We got two backstories for the price of one on Sunday’s “Laura” episode of Fear the Walking Dead as the flashback installment showed how John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Naomi/Laura (Jenna Elfman) first met at John’s secluded, moat-protected cabin. John nursed her back to health, and the two shared the pain of their heartbreaking pasts — she lost a child, and he accidentally killed someone robbing a store. Eventually, the two fell in love, but it was not enough to stop Naomi from leaving.
The intimate, change-of-pace episode — directed by longtime Walking Dead director and DP Michael Satrazemis — stood in stark contrast to the season so far and was played to perfection by Dillahunt and Elfman. We spoke to showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg about the peek into the past, the love connection between the characters, and the huge shift in Morgan at the end after hearing the story.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We have this really nice change-of-pace installment that flashes back to how John Dorie and Naomi met. Tell us about the inspiration behind this episode — which felt a lot like a two-person play — and figuring out the right time to place it in your season run, because an episode like this, I’m sure you have to think about that a little bit in terms of the tone and flow of your season.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Yeah, exactly. We were very excited to change things up, and we’ve been telling this very tightly serialized narrative taking place over two different timelines, going back and forth between them. And it felt like, after the last two episodes — they were very intense emotionally, and the characters went to some very dark places — it felt like this was the time to have a little bit of a breather and really have a story that was about two very damaged people finding a little bit of hope in the apocalypse.
When we were actually pitching this episode to AMC, we said that it had the restrained romance of Remains of the Day with all the zombie action you’d expect from a Michael Bay movie, and we were calling it Remains of the Bay. That was just our little internal joke. But it was very important to tell this love story and really make it feel like it was a real love story between two people who have been damaged in very different ways. And really just be honest about that. And we got very lucky with Jenna and Garett’s performances and their chemistry with each other, because it far exceeded our wildest hopes and dreams.
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Almost as soon as Naomi shows up, she wants to leave. Is this like a Morgan thing where she just wants to be alone, or is she looking for something or someone? What’s going on here?
IAN GOLDBERG: We’ve seen that from Naomi before. When we first met her at the oil tanks, in episode 402, she was very hesitant to be around Madison and her crew. She was just on her own and looking to stay on her own. And yeah, we see her that way in this episode as well. We don’t want to give away exactly why she is that way, but we can just say that if you keep watching, that’s an answer that we’re going to give very soon.
We have that scene on the couch where Naomi blurts out “I lost my child,” and that is the type of thing on TV that usually leads to a long conversation. But instead, she just walks away and that’s that. Tell me a little about the decision to reveal that and in this way.
CHAMBLISS: The decision really came from us really thinking about who Naomi was, and as Ian just said, she’s this character who has been very closed off and really does not open up to people, is not someone who unburdens herself. And I think it was in that moment, John Dorie has just done this very kind act for her. They’re watching a movie, and he makes brittle for her, and she’s let her guard down and allowed herself to feel a little bit of a connection to him. And I think what she says, “I lost a child,” there’s a ton of pain behind that. We don’t know what the specifics are about it, but that is her opening herself up to John in a pretty big way. But because it’s not something she’s used to doing, she ends it at that and gets up and leaves.
And I think John, in his limited experience with her, has seen just how guarded Naomi is, and I think he’s smart enough to know that that, in and of itself, was a huge admission for her. And he’s not going to press her to reveal any more about that. But that definitely will play into who she is as a person, and we will learn a little bit more about that during the course of the season.
John is also haunted by his own past. How much of that is the fact that he killed someone, even if it was a so-called bad guy, and how much of it is how disturbed he was by the celebration of that act and being called a hero for it, as he says.
GOLDBERG: I think we’ve seen from John, from the minute Morgan met him around that campfire in the first episode of the season, that he’s someone who is connected to people. He’s kind, he’s compassionate, he’s in many ways a gentle soul. And we also know, from the very beginning, that he’s someone who says to Al at the end of episode 401, “I don’t kill. At least I try not to.” So the fact that he killed someone, even though it was not intentional, it weighed on him, and he’s been punishing himself for some time. That’s why, when we find him in this episode, he’s moved up to his cabin and secluded himself and shut himself off from the rest of the world.
And we see even the way that he is with his guns. We’ve seen those guns, he’s really proficient with them, and they’re important to him. But there’s a compulsiveness to the way he cleans them in this episode. It’s like almost just trying to wash away the sin somehow. And he’s trying to forgive himself. And he’s ultimately not really able to do that until Laura comes to him in the cabin, and they have this amazing connection, and he starts to go on the path toward redemption for himself. But it’s a difficult journey for him, and that’s why we think this episode is so powerful, is because we just see how this relationship with Laura was so meaningful in his life.
