it’s definitely a risky and bold move.

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I always figured one of this main group had to die, even beyond Griselda. Why Liza?

The death of Liza is going to have a serious impact, obviously on Chris and on Travis and on Madison, and by extension the rest of the family dynamic. So the tragedy in Liza’s death for me is you ironically have this woman who through the apocalypse is able to practice medicine. She’s able to find some degree of validation. And this was especially tragic and sad for her in that moment to have to lose her life. Ultimately it’s going to be a question of how Travis and Madison can manage that. And manage Chris.

What we wanted to create was this conflict between father and son going into season 2 and to see how they are going to be able to process this. And process a loss that clearly Travis was very hands on with. He was the one that had to put Liza down and put down this woman that he once loved and was the mother of his son. And the trauma of that is something that’s going to carry us for quite a long while.

When you first mapped out your outline of season 1, did you always have Liza dying?

That was always the intention. We didn’t know exactly when that beat would land. We didn’t know when that story would come out, but that was always the plan. But as the writer’s room got together and as the story evolved it ended up landing in the final scenes of the finale.

I gotta say, a gunshot probably wasn’t the smartest way for them to go about that with that loud noise perhaps attracting infected their way.

You know what? That’s a very good point. You should tune into the premiere of next season and you’ll see what happens.

Let’s stick with Travis, who was the one to pull that trigger. Let’s backtrack a bit to where he beat the crap out of that soldier Adams for shooting Ofelia. Was that a fundamental change for Travis going through that? Have we now seen a turn with this character?

It was important to us that we had one character who wrestles with and held on to his humanity for as long as possible, and I think the final insult for him is he tries to have one last benevolent act. He tries to do the right thing by this soldier and it comes back and it bites him in the ass and then almost gets one of his extended and blended family killed. So I think it’s that. This was the final gesture that he could make — the final attempt to hold onto his humanity and his nobility, and it fails. And the goal with Travis was always to break him down to a very fundamental point by the end of the season. So it absolutely is. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s lost his humanity, because clearly he is traumatized by what he has to do at the end of the season. But I do think you’re going to be looking at a character in season 2 who has had something of a wake-up call — a very profound wake-up call. And he’s not going to be the same person who is constantly reassuring everyone that things are going to be better, constantly assuring that a corner is about to be turned. He’s going to be a different guy.

NEXT: What to expect on land and on sea in season 2[pagebreak]

Was there ever any thought to having that gunshot to Ofelia be lethal?

Ultimately, there was talk about would the gunshot be delivered to Salazar. Adams is a guy who talked about being mutilated. Salazar really dehumanized him. Having now escaped, the only place Adams could go is back to the military compound. And he’s also explained to Travis where to go so he’s got a pretty good line on where Salazar is going to be. So it was never a question of Ofelia being shot and killed. It was a question of where would that vengeance land? Would it land on the father or would it land on the daughter?

And as it evolved in that moment you see Adams, his intention is to shoot Salazar. And then you see the idea really come to him in that moment where he looks to Ofelia and remembered when Salazar was torturing him he said that Ofelia was the one pure thing in his life. And that’s the twist in that moment is Adams’ realization that the way to really do damage to this man is to hurt his daughter. And also there’s the fact that she betrayed him as well. She was the one that lured him into that basement, so there’s a lot going on in those final moments.

Since the beginning of the other Walking Dead show, people have asked, “Why don’t they just go get on the water?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. When did you all come across this idea of Strand wanting to escape out on his yacht?

It was late in the writer’s room. The intention was always to hug the Pacific. We only see the water once over the course of season 1 and that’s in the pilot when Alicia goes to try to find Matt. And then we don’t see it until the end of season 1. So we always knew that we wanted to get close to the water, and the idea of the boat came organically as we talked about, what would the next step be? And what’s interesting is we now have access to a pretty badass yacht.

First of all, getting to the yacht is going to be something of a challenge. And then the question becomes: Once we get to it, which way is it going to go? And we will discover that we were not the only ones with this bright idea. There are a lot of boats up and down the coastline of Southern California. So it will become very interesting when we get to see and discover that we’re not the only vessels out there, and there may be others that are covetous of what we have, which will have certain features that will be enviable to people that are trying to escape the zombie hordes.

What is the bigger threat moving forward: the zombies or the other humans?

The human threat theme that plays beautifully in the comic and the original show is something that we’re going to explore as well. You’re going to see a bunch of seabound refugees over the course of season 2. And much in the same way that we have taken steps to survive and compromised our morals to do so, we’re going to have to deal with some people who have very similar objectives, and the default setting for most of these people is not going to be let’s all live in harmony and try to build a new community. It’s going to be, how do we protect what’s ours? How do we protect our family? So there’s going to be a very serious threat from other people, as there is constantly on The Walking Dead.

And it sounds like by what you’re saying about them going for the boat and that gunshot perhaps having repercussions that we should we expect things to pick up pretty much right where we left off here at the end of season 1, right?

We may have a pretty tight cut between the end of season 1 and season 2. And that’s capturing the energy we ended on and carrying that over into the next season. But we’ll see. We’re still breaking it.

As you look back and take stock of season 1 what were some of the things you feel worked best and what are some of the things you want to work on for season 2 in terms of the way you deliver this story?

The interesting thing going into the next season is going to be a question of pacing. We took time with things and there was a bit of a slow burn, which we’ve talked about throughout much of the season. And then it did feel like we had a pretty significant payoff with the finale. It was our first zombie horde. It was our largest — by far — action sequence of the season. We will have reached a place going into the next season where our characters now —including Travis — are fully up to speed as to what the walkers are and the realization that these are not people to be saved.

I think that’s been a long process, especially for Travis. And it was a good process, and it was something that was good for his character and it was true to what we attempted to do in season 1. I think now the challenge is to make sure that we honor his education and everyone’s apocalyptic education and have that reflected in the tone and pacing of season 2. I still think we’re going to remain to be a specific and totally different show, but you’ll be seeing that energy that we had in the finale will carry over and push us a little bit in the next season.

For more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.