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Fear the Walking Dead showrunner breaks down the season premiere

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Richard Foreman/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you’ve already watched Sunday’s season 2 premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, “Monster.”]

The plan sounded like a good one. If zombies have taken over the land, get off the land. The enigmatic Victor Strand brought our survivors on his yacht the Abigail to help escape the infected apocalypse (as well as the air strikes raining down from a panicked military) on Sunday’s season 2 premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, but they only found new threats awaiting them out on the water.

We spoke to Fear showrunner Dave Erickson to get the inside scoop on what went down, what’s coming up, filming on the water tank built for Titanic, and that mysterious voice on the other rend of Alicia’s radio. (Click through both pages for read the entire interview, and for more Fear scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The show really has a completely new look and feel out on the water that I absolutely love. Why don’t you just start off by talking about what it’s been like for you all filming down in Mexico in that water tank built for James Cameron’s Titanic.

DAVE ERICKSON: It’s been incredible. I think there were challenges for us in just in terms of our time to build. I mean, we essentially built the bulk of the Abigail in about six and a half weeks. And then we had to crane the boat down to the Horizon tank, and it’s essentially floating on its own barge. I always knew it would come together but it was always a little bit nerve wracking. The tank is great because it allows you to shoot and get the sense that you’re actually out at sea without ever having to go to sea, which is fantastic. It avoids the seasickness, if nothing else.

So let’s get into the episode. Are these air strikes we see at the beginning of the episode the final phases of Operation Cobalt, which was the military’s plan to evacuate and basically terminate anything moving?

That’s exactly right. By that time, as many people that could be cleared have been cleared is the idea, and I think from the military’s perspective, the bulk of the people left in these urban cores have turned. And from their perspective, the only way to contain the outbreak is to burn what’s left. So what happens as a result is you have a lot of infected who are being incinerated, but you also have a lot making their way toward the coast as the fire drives everything living and dead towards the water, and that’s where we open.

Only a few hours have passed since the end of last season and the death of Liza, and as a family, there’s not been any time to stop and reflect. And for Chris, for Travis, there’s literally not time to deal with Liza, which is why she is with them and why they bring her on the boat.

It’s so stark when they’re on the Abigail and come across all these people begging for help and Madison and Alicia want to help them, while Strand and Travis say no. And what’s fascinating about that decision is that as terrible as it seems, the guys are probably making the correct call on this one. It’s really one of those what would you do moments. So Dave, what would you do?

I probably would want to let folks come on and I think that would be the end of us. The thing about Madison is she’s abandoned her neighborhood. She’s thinking about the people that have been left behind, and it weighs on her. She suffers for it, and she wants to make that right in some way, as does Alicia. The interesting turn is for Travis, because in season 1 he would have been the guy that would have said, “Let’s bring them on board. Let’s do what we can and embrace life.”

And he’s in a different place right now because he made a promise to Liza he would protect Chris at all costs, and he looks at the folks on that boat and realizes, as much as he’d like to help, he has no idea if they’re infected. If they’re infected, he has no idea if they’re dangerous. It’s a strange moment because it seems as though he’s siding with Strand, but really he’s keeping his own counsel. He’s realizing he has to take care of the most important person in his life right now, and that’s his son. But he’ll suffer for it. They all suffer for it.

There’s a great line where Salazar is talking to Travis about having to kill Liza and how it relates to what happened with his own wife last season and he says, “What I would give to trade my failure for your mercy.” This entire landscape is one big moral quagmire, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is very much. You’ve got a group of people who have lost pretty much everything and they’re dealing with some degree of grief and mourning over the episode, and in that moment, Daniel’s basically acknowledging the fact that he wasn’t able to find his wife before she died. He wasn’t able to be with her, and as tragic as the death of Liza is for Travis and for Chris, Daniel would rather have been with Griselda. He would rather have put her down himself because at least he would have been with her in that final moment. At least he would have had that opportunity. And that’s one of the things that’s going to haunt Daniel throughout much of the season.

And it’s interesting about Chris in this episode because he’s reacting the way I guess you’d expect a teenager to react when his dad kills his mom, but do you think he knows deep down that his dad did the right thing?

That’s a really good question. I think, intellectually, yes, to a degree, but in their minds it’s still relatively early and you’re still dealing with a group of people that, for almost half the season were insulated from the truth of what was happening beyond the fence. So he’s getting all this information secondhand.

