Dave Erickson breaks down his final episode as showrunner and talks about both his biggest pride and biggest regret while working on the show

October 15, 2017 at 11:00 PM EDT

SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the season 3 finale of Fear the Walking Dead.

Madison Clark is alive! As for everyone else…?

Season 3 of Fear the Walking Dead ended with the death of another Otto (this time, Troy), a new villain (Proctor John), Strand shooting Daniel in the face, Nick blowing up the dam, and some crazy weird Christmas dinner dream sequences that ended with the surprising cameo return of Cliff Curtis’ Travis — if only for a brief moment.

In the end, we saw Madison swim to shore, but no signs of anyone else in the boat or on the dam when it blew, leaving the fates of Nick, Alicia, Daniel, Strand, and even the evil motorcycle club unanswered. As showrunner and co-creator Dave Erickson tells us, that open-ended finish was intentional due to the creative transition between seasons, as Erickson steps aside to develop new projects for Sony and AMC (including a new AMC adaptation of David Cronenberg’s book Consumed) while the new team of showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian B. Goldberg as well as overseer Scott M. Gimple take over and decide what they want to do moving forward into season 4 (beyond the already announced crossover with The Walking Dead).

We asked Erickson all about the transition, what he’s most proud of, his biggest regret, and to give us all the scoop on the season 3 finale. The departing showrunner was more that happy to oblige. (Read through both pages for the entire interview and also make sure to check out our post where Erickson reveals the series-ending scene he’d like to see.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this work in terms of you crafting how you wanted this season to end, along with incorporating the wishes of new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who are taking over, in terms of how they wanted to set things up for season 4?
DAVE ERICKSON: To be honest, I was left alone so there really wasn’t any story meetings or contacts about what the plans were for season 4. The goal for me was to wrap things up for the emotional and dramatic standpoints. We’ve been exploring violence, and morality obviously throughout the season, and I wanted to bring those things full circle.

The intention was always to destroy the thing that held back the resource and the thing that justified the violence, which was the water, so the dam was always going to go. I think that there was a version of this where if I was going to stay on it might have been a little bit more clearly defined in terms of who survived exactly, and who was going to be ready to rally and go to war with Proctor John in season 4. But being not entirely certain what the intentions were going to be from Scott’s camp, we chose to leave it a little more open-ended, so at the end obviously the only person we see make it to shore is Madison. And we can find out, as I’m sure we will, in season 4 who else made it out of the water.

So the story is basically exactly the way you want to do it. The only difference is you said, ‘Okay, let me leave a little ambiguity here in terms of the other characters so that they can play with that however they see fit moving forward’?
Yes, and one of the things I wanted to do was really define the chasm, between Madison and Nick in particular. Alicia sort of became sort of an independent force unto herself and I think we got to that place with her. And it was great to see the character get there but also it was really wonderful to see what Alycia actor did with it and how she grew that character, so that was great.

But yeah, I think when you introduce our big bad in Ray McKinnon’s character, Proctor John, and I think that you definitely have a group across the board — Madison, Nick, Alicia, Salazar, Strand — all who have beef with that guy. So yeah, definitely we were leading into that becoming our main adversary in season 4. So there are elements that I personally would like to see play out, but it was important just to give enough ambiguity so that they can take it and run with it in any direction they want to.

So why Nick and not Strand with the detonator there at the end?
Nick was looking for another way. I think what’s interesting to me is Nick kind of went back to the beginning of the relationship between Strand and Nick and in a brief pop in season 1 where Strand has the key to this cell that they’re locked in on the military base and Nick lifts stuff from his pocket. And that’s how Nick takes a little bit of control back from Strand in the season 1 finale.

And so it’s a call back to that, and I also think what it afforded Nick was an opportunity. He’s killed and he’s suffered the weight of that since the mid-season finale, and now he sees a third way. He’s looking for another way that doesn’t necessarily cause or call for violence. If that means he’s going to sacrifice himself, he’s willing to do that. So he sees an opportunity to save his family and also offer Strand a degree of mercy and forgiveness.

Everyone’s fighting for this resource. Everybody’s been seeking the water from the very beginning. It was on Strand’s agenda coming out of the gate, and what he’s trying to do is create an option where this doesn’t require violence, doesn’t require war, and I’m going to free my family in so doing and I’ll sacrifice myself if that’s the cost.

