Fear the Walking Dead showrunner explains Strand's life or death decision
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you’ve already watched Sunday’s Fear the Walking Dead episode, “Sicut Cervus.”]
Good news! Our Fear the Walking Dead survivors made land and arrived at their hopeful final destination, Thomas Abigail’s compound. However, that was about the extent of the good news. Daniel began having flashbacks that involved his hand around a young boy’s throat, Nick freaked out over having to kill an infected girl, while Chris appeared ready to let Madison die, then threatened Alicia, and then stood over the two of them with a knife.
And then there was Strand, who was reunited with his love Thomas. But Abigail had been bitten and was at death’s door. Strand planned to walk through that door with him, but after being presented with a poisoned suicide wafer and watching Thomas take his last breaths, Strand instead shot the love of his life in the head.
Why did Victor have that minute change of heart and what will it mean going forward with Abigail’s mom, Celia? Also, what is with creepy Chris, Salazar’s flashbacks, and Nick’s new bond with Celia? We went to Fear showrunner Dave Erickson for answers. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview, and for more Fear the Walking Dead scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We start the episode with a priest delivering both communion and an impassioned speech to fight this evil. Then the parishioners and choirboys all go outside, pick up weapons, and start dying. We learn that Abigail’s mother, Celia, has poisoned them because she doesn’t want them killing the infected. Let’s just start right there. What is going on with this woman and her beliefs when it comes to zombies and the afterlife?
DAVE ERICKSON: Celia’s got a very specific belief system, and for her, it’s really steeped in the idea that the dead have always been with us, and continue to be. The difference now for her as we explore this episode and the next, is that the only difference now is we can actually see them. So from her perspective, anyone who wants to hurt a family member of hers, even if they’ve died and returned as infected, they still, for her, have life. For her, they’re still worth protecting, and they’re worth saving, and worth loving. And so it’s a really distinct difference in her belief system, versus those of the congregation that are set on going up to the compound and taking care of the people that she wants to protect.
So, what’s the deal with this weird owl faced type thing we see on the coin Luiz has, and then carved into the tree? Is this her own little cult or something?
Not a cult so much. I think it’s a religious extension if you will. It speaks to her belief system. The owl represents something to her, to the folks that are on the compound, and possibly to other people outside of the compound. But it’s a very specific, narrow belief system that Celia has, and it’s something that she’s embraced, and that’s the representation of it.
Let’s get into the whole Chris thing. Travis tells him the others are doubting that he needed to kill Reed, then we see him not help Madison when she’s about to be bitten, then he threatens Alicia if she tells anyone, and then he stands over Madison and Alicia with a knife in his hand. What the hell is going on with this guy?
Chris is not in a good place. And I think if you go back, you’re talking about a kid who even before the apocalypse was isolated, alienated, and angry. And he’s in this new, forced apocalyptic blended family, and his worst fear and the thing that scares him the most is the idea of being hated by the people that are supposed to love him.
And when Travis comes back from episode 5, he hears about what happened to Reed, and he hears about everyone else’s opinion, which is that Reed, although he was evil, he didn’t need to be shot, he wasn’t about to turn, he wasn’t dying. And now Travis has to reconcile what everyone else is saying with what Chris is saying. And Chris’ realization is that his stepmother — this woman who was supposed to support him, and replace his mom, and told him, “I do believe you, I know you did the right thing, I know you had to do what you did”— I think he’s crushed by it. In this one moment, it’s a brief hesitation, and of course, Alicia sees it and reads into it and assumes he was about to let it happen. He was about to let Madison — this woman that’s betrayed him and sort of turned her back on him — die.
I think by the time he gets to the compound and has that scene with Alicia, he’s really back in the head space of, I need these people to not hate me. I need these people to understand what I did, and I need her to understand that what she thinks she saw is not true. He’s trying to salvage whatever he can, and the problem is Alicia believes what she saw and she’s not going to turn away from that. And the worst fear that he has is that this family’s going to hate him, and he’s going to be ostracized, and he’s going to be outcast. And unfortunately, everything he does, in an effort to improve that, it sort of backfires.
And when he goes into Madison and Alicia’s room at the end of the episode, the intention isn’t to do her harm — the intention was for him to have an opportunity to explain himself again, to try one more time. And when he sees that knife by the bed and realizes, that’s meant for me, it’s a defense against him. And he picks it up, and in that moment, it’s not as though he was about to bring it down, it’s not as though he was about to do anything or cross the line into a more evil place, but I do think he was in a confused moment.
So that’s the moment when the gunshot goes off, wakes everybody up, and whatever his intentions may or may not have been, it looks really, really bad. And I think we’ll come to see when we get to the finale, is this all comes to a head and we come to realize exactly what’s going on in Chris’ head and exactly how much damage the apocalypse and the loss of his mother has done to him. There’s more to be explained when we get to the finale.
We also see Daniel, when they are fighting off the church zombies, have a flashback to his hand around a boy’s neck. And Celia tells him later, “You need to make peace with your dead, old man. What are you afraid of?” What can you tell us about Daniel’s past that we see cropping up in his subconscious?