And you mention that cabin. I love the moat concept that John’s come up with outside the cabin. I’m looking at that, and I’m thinking to myself, “Why are more people not digging moats? That’s a really good defense system there.”
CHAMBLISS: It’s a question we were asking ourselves. We wanted him to have a setup that felt different from something we’ve seen before. And when we were talking about all the different ways you protect your place from an attack of walkers, it just seemed like a moat made a lot of sense. And Dorie’s a pretty smart guy, and we’ve seen he’s good at survival. Not just in the zombie apocalypse, but he’s an outdoorsman, and it just made a lot of sense to us.
What can we make of John Dorie’s movie choices and rental comments here? Looks like he enjoyed Watership Down and Road to Bali, but not so much with The Green Mile and Friday the 13th. He had some issues with those.
GOLDBERG: John is a man of very specific taste. He’s honest. He’s hard to pin down. He likes a lot of different things, and we also see he’s a fan of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe. But we love John’s love for movies. And he seems like the kind of guy that we would want to spend movie night with if we were in the apocalypse. And we also love that John Dorie’s a guy who, even in the apocalypse, is still returning the movies and leaving reviews.
John and Naomi have this very tender scene where he tells her he loves her, they kiss, presumably they are intimate judging by him waking up in the bed. It’s interesting because a lot of cable shows jump at the chance to show any sort of sex or sexual activity, but with a few exceptions, the Walking Dead franchise really does not. I’m curious if there was ever a conversation in terms of how much you wanted to show of John and Naomi here.
CHAMBLISS: We definitely talked about it. And the reason we chose not to show it was what we thought was important dramatically, and what was important to John and Naomi’s relationship, was the fact that John told her that he loved her and that Naomi let her walls down. And there’s that great moment where they fall into each other’s arms. And for us, it was about that, and it was not about the sex and showing everything. It really was about that moment of them both putting their pasts behind them and just allowing themselves to be open to human connection. And that was what mattered, so that’s why we ended up shooting it and cutting it the way we did.
And it’s a huge deal for John Dorie to have said I love you. And it’s a really interesting place he then finds himself in, when Naomi’s gone in the morning, because he’s wondering if he actually went too far by saying that because that fear of the connection may have been the thing that drove Naomi out into the apocalypse.
Of course, the biggest line of the episode is not delivered by John or Namoi, but rather Morgan back in the present, who after hearing this story says, “We’re alive. We are part of the world. Let’s not waste another second.” For Morgan to say, “We are part of the world. Let’s not waste another second,” is a pretty huge shift. What is it that gets him to that place?
GOLDBERG: There’s a bunch of factors. And one of the things that’s really powerful about Morgan saying that in that moment is those are the words that Rick said to him when he left the Heaps in episode 401. Those were Rick’s parting words to him. And when we see him say them to Dorie, it’s almost like Morgan is hearing them for the first time. He’s finally understanding what Rick was telling him. And it’s huge for him.
And it’s also, Morgan was in a place last week where he was planning on returning to isolation. He was going to go back on his own in thinking that not being with people was the answer for him. And now, given his connection with John and given his reaction to hearing this story of the beautiful love story and connection that John has, it all clicks for Morgan. And it’s like, Rick was right! We are part of the world; let’s not waste another second. He’s not going back to being isolated. He’s going to stick with John.
CHAMBLISS: And I think it’s also, Morgan has seen in the last few episodes, the price of isolating yourself and of not valuing life, and with Nick’s death and what the rest of the characters are trying to do to the Vultures. And I think part of it is also his fear that John, who’s in this very vulnerable place, who has just learned that the woman he loves is dead, I think he’s worried that John, without someone there to be there for him, might walk down that same road that these other characters have taken.
Okay, let’s look ahead. What can you tell us about what’s coming up next week on Fear the Walking Dead?
CHAMBLISS: I would say we will be picking up with Alicia, Strand, Luciana, and Al as they get closer to the Vultures. And perhaps even figure out where the Vultures are.
GOLDBERG: We are also going to be revealing a bit more about the journey that Madison and her family took from Mexico to where they are when we find them in our flashback storyline. And it may involve a wonderful bottle of Scotch.
For more Fear the Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.