So it was important to get Nick to that place, and what he’s really doing is he’s showing Madison that there’s another way to do it. Madison has returned to violence, she’s really come full circle when she takes Troy out, and Nick recoils from that and then tries to absorb it and figure out a way to spit it back out in a somewhat more benevolent and positive sense. So that was the reason for it and I think he knew that Strand had the detonator and he knew that this was his only way to sort of kill one, two, three birds with one stone.

Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC

Explain where the idea for these very surreal and disturbing Madison Christmas dream sequences come from.
I wanted to mess with the structure a little bit, and we had talked in the writers’ room about Jacob’s Ladder and this idea of her experiencing something in this dream state that we’d come to realize is not just a dream. It’s really her death and the things that she’s seeing into the final moments of her life as she drowns. I co-wrote that episode with Mark Richard and a lot of the imagery really came from his twisted mind in that respect. It’s really getting her to a place where she decides to survive and it’s seeing the worst case scenario. It’s a world in her mind in which because of her actions Alicia has died. It’s a world in which her son looks at her with scorn, derision, and hatred. It’s a world in which there’s peace back with Luciana and they’ve had a baby, which might be a zombie baby. It’s all kind of twisted and strange.

It was building toward this idea, this image of the perfect Christmas dinner which she alludes to in episode 15. It’s seeing that and then taking it away from her, and a big part of what the finale is about is specific to Madison is this idea that she has created this compromise that may have led to this moment. and what that sort of represents is this sense that she’s responsible. And when she pulls herself from the river at the very end, it’s sort of a Bridge Over The River Kwai moment where she’s looking around and asking herself: What have I done? Directly or indirectly, she feels responsible for this. It’s a course that she set out on and took everybody with her. So it’s definitely something she’s going to have to wrestle next season and look at the destruction that she and her family have caused.

How did you get Cliff Curtis back to film that very quick cameo?
I called him up. The idea was Madison saw in her last moments the one person who had really loved her unconditionally. It was important that she saw him and then it was also important that he was not able to save her. And I think it was a combination of that recognition that gave her a kick-start. Had she not had that vision, I think she would have just sunk and then she’d be gone. So as we got later in the season and were imagining what that sequence would look like, I called Cliff and Cliff got on a plane. So, it was a nice family reunion quality. It was nice to really have the whole gang back together.

We’ve asked this question many times over the years, but it seems at its most prevalent now. Strand tries to help the Clarks escape and keep them safe, but he also shoots Daniel. Is he a hero or a villain?
Neither. Strand is for himself and his intention at the very beginning of this season was to get to the dam, find Dante, reconnect with this guy because he recognizes that water is power in this world. If you were going to rebuild civilization, that’s your starting point and that gives you power.

So he sees Madison sacrificing a lot to reunite Ofelia and Daniel and he doesn’t approve. He thinks it’s a mistake. God knows he has no faith in Daniel because Daniel left him to die earlier in the season, so he tries to broker this deal. And one of the deal points is the saving of Madison, Nick, and potentially Alicia. And in his mind in terms of the moral algebra, that makes it okay. Ultimately he is doing for himself and he’s putting himself in the position of power. He’s basically trying to take the seat that he’s been seeking from the very beginning of the season, but I think he believes it’s the best that he can do given the circumstances. And what’s interesting is that ultimately he’s not a violent man and when the time comes for him to kill Salazar and Lola, he fails. And then when he has the drop on them he doesn’t do it, he can’t go through with it.

And I think there’s a distinction. He’s definitely a survivor, but he’s a guy that relies on his wits and his intelligence and his ability to talk his way into and then out of other situations. I think of them all as good guys, to be honest. Troy is the one exception because Troy’s a sociopath and I think he’s a different egg. But even Troy in the way Daniel Sharman played him, he has charming qualities. There’s a charisma there despite it all. But we don’t forgive him his sins and his crimes and ultimately he pays for them. So Strand is a character who is definitely self-serving, but I also think he does have love and a caring sense when it comes to Madison and her family.

NEXT PAGE: Erickson on saying goodbye to the show and his biggest regret

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