By Dalton Ross
August 21, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Richard Foreman Jr/AMC
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SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s midseason premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, “Grotesque.”

Fear the Walking Dead returned with a midseason premiere deep dive on Nick as the former junkie who clung to life while shuffling through the unrelenting landscape of Mexico. When it was over, he landed in a community on the outskirts of Tijuana that appears too good to be true. So is it? We asked Fear showrunner Dave Erickson about Nick’s journey, his destination, and those flashbacks that gave us more backstory on not only Nick, but the show’s very first zombie ever, Gloria, and how she turned.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I think this is the first time you have really done a deep dive on just one character. What made you want to do a whole Nick episode, and as a midseason premiere to boot?

DAVE ERICKSON: It was a couple of things. We were really aggressive in our storytelling in our first half of the season, and even in season 1 in terms of the amount of story we tried to get through. And we made a conscious decision going into the back half not to slow things down, necessarily, but at least by fracturing the family and letting people go off in their different directions, it allowed us to invest, episode by episode, a bit more deeply in specific questions.

I also think that based on Nick’s moves in the midseason finale, it felt important to spend some time with him and sort of track his emotionality coming off of that big decision that he made.

You brought your show’s very first zombie back in Lexi Johnson as Gloria. What was it like bringing her back and taking us through flashbacks right up to that first moment where the show began?

It was fun. Lexi did a great job in the episode, and there’s two things going on for Nick. One is obviously that he feels he’s on a spiritual journey, and Madison would look at that differently. Madison would look at that as this is a new manifestation of Nick’s addiction. But the two things we wanted to explore on his journey, because we’re going to get into parallels to the Gloria story and to his father’s story of the absence of his father as we move through the season.

But the flashbacks were really about tapping into the loss of Gloria in the sense of responsibility and culpability. He feels for that. Then also the idea of the absence of a dad. So we see him in the moment when he finds out that his father died, and we also find out that there is a certain disconnect between him and his father even before his father did die. So Nick says, “I’m trying to find a place where the dead aren’t monsters,” but I also think he’s looking to fill those gaps and find something resembling a father figure and some kind of connection in this world he feels is more natural for him.

That journey itself is challenging, and as he says to Madison, he can’t die — it’s almost like the episode affirms that, because if he didn’t get killed on this trip, having gone through everything he’s gone through, then it almost seems like he is bulletproof at this point. I think that’s a good place to end the story in that episode, but it also sets him up for potentially something of a fall.

We see that moment in another flashback where Madison tells Nick that his dad his died right at a point where he’s trying to get his life back together. How much does that send him back down the spiral?

The death of his father didn’t make Nick an addict. That’s something that’s in his wiring, but I don’t think he was shooting heroin at that moment. I think he was drinking, he was smoking. He wasn’t necessarily injecting, and I think that loss sort of did push him over the edge. Would he have gotten it together if his dad had stayed alive? Maybe, but I think that is definitely a turning point for him.

And again, it’s more than just the death of his father. It’s the fact that his father had moved away from him, and I think that for an impressionable teenager, that in some respects is harder. The death you can understand. From Nick’s perspective it was an accident that his father is gone. I think the bigger challenge is the fact that he didn’t feel like he knew his father before he went, and that’s something he’s been struggling with ever since, which is what he articulates when he talks to Gloria in that first rehab scene.

Let’s get back to the current day for the show. You have Nick on the brink of death here out in the desert, which is interesting because I would think dehydration and starvation would be a way that a lot of people would die out there but we really haven’t seen much of that on either Walking Dead show.

It’s interesting because when he sets off on this journey there’s more of a sense of adventure for him. He really seems to be embracing the idea of being alone in this landscape, but it’s a long walk. I mean, Celia’s compound was in the Valle de Guadalupe which is a good two hour drive from Tijuana. So to walk it and to walk it through a landscape that is not terribly welcoming, he didn’t really think it through.

But water becomes a very important factor in the course of the back half of the season, and it may be an even bigger factor in season 3. We’re into week four of the writer’s room for next season, and it’s the idea of resources and the idea of lack of is going to become quite crucial.

But really for us it was an opportunity to see that Nick is really challenging the universe in a strange way. He’s challenging the apocalypse, and I think from his perspective if he can survive this journey then he can survive anything. And that’s where his head is at when he finally arrives at the Colonia and meets Alejandro. And then the challenge for us through the back half of the season is to start to break him back down.

We meet this new character Luciana who resists at first, but then agrees to bring Nick in and help him. What can you say about her and what we’ll see coming up?

Luciana is a believer. This is a community that is centered around Alejandro, who was a pharmacist in the old world and in that regard something of a community leader. For many people in the neighborhood, he was their doctor for all intents and purposes. So there is a belief system that’s developed around this guy and it’s something that Luciana has ascribed to.

So when she sees Nick initially — later we’ll realize she’s out there looking for somebody very specific and Nick is not that person. So her first inclination is to let him go. In my mind, after the first scene where she sees Nick go down, she probably touched base with Alejandro and reported what she had seen, and even for this particular community, somebody who walks with the dead is something of an anomaly. There’s something special in that. So I think that was the reason they bring him in, ultimately, and they bring him back to the Colonia.

But she’s definitely badass. She definitely has great faith in her community and in this leader, Alejandro, and she’ll develop something of a relationship with Nick as the next few episodes play out. So again, it goes back to the two losses that we see — the loss of the father and then the loss of Gloria. Nick does find characters here and builds relationships with people who seem to be drawing parallels with his past, and the question for him is: Is he going to be able to hold onto these people and hold onto these new relationships in the apocalypse?

At the very end we see this pharmacist open up the doors to Nick and he sees this happy, smiling community with kids playing soccer and a makeshift market. We can only assume this is all too good to be true, right?

This is one of the most joyful moments on the show, and it’s probably going to be the last. Look, in some respects that’s a moment of that’s the reward for the journey, and what he’s found is a group who much in the same vein as Celia, they do not see the dead as monsters. They embrace the apocalypse and they see it as more of an evolution. It’s not apocalypse for them. We’ll get into their belief system in the sense of the religious aspect of it as we move forward, but yeah, for that particular moment it is exactly what Nick was hoping to find, and yes, ultimately nothing ends well in Fear or in The Walking Dead. So it’s a taste of joy before the fall.

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

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