Liza said goodbye to Chris without him realizing it was a goodbye last season, and now, he comes in after the fact and sees that his dad has shot her, and he did it at her request, but I do think it’s difficult for him to intellectualize that. Emotionally, all Chris can do is imagine the image of his father putting a gun to his mother’s head, and it’s going to take him some time to come to any level of acceptance or understanding of that. And it’s definitely going to take a long time before he approaches anything that approximates forgiveness.

I think he’s so saddened and so grief stricken, I don’t think he’s thinking about it rationally — even when Travis tries to speak to him after they bury her at sea, even when Madison goes to him later and tries to explain that she would have done the same thing. I still think he’s got this mask of anger and rage, which is actually something that starts to play out over the course of the season, as well.

NEXT: Intel on that mystery radio voice, and what’s coming up next[pagebreak]

It’s interesting that Salazar does not trust Strand, because they are both the most natural-born survivalists among the group.

I think that’s smart. I think that’s a big part of it. He can see in Strand, exactly what you said. This is a guy who knows how to survive. This is a guy who has a plan and he’s the first person to really recognize the fact that Strand had no intention of staying in his house. Strand was always packing his bags. Even before the bombs fell, he was going to get on that boat, and it begs the question, where does Strand believe they can go?

Strand suggests San Diego in the premiere and we’ll find out if that’s a solid idea or not very, very soon, but he’s got an agenda and as long as that agenda is secret, Salazar is not going to trust him. And I think what we learn later about Daniel is even though he is connected to Madison — and in some respects, they’re kindred spirits, and they respect each other — he’s still in a position where his main priority is Ofelia, and he knows that Madison’s main priorities are Alicia and Nick.

So at the end of the day, as much as they may like each other, he’s not completely trusting of anybody. He doesn’t trust Strand, but he also knows in a pinch, if a choice were to be made, he could very easily be on the opposite side of the fence from Madison, as well. So it’s a strange situation, and it’s one of my great fears actually, to be in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight and this abyss beneath you, but to be in this boat and trapped with a bunch of people, many of whom you don’t know that well. Strand being a case in point — someone who has a mystery to him and we don’t know what we can trust. I think it adds a level of anxiety and tension to the show, which is great until we come back to land and then we’ve got walkers.

And then it gets worse. Well, speaking of anxiety and tension, what are we to make about this guy Jack we hear on the radio. He sounds nice and innocent enough, but sounds can be deceiving, can’t they?

They absolutely can. We’re going to see Alicia go through an interesting arc over the course of the season, as well. Of all of our characters, she was the one that had a line on her future. She was independent. She was going to go to college, and she was going to say goodbye to mom, and to addict brother, and to El Sereno, and start a new life. And of all the characters, being the most prepared for the old world, she is the least prepared for the new world, and when she hears that voice on the radio, it’s somebody who feels like they’re a contemporary person.

It’s somebody whom she feels she can relate to, and I think it’s out of a need to connect to the dying past that she begins that conversation. At the end of the episode when everything collides, there is a very real danger that this guy had ill intents, and was more nefarious than we realized, and eventually we may hear that voice again.

It’s always been a theme of your show, and it’s been a theme of the other Walking Dead show as well, but I feel that whole theme of how much do you risk your own safety to help others — now that they’re on the boat, I feel like that’s amplified 10 times now.

Now that they realize how bad things are, now that they understand and they’ve had their apocalyptic education, and they know, to a certain degree, what the infected are or are not — now the next big question for them is how far is this? How far has the outbreak expanded? How bad is it? Is there a safe place somewhere down the road, and consequently, as we go through the first two episodes and we meet people, either on the water or on land, the trust issue is huge. It’s a question of, do we trust the people who we’re stuck with on this boat? But also, can we trust the people that we come across and can those people trust us? I think that the danger when you try to do good in this world is that, inevitably, it turns bad. And that’s another lesson that these people are going to have to learn very quickly.

Looking ahead, what can you tell us about next week’s episode?

We’ve got to realize, if we learn nothing from episode 201, it’s that obviously, things are no safer on sea than they were on land. We’re going to be forced to return to land in episode 2, and we think, at first, that we might find some degree of sanctuary, but we realize that the apocalypse has spread, and it continues to spread and it’s the first time I think we realize that there is no safety anywhere.