Fear the Walking Dead showrunners on the new villains of season 4
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Another Day in the Diamond” episode of Fear the Walking Dead.
Last week’s season premiere of Fear the Walking Dead introduced us to several of the new characters that will be populating the show in season 4, but this week it was time for the Clark family to play ball. And what better place to do that than an abandoned baseball stadium? That’s where we found the Clarks (and Strand and Luciana) when things picked up for them here in season 4. Life was good. Life was safe… relatively speaking, of course. But things were about to change.
A pint-sized spy reported back to a nefarious new group dubbed (by Strand) the Vultures, who seek out failing communities and then pick them clean after they have succumbed to the post-apocalyptic landscape. Madison and their leader Mel (played by Kevin Zegers) appeared to be in a stand-off, but a look into the future saw a hardened Alicia, Nick, Strand, and Luciana clearly worse for wear and meeting up with the newbies (Morgan, John, Althea) we saw last week. What the heck happened to them? What’s up with all the time jumping? Who are these new baddies? And what’s the deal with Jenna Elfman’s Naomi? We asked showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg all that and more. (Read through both pages for the entire interview, and also make sure to check out our episode Q&A with Jenna Elfman.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, let’s talk about this crazy baseball stadium set you have here that the Clarks and friends are calling home. I was lucky enough to see it while I was down there on set and it’s unbelievable.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Yes, we were stunned the first time we saw it fully dressed and converted into the apocalyptic life we wanted to have. When we were approaching this season, one of the questions we wanted to answer was: What would happen if Madison got her wish and found a place where she could protect her family? We thought to answer that question, we needed a very cool location, and we had always kind of been interested in the idea of using a stadium because of the concrete walls surrounding it.
When we started scouting locations in Texas, we were looking at football and baseball stadiums, and in our wildest dreams, we never thought we would be able to actually use a stadium quite as large as the Dell Diamond that we ended up finding. The first time we walked in there, we just got so excited. But again, we didn’t think it was going to really line up schedule-wise with the Round Rock Express, which is the baseball team, with their season. But it turned out it did, and we then brought our production designer in, Bernardo Trujillo, who is amazing.
He, I think, almost had a heart attack the first time he saw it just from the sheer logistics of how much of a set he would have to change, and dress, and even down to things like the signage, just the amount of signage that would have to be changed and aged. It was a huge ordeal.
IAN GOLDBERG: It was a beautiful stadium. It’s pristine, new, operational — so to make it look apocalyptic was a challenge.
CHAMBLISS: Yeah, and I think they had five weeks to do it in, and Bernardo just came to us with all these really fantastic ideas about how to create irrigation systems, rainwater collection, how different parts of the field could be used. It was very cool the first time we saw it in the beginning of October, about five weeks before production began. Then the next time we were in Austin when prep started, we walked on and it felt like we were in the apocalypse. So yeah, we’ve been super thrilled to have that as a home base of operations for the Clark family.
Was there anything that the groundskeepers of the baseball stadium said you could not do out there?
GOLDBERG: The whole team at the stadium was really accommodating. I think our team told them what we needed to do to make it look apocalyptic, and I know that pulling up the grass was a big deal, because obviously a huge element for their baseball season. But no, they didn’t really limit us. I think they were just really excited to have us make their stadium into an apocalyptic Eden. So we couldn’t be happier with how it went.
In what appears to be a very intentional move, we really don’t get a lot of answers here in terms of how everyone survived, what happened after the dam blew, and how Luciana met back up with them. A few nuggets of intel, but not a lot. Tell me about the decision to just kind of pick up without explaining a lot of that, and will that information be gradually doled out or seen in any fashion?
GOLDBERG: We will dole some more of that out, and I think you see it. There are a couple of a moments in the episode where we start to hint at one of the big ones being when Strand is with Luciana when they’re searching the town where they find the oil tanks, and Strand says to Luciana, “I never asked her why she helped me after what I did.” We could see there that Strand is clearly wrestling with something, and we also see he’s rolling that piece of concrete at the stadium. There’s clearly something that he’s holding on to that he’s wrestling with from that journey from Mexico after the dam.
CHAMBLISS: The same goes for Nick. The fact that Nick has not left the stadium since they arrived and is dealing with essentially some PTSD from what he probably went through after the dam explosion — those are all things that we are going to continue to explore. But for us, it’s about it was a really hard journey from Mexico to the stadium, but what we were interested in exploring was this was Madison’s dream for so long, to find a place where her family could not just survive, but live a life, and yes, they’re carrying the scars of their past with them, but this place has very much healed a lot of those wounds. You’ll see going forward just how amazing this place was for them.
And there was no info on what happened to Daniel Salazar. Will that be addressed at some point?
CHAMBLISS: Yeah we have no inkling of that yet, but I think the thing we will say without giving away too much is that we definitely will be seeing Daniel Salazar in the Walking Dead universe. It’s a very big world, and we will hint at what may have happened. I think we get a little bit of a sense of it even from kind of Strand’s struggles and we can tell that he’s carrying a lot of his past with him. It’s not just what he did to the Clark family when he made the deal with Proctor John at the dam, but he also shot Daniel Salazar in the face. So that’s part of the emotional baggage that he’s carrying with him, and we will dig into how he feels about all that as we continue to see his life in the stadium.
Is Proctor John out of the picture? Is he not a part of season 4?
GOLDBERG: He’s not part of season 4. I think you see in episode 402 we introduce our adversaries, the Vultures, that show up outside the stadium, and that’s the group that the Clarks will be up against for the first half of this season.
