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?
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The first hour was definitely one of the most intense wall-to-wall episodes I’ve seen from you all. Tell me about the decision to jump right in at full speed.
DAVE ERICKSON: We’ve played around with different approaches in the writers’ room, but we wanted this episode to be more adrenalized. We tend to sometimes get a little bit slower before we start to go rapid fire. I think the goal was to not give the characters or the audience a chance to breathe as we returned to the show, and also to establish the stakes of the season very quickly. The discovery of Nick within the teaser sets the tone and sets the stakes for the rest of the episode. For Travis specifically, that’s his story. I mean, essentially you’ve got a guy who in his mind failed to fulfill the promise he made to Liza before she died and he failed to protect and defend his son, and I think the one thing he can do to atone and redeem himself is to do for the surrogate what he couldn’t do for his own biological son, and the goal was to get to that moment early and then let that drive the rest of the episode and the rest of the season. The dread and apprehension we wanted to get in the premiere is really mostly about setting us up in a more adrenalized-driven passion.
I want to ask you about the brother dynamic between these two new people we meet, Troy and Jake. Give us a little introduction to these two guys and what they’re all about.
There’s a little Of Mice and Men quality going on with Jake and with Troy. They are the sons of Jeremiah Otto so they are sons of a militiaman, sons of a Prepper, and they have different moms. And Jake is the first born and something of the golden child. He was the one that as he grew, he grew up on the ranch, he can hunt, he can fish, he can do all the things that one would expect. But he went off to college and I think he broke with his father and his father’s philosophies because he saw the unseemly side and sometimes criminal side of his dad.
And sort of in a Michael Corleone mold, it was a that’s-my-family case, not me, and he was forced back into life at the ranch. He came back pre-apocalypse and tried to help his father with some land disputes. He’d gotten his law degree when he was away, and his intention was not to stay. Had the apocalypse not struck he would probably be back east living his life. And now that he’s been forced to stay, he looks at the possibility of building this new civilization, this new nation in a somewhat more idealistic fashion. He’s much more inclusive, he’s much more caring, and if anybody on the show sort of inherits the mantle of the good man, it’s really Jake.
What about his brother?
Troy’s disturbed. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that he has issues of violence, he’s got issues with mom. There’s something about Madison that attracts him. There’s something fascinating about this strong woman who comes into his camp, much in the same way she entered the pilot, it’s really her driving, it’s her asking the questions, it’s her demanding.
And the distinction between the two of them is you’ve got one brother who has an obligation to protect his younger brother. [Jake] feels like he has an obligation to protect not just the people that Troy is going to hurt but he also has an obligation to protect Troy. And Troy believes quite firmly in what he’s doing. I mean, the scientific approach he has to the dead and the work he’s doing when we first meet him, he believes in it and that he needs to because for him that’s how he can sell it and justify it to his father.
For him, he’s serving a greater good. He fancies himself something of a naturalist and he was someone who documented things and wrote things down when he was young. He’s not somebody who went to school. His socialization skills are not good so he’s basically somebody who grew up on a ranch hunting and fishing and learning to kill, and now that the apocalypse has struck, it sort of gives him this forum by which he can realize his true potential. He’s one of those characters who was predisposed to the apocalypse, and now that it’s arrived, he’s thriving.
And unfortunately that’s one of the big questions and challenges for Madison and family: We know that this man is evil, we know that he’s committed evil acts, but the ranch where he lives with this group, it is a sanctuary and there’s safety. And how do you balance the evils that you’d seen done with the necessity and their need to survive? And can you manipulate? How do we manipulate the scenario and manipulate this character to serve our own ends?
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We meet Dayton Callie’s character, Jeremiah Otto, whom we saw encounter Ofelia at the end of season 2. But we get to the camp and we don’t see Ofelia. Where’s Ofelia?
That’s a big question. That’s what I want you to ask. Is she a prisoner at the camp? Is she out in the desert again? This is part of the interesting thing about Jeremiah. I am very, very happy that I’m getting to work with Dayton Callie again because we wanted to have a character and an actor who on the one hand can be avuncular and warm and funny — and Dayton can do all those things. But even in episode 2, there were moments when you see the malevolence. It’s in the scene where he’s showing Madison and Nick the ranch and they challenge him over what Troy’s done and it’s one line where he basically says, “Most people will be pretty damned grateful to be here, to be in a safe place, and I thought you might be one of those.”
I think that what’s important and what’s good for the audience to understand is he’s not a good man. And even though he’s welcomed Madison and brought her into the fold and seemingly embraced her family, he is the father of Troy and it’s important to remember that Troy wasn’t born sociopathic. It was a learned behavior and there are things about Otto that we’ll come to know over the course of the season that I think deepen the character but also make us realize exactly how violent and how ugly that man can be. And one of the questions for the first bit of time is if he has that capacity for violence, and if he is the father of Troy, what did happen to Ofelia? And we’ll get an answer to that eventually. But yeah, it might take a bit of time.
For more Fear the Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.