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Fear the Walking Dead showrunner on that shocking death

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SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the two-hour season 3 premiere of Fear the Walking Dead.

Fear the Walking Dead kicked off its third season with an action-packed two-hour extravaganza, as Travis, Nick, and Luciana were about to be killed for a scientific study by a militia (to see how long it took them to turn) until they broke out and were eventually reunited with a spoon-wielding Madison and Alicia.

The family was set to depart together when an infected invasion separated the group yet again and they were forced to meet up at the militia compound… except one of them didn’t make it. Travis took a bullet to the neck when the chopper he was in came under fire, and he then opened the helicopter door and dropped out to avoid having to turn in front of Alicia.

Why kill off Travis now? And what does his does his death mean for Madison and the Clark family? We asked showrunner Dave Erickson that and a whole lot more when he called in to break down the two-hour premiere.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I always have to ask you this every time when I see someone that appears to be dead: Is that person really dead? Sooooooo, is Travis dead?
DAVE ERICKSON: Travis is dead. I think what was important from the perspective of the audience as well as for the characters, it was something worse again in the fact that we thought we’ve achieved some level of safety. We thought we were going to be okay, and then out of nowhere in the random violence of the apocalypse, suddenly Travis is taken from us. And in his last action, he realizes how bad his wound is before Alicia does and he knows that life is seeping out of him and it’s only a matter of time before he dies, and he doesn’t want her to be responsible for putting him down.

So when he knows his time is up, he goes for the door and he makes his way out with the intention of throwing himself out. We tried to address that later on because I think Alicia’s concern subsequent to the helicopter going down is, did he indeed die? Was there enough damage done to his brain to make sure he didn’t turn? Is he still wandering around out there? And Jake says the height was too much and I think that’s what we need to believe. The height from which he fell and the velocity and the violence of that is going to do enough trauma to his brain that he would die. So, Travis sadly is gone.

When did you make this decision to take Travis as a piece off the board, and how and when did you let actor Cliff Curtis know?
We let Cliff know before we came back. It was hard. I hate making those calls and having those conversations, and Cliff, because he’s Cliff, was incredible. He’s insanely generous as an actor but also as a person, and he’s just very big-hearted and very kind, and he understood that it’s ultimately about the larger structure of the show and how does it inform the story. And then he’s doing a little movie for Jim Cameron now so I think he’s doing okay.

What I said to Cliff at the time is that the story for Travis this season was going to be one of redemption. His attitude was, had I protected my son, had I refused to let my son go, he would be alive right now. So enough of morality, enough of this sort of ethical barometer that I’ve been following. He decides that I’m going to go violent, I’m going to do whatever I have to do, and that was a churn we’d always planned on. We always wanted to take the English teacher, and they get into a place where he was consumed by the apocalypse and became something else, and that was the churn last season.

And then for season 3, he’s going to do for the surrogate son what he failed to do for his biological son. There were versions of the story where that would have arced out over more episodes, and I think what it came down to was — and this is what it always comes down to when there’s a death of a character — is what is the impact that death has on the surroundings? What impact would Travis’s death have on Madison, have on Alicia and have on Nick, and how does that drive a story?

How then does that drive the story for the Clark family?
For that to be the inciting incident of the season was actually good from a narrative perspective because it kind of mind f—s Madison in that she’s finally got her family back together and then in her absence, Travis goes down. And what that does is it churns us into the season. It forces her to make some compromises that even Madison would not have made prior to the death of Travis. In the wake of Travis’s death, Madison really doubles down. Any semblance of mercy that she might have had is going to go away. She’s going to kind of check that at the door in an effort to protect her son and protect Alicia.

In terms of a pivot point, the death of Travis has a profound impact emotionally on Madison and Nick and Alicia. Travis was the moral compass for the family and really for the show. Even when he sort of went to his mad place last season after he learned about Chris’ death, he still was really the only goodness in the show and in the apocalypse. The loss of him is going to put Madison into an even darker place and the question is, does she drag her kids down with her?

What does the death right now mean for those kids?
For Alicia, it’s completely mind-bending because she saved his life. Two or three days ago, she killed a man to protect Travis, and now, within the span of a couple days, he’s gone. It really begs the question, what is the point? What did I kill for? And that’s something that is a weight on her and it challenges her for the rest of the season.

And then for Nick, he has this burden and it’s compounded by the death of Travis, but in what was really his first gesture of leadership last season tried to save Luciana and everyone from La Colonia and dropped them into a hornet’s nest. Consequently, Luciana was shot, they were captured, and had it not been for him — Travis, Madison, Alicia would not have been captured because they wouldn’t have been looking for him. If he had not abandoned his mother last season, essentially as the dominoes fall, he believes that Travis does not die. So that’s a burden for him.

So in terms of the family dynamic and in terms of our core Clark family, it is something that haunts them and forms everything that comes after for the rest of the season, so that was the decision from a story standpoint. That was where my head was at recently as we moved in that direction.

Is this something where we’re going to find out who was firing at the chopper, or is it just random violence and you move on and that’s a story we’re not going to pursue?
I can say that we will find out who shot at the helicopter. So again, going into this moral balance and ethical balance that Madison has to deal with, she will eventually come to realize who was responsible. So it’s random in the sense of the timing of it seems to be very abrupt and comes at us quite aggressively and surprisingly, but there is a rhyme and reason to it and there is a reason why somebody was taking pot shots at the helicopter, so that is part of the story we will tell.

NEXT: Who shot down the chopper? And where is Ofelia?

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