Let’s talk more about the Vultures and their leader played by Kevin Zegers. What’s their M.O. here, just to wait it out until groups die and then take their stuff?
GOLDBERG: Well, what we find interesting about the Vultures is that unlike a lot of the other adversaries that we’ve seen characters come up against on Fear the Walking Dead, or even The Walking Dead, their threat is not one of violence. It’s more of kind of an existential, philosophical threat, which is they move around from place to place. They don’t set down roots. We see the Vultures as sort of like doctors delivering bad news.
When they show up and Mel, Kevin Zegers’ character, talks to Madison outside the stadium, the way he looks at it he’s trying to warn her. He’s seen this situation play out many times before. It always goes the same way. There’s sort of a cynicism and an inevitability to the way that they see things, so they don’t need to attack. They can sit. They can wait because they know what the ultimate outcome is, and Madison representing sort of on the opposite side of that, is not going to let the stadium fall without a fight.
CHAMBLISS: And just to say, the Vultures really don’t seem themselves as the villain, and in fact, they don’t even call themselves the Vultures. That’s just kind of the pejorative name that we hear Strand use in that final scene at the end of 402. But they kind of see themselves as the good guys who are just trying to do the right thing and just trying to explain that this is the way the world works now. I think that’s the thing that will make what Madison and her family have to do so difficult because it really is almost like they’re fighting a force of nature.
What do those numbers in the box mean? Are those the number of zombies inside?
CHAMBLISS: Yeah, I think you are catching on to what the Vultures do there. We’ll continue to see how the Vultures, when they swoop into a place, how they pick it apart and one of the things that they do is clear it of walkers. We saw a little taste of that when Enis stepped out of his El Camino and put his boombox on, and corralled the walkers on his bike and led them to the back of that box truck.
NEXT PAGE: The showrunners drop intel on the newest character and playing even more with time.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you say about this newcomer in Naomi, who used to be a nurse?
IAN GOLDBERG: Well, it’s a character that we are very excited about, and very excited to have Jenna Elfman, who’s been amazing to work with. But I think what we can say about her is she represents what happens to a person when they don’t have a community to be tethered to. She’s been out on her own, which certainly Madison and her family can relate to. They’ve spent a lot of time traveling from place to place doing whatever they had to do to survive.
We’ve seen that play out over the first three seasons, and Naomi is in that mold. She has had a really rough go of it, and I think when she holds a gun to Madison by the oil tanks, we could see that she doesn’t trust people, that she’s obviously nursing some wounds from her own past, and her journey is going to be one where we see her end up at the stadium, but it’s not going to be easy for her because she has misgivings about being connected to people.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Jenna was just so excited to really dive into the apocalypse head-first. I mean, she literally does it in the episode. We couldn’t be more thrilled that she showed up and was game for everything, and she has really become a student of the apocalypse. She watched as much Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead as she could and showed up on set with all these ideas of how she should actually approach killing walkers. It was really kind of cool to see someone so excited to jump into that world.
I think for her it’s something very different from what she’s used to doing. She said to us after the first scene we shot with her, which was actually the scene where she’s talking to Madison in the stands, and Madison’s essentially inviting her to stay… That’s probably one of the most emotional scenes for her in the episode, and a very hard one because she has to convey the longing for connection while having her walls up, and her first take Jenna and Kim were fantastic together, and she just come over to us and said, “I’m just so happy to do something where I can just kind of get lost in the moment and I don’t have to think about comedic timing or giving a pause for the laugh.” It was exciting to see someone do something new and be so good at it right out of the gate.
Are we going to continue with this BEFORE and NOW structure, showing how the Clark clan got to this point of meeting Morgan and company, while also continuing on with after they’ve met.
GOLDBERG: We absolutely will, and we will continue to kind of unspool the question that we ask at the end of episode 401, when Alicia, Strand, Luciana, and Nick get the jump on Morgan, and Althea, and John, and Althea asks, “What’s your story?” That’s something we’re going to be exploring across time and starting to answer what happened to our characters between the end of season 3 and where we find them in season 4. How did they find themselves in this dark place, especially after we’ve seen episode 402? They were in a very good place emotionally with each other. They were in a great settlement. They were thriving, so we know something bad happened, and we know that it involved those Vultures that show up in the parking lot at the end of 402. So stay tuned because you’re going to get more answers going forward.
CHAMBLISS: And I might add that it may not just be as simple as before and now. We may play with time in some more surprising ways.
Well, that’s interesting because speaking of time: When are these two timeframes taking place in relation to the start of the apocalypse and in relation to where things left off in season 3? So how much time is between the dam bursting in season 3 and them being in the stadium, and how much time between the stadium and Alicia and company meeting Morgan and company?
CHAMBLISS: Yeah, I don’t want to say too much specifically, but I will say they have been at the stadium for a long time, as we see at the beginning of the second episode. They are essentially celebrating their one-year anniversary of living there, and we wanted to enter this story with these characters settled in a new place and really see them with a life that they’ve built that meant a lot to them. So that kind of informed the decision of how long they’ve been at the stadium. How much time has passed from this first flashback we’ve seen to the moment when Nick, Alicia, Strand, and Luciana confront Morgan? That’s something we don’t necessarily want to say right now.
Speaking of things you guys don’t want to say right now, we noticed when those two groups meet up — no Madison and no Naomi. What can you say about where they are in this portion of things?
GOLDBERG: Again, we don’t want to say too much about where we’re going there, but all we could tell you is that there are many more answers to come about Madison and Naomi. They’re both incredibly critical parts of the story this season, and we only don’t want to say anything because we want people to…
CHAMBLISS: …Keep watching and experience those surprises as they come.