It won’t be exactly what you expect, but it’s interesting because with a lot of the characters in this first half of the season, we’ve been exploring either how the apocalypse leads to something of a rebuilding or resurrection in each of the them, and how they change and evolve, and then also how they start to break down. And with Daniel, really it started when he saw that little boy in episode 2. It’s a small moment there, but he is shaken by that. And for a man who is as strong as he is, and for someone who can be as cruel as he can be, he’s not able to watch what happens to that little kid.
He walks to the side of boat, he refuses to see the shooting play out, and for us that was the beginning of Daniel starting to see some fragility, starting to see a sense of vulnerability in that character. And slowly but surely, the things that he’s done — and we know he’s done some ugly things in his past — are coming back to haunt him. We keep getting these little pops of him and the sense of insecurity he feels, and moments where he seems to be looking off into some middle distance, so we’re not quite sure what he’s looking at.
Then in episode 5, of course, he heard a voice for the first time. And I think all those things are starting to build and then aggregate, and we will come to realize very soon what exactly is haunting him, who is haunting him, and how he may or may not reconcile it. It is very much studying him, sort of from a mental and emotional state, in the same respect of we’re studying how Chris is disintegrating as well.
And then we have Nick, who struggles with having to kill a young infected girl and then he and Celia form a bond, but Madison immediately does not like that. Why is Madison so untrustworthy right off the bat?
Well, it’s interesting because you keep going back to that initial battle at the church. And the way that scene was constructed, it is really more about the emotional beats and what’s going on in the internal as the external violence plays out. And for Nick, he’s confronted by a mother and daughter, and he’s forced to put both of them down. And at the end of that scene, you see a Nick sitting in the middle of this massacre, really devastated in a way we haven’t seen before. And he’s a guy who, up to this point, has clearly approached the dead in a different way; he’s approached them without any evident fear.
Part of what he’s doing to a certain extent, he’s trying to find his place in this world. He’s trying to determine why it is he survived when so many have died, and there is also a quality where, by going face to face with death, there is something of a rush to it. And what he finds in Celia is somebody who speaks to this spiritual journey that he’s on and these questions he’s asking like: Are these things really things, or is there life left in them? What are they? Why is this happening? And she gives him an answer in a way that any seeker needs. She gives him an answer and says that they’re not dead. So his feelings are validated to a certain degree.
Madison is very quick to step on that because what she’s been seeing in his behavior is a pattern, and she sees him acting in the exact same way he used to act when he would go out to score heroin. And so, when she sees that pattern of behavior and then sees Celia embracing it, she is not going to let that happen, because in that moment what she sees in this very kind woman who’s brought them in, and has fed them, and has given them a place to sleep — what she sees in her is something of a peddler. She sees somebody who, instead of pushing drugs, is pushing death, and that scares her. So it’s Madison seeing this behavior in her son, knowing her son as well as she does, and being very, very afraid that this is going to end in a bad way. And when you see somebody who’s supporting it, she wants to stop that as soon as she possibly can.
You had me worried for a minute that you were about to kill off my favorite character as Strand tells his dying love Thomas that he will go with him so he does not have to take the journey alone. Celia makes them some poisoned wafers. But then, instead of killing himself, he changes his mind and shoots Thomas in the head so he does not reanimate. What makes Strand at first want to kill himself, and why does he ultimately change his mind?
I think there’s two ways to look at that. I think on the one hand, his great love is dying and is suffering, and as we know, anybody who knows the original show and knows the comic — when you’re bitten and when that infection starts to take you, it is painful, it hurts. And Abigail is trying to hold on because he doesn’t want to leave Victor.
So part of the argument would be that he’s easing him toward death and telling him to stop fighting, to let it go, with the promise of his following. And that’s something he shared with Celia, and Celia was very impressed because she’d never been very impressed by Strand, and she saw this as a grand gesture, an opportunity for her to be with her adopted son and with Strand for the rest of her life. I think in the moment that Abigail agreed to it, the different side of Strand kicked in. And it begs to question: Was he saying it strictly to con Abigail closer to death? Was he doing it as a mercy just so he would let go? Did he ever intend to take the wafer for himself?
And I leave that to the audience to a certain degree, because I think for anyone to make that offer — anybody to make essentially what is a suicide pact — once the first person is gone, it takes a huge degree of courage and love to be willing to go that far. And I think that Strand, when it came right down to it, he offered mercy, he let his lover go. And then when he had the choice of doing it himself, he realized that he didn’t want to go that far. He loves this man very much, but didn’t quite love him enough to die with him.
And I guess the next question is: How is Celia going to react to that?
Not well. No. We end the episode with a gunshot, which is going to galvanize the compound and everyone in it. And the fallout from that death, from the killing of Thomas Abigail, is going to spin the rest of the family on a very specific way.
Any other teases you can give us for next week’s midseason finale?
It’s going to be big. There are actually some very significant movements that’ll play out. Everything that we’ve been laying track for, a good deal of it will be paid off. As we ended this episode, we saw Chris race outside, and there’s a very good question as to where he’s going to and what Travis is going to do to bring him back.
And then we will have the issue of Celia’s reaction to the death of Abigail, and how she feels about Strand, and how she feels about Strand’s associates, because we’re going to see some anger in her for the first time, a true anger and true greed. And this thing that they’ve been seeking for the past several episodes, this compound, this sanctuary, is going to be jeopardized for everybody. So we’ll see how they manage to attempt to stay in the vineyard.
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