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Fear the Walking Dead showrunner on that surprise return

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Michael Desmond/AMC

SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you’ve already watched Sunday’s “Teotwawki” episode of Fear the Walking Dead.

He’s baaaaaack. If you thought Daniel Salazar burned himself to death when he torched an entire Mexican compound back in season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead, think again! The former Salvadorian soldier returned at the very end of Sunday’s “Teotwawki” episode of Fear the Walking Dead, offering a canteen of water to a locked up Strand. Where has he been? And why bring Ruben Blades’ character back now? We asked Fear showrunner Dave Erickson that and a whole lot more as we discussed all the burning questions from the latest episode.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the return of Daniel Salazar, whom we see at the very end of the episode giving Strand the canteen. What was it like bringing him back into the fold? Why here? Why now?
DAVE ERICKSON: Well, first of all, it was great to bring Ruben back because he’s been a wonderful part of the show and Colman and Ruben just have an interesting odd couple chemistry, which I think is really cool.

Most of the explanation of where he was and how he survived is going to come as the story evolves, but it made sense that we would find him in our story south of the border just because that’s where we last left him. And we’ll come to find out how he has become part of this this dam environment and why he’s crucial to it, and then how important he’s going to be to Strand. I mean, Strand is in a place right now that he is unaccustomed to. He arrived at the dam with the expectation that he was going to going to pick up where he left off with Dante. These are two businessmen who did work prior to the apocalypse and what we come to realize very quickly is that Strand’s appreciation for Dante was far greater then Dante’s for Strand, clearly.

In some respects, the chickens are coming home to roost for him because the deal that he and Thomas did was clearly to their own advantage and I think that Dante has a chance to push back and sort of take control. So we find Strand in a far more compromised place than we’re accustomed to seeing him, and the question now is whether Salazar is going to help him or hurt him in this new scenario.

Richard Foreman Jr/AMC

What about this Dante guy? We see him tossing another dude off the dam into that pile of bodies. So what is he about and what are his views on the apocalypse?
Dante has a cruel and pragmatic streak. Look, one of the thematics of the show obviously is about rebuilding civilization. It’s something that’s prevalent in the show and the comic and any post-apocalyptic drama, and in our story north of the border, we’ve got Dayton Callie’s character, Otto, trying to reestablish society in his own way. And then Dante’s trying to do the same thing, and ultimately what it comes down to is the resources. In this case, it’s the dam and it is the water, and if you can control that, that is the currency right now and that’s why Strand goes there because he feels like this is the power base. If we can control this, if I could get a part of this, it’s going to protect me and hold me in good stead. And I think Dante’s of the same ilk.

Whereas Stand’s a con man, he’s more of a criminal, and he’s willing to kill indiscriminately to make sure people understand that he is in control and that he is in charge. And that’s really one of the elements of the season, is the question of violence and when you use and how you use it, and when you see it being practiced — whether it’s by Dante, who we’ll come to see something of a relationship develop between him and Salazar in subsequent episodes, or it’s Otto and Troy and Madison’s relationship with them — it’s what are you willing to sacrifice of your own humanity, your own morality, in order to survive?

So he’s a guy who has culture, but he’s also somebody who’s not afraid to, as we see, kill whom he has to, to protect his stake. And I think his sense is that any time I do this, and I kind of take somebody out, I’m letting everyone who comes to the dam know that I’m not to be trifled with and that they should fear me. That’s exactly the question that’s going to be posed for Madison and for Nick and for Alicia as we move forward. Is that acceptable? So really, he’s an example of that. He’s just someone who sees violence as a tool, as do many in this world.

Talk about the fascinating relationship between Madison and Troy. She almost took his eye out in the premiere, she scolds him here for not making the bed, yet then sits with him and puts his napkin in his lap at the end of the episode. Is this just tactical manipulative Madison looking for a way to control the situation?
That’s exactly what it is. I think what she’s come to realize after the first couple episodes is that as sociopathic and violent as Troy can be, there’s also something of a broken kid in there. It’s this fine line where she realizes, okay, if we’re going to survive and stay at the ranch, I need to make sure that that violence is not going to be revisited on my family. And she sees in him a need for mothering, and we start to get a better sense of that as the story plays out. We get a better sense of what his upbringing was and the fact that he was made as much as he was born as this person.

And her feeling is she can control him, and if she can control him, then he becomes an asset — he becomes something that she can use to protect her family. And he definitely has a fascination with Madison and an interest in her that has everything to do with his own mother and the lack of mothering he had as a kid. But he’s got an issue with Nick. There’s some jealousy there and what we see by the end of the episode is this strange meeting of the minds where Nick proves something to Troy and Troy sees something in Nick that he hadn’t before and realizes that, you know, maybe he’s okay. Maybe he can accept this larger family being combined and connected to his family in his home. So that’s something we’ll continue to see play out.

What should we take out of that old video of Jeremiah yelling and grabbing his wife and cursing out the cameraman? Are these clues that we, as well as Madison, should be picking up on?
Yes. There’s definitely a violent edge to this guy and that he may have mellowed as he’s aged, but that ugliness and that violence and those things we see in Troy are really part of who he is. There’s even a couple spots in episode two where you see an element of the menace and a little bit of malevolence in this character. So the reasons are twofold. It was hopefully seeing that there is a violent edge to this guy, and then also getting a better sense of what these kids dealt with when they were growing up and the dynamic between Troy and Jake — because Jake has been the protector of his younger brother despite his own best interests at times, and I think that it’s important to try and get a sense of what the layers were in that family, so the more we do, the deeper an understanding we’re going to have of Troy as a character moving forward.

Okay, so what’s coming up next?
We’re going to see a very, very big Daniel Salazar episode now that we have reestablished him. His line about being a guardian angel, that’s a callback to the last scene they played together on the boat in episode two of season 2, when Daniel had stayed on the boat just to really watch Strand. Strand essentially said, “You know, you’re stalking me like the angel of death,” and then Salazar said, “Well, maybe I’m a guardian angel.” So that was a callback, something that was specific to the two of them. If you look carefully, you do see some burns on Daniel, so we’ll get an understanding how he escaped, what his mental state is now, and it’ll be a very special episode of Fear the Walking Dead featuring Ruben Blades.

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