SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have watched Sunday’s “No One’s Gone” midseason finale of Fear the Walking Dead.
They wouldn’t! They couldn’t! They did.
New Fear the Walking Dead showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss came in with a bold new vision for season 4 — overseeing the first Walking Dead crossover between two shows, introducing several other new characters, and telling a story over two intertwined timelines. But they saved their boldest — and riskiest — move for Sunday’s midseason finale, killing off the show’s lead character of Madison Clark.
In the episode, we learned that Madison had indeed died at the Vultures’ zombie assault on the stadium, sacrificing herself by leading the walkers back into the ballpark and then locking herself in so that the others could escape. It was a gut-wrenching ending for both the character and the actress who played her, Kim Dickens, who told EW all about how heartbroken she was over the news.
We spoke to showrunners Goldberg and Chambliss to get the inside scoop on why they killed off Madison, the inspiration for her final episode, and what the loss of the program’s lead character means for the show — and the group who survived — moving forward.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, let’s get right to it: Why kill off poor Madison?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: The story we’re telling is a story about hope and people losing hope, and then finding it again. And for us, that meant having someone make the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in, and that is what Madison did in this episode. So much of her story this season was about her having finally found this place for her family where they could have a better life, and we saw how important that was to her. And when it came under threat, she went the distance to make sure her family would survive — and also all the people that they had saved would survive.
As we hear her say in this episode in that moment where they first find the stadium, she says to her family, “It can’t just be about us. It has to be about something more.” And ultimately, we see that Madison really believes in that because she sacrificed herself to protect her family and everyone else that they had brought together in this bigger community — and did it in a way that really showed her family that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost.
IAN GOLDBERG: And also, the thing Madison fought for, the thing that she gave her life for was a philosophy about a way of living and treating people in this world that she left behind in the people that survived her. And that’s something they’re gonna carry with them going forward. Madison’s legacy will be held very much in the way that these characters continue in the world going forward.
You all mentioned a few weeks back how Frank Dillane asked to be written off the show so you had to kill that character. Was that a similar situation with Kim Dickens and Madison or is this just where the story led you?
GOLDBERG: It was a story decision. From the beginning, we talked about this season as being a journey from hopelessness to hope, and hope was really the kernel of the emotional story we wanted to tell this year. When the season began, Alicia, Nick, Strand, and Luciana were in a profoundly hopeless, dark place, and what we come to realize in this episode is the reason that they’ve been on the course they’ve been on is because of this devastating loss they suffered. And so for us, it really was always about the story from the beginning and where we wanted to take these characters emotionally.
And we should also just say that Madison has played a huge, integral role on the show since day 1, so it’s very important for us to pay homage to this great character, and we loved working with Kim. It goes without saying that she will always be a part of this family.
Let’s talk about the way we see Madison go down. We’ve talked a little bit about the significance of her sacrificing herself by leading these walkers back into the stadium so the others could escape. But also, stylistically, I noticed with Michael Satrazemis directing this episode that you all used a lot of slow motion for those scenes of the stadium as they’re telling the story of what happened to Madison. You guys don’t do that a whole lot, so tell me about that stylistic decision playing in tandem with the story.
CHAMBLISS: One of the things that we’ve kind of been playing around with this season is just the importance of the story. Obviously, it’s something that we’ve talked about a lot, just how important remembering people and remembering their stories has been. And we wanted to really frame Madison’s sacrifice in that way, and show how powerful the story can be, because when someone’s dead, that doesn’t mean their life is gone and they can live on. So when we were talking about how we were gonna portray Madison’s sacrifice, we wanted to do something that was different and felt a bit more special than just seeing it play out in real time. And we kind of thought that would be seeing it through the eyes of the people she made the sacrifice for, the people who missed her the most, and that’s Alicia, Strand, and Luciana.
And as we hear them narrate the story, it just felt like there should be something that set it apart. And then we had a bunch of conversations with Michael about that, and he started talking about shooting that sequence at 200 frames a second, and it really gave us what we wanted — to give Madison a larger-than-life sendoff and to really make it something memorable, and give it that epic quality that you get when people are remembering something that does feel bigger than life.
Michael did some test footage to show us what it would look like, and it was really cool when we were down there shooting it. Because everything’s in slow motion, the acting style is a little bit different. So there were moments where Kim was doing those really cool moves where she’s waving the flares, or where she’s stepping up and taking out the walkers that are surrounding the car. And we would actually stop between the takes, and she would run over to the monitor and watch the playback of it, and it was really cool to see her see the character she has portrayed for so long in this larger-than-life way. And so I think it was that moment when we realized that if the actress who has brought this character to life is getting excited about seeing this kind of stylized version of it, we think it’s gonna all come together when we edit it.
Kim Dickens has been number one on the call sheet since day 1, so this is a huge move for you guys in taking out Madison. Any trepidation about doing this as you were going through the process?
GOLDBERG: Like we said, it really came down to the story that we wanted to tell. It’s an emotional decision. As fans of The Walking Dead universe, we understand how hard it is to lose a member of this family, and there’s a world in which beloved characters come and go. No one is ever safe, but yes, of course, losing Madison is a big one. And it was just really important to us to honor the journey of that character and to have that sacrifice that she makes and the ripples on the people she left behind. And we see that throughout the episode — and it culminates around the campfire at the end, when Al finishes interviewing everyone and writes “Madison” on the spine of that tape — it really just crystallizes how her legacy is going to carry forward.
Ian just mentioned the Madison tape, so let’s talk about the Amina tape. You had this story about Wilhelmina, the bird that the kids had nursed back to health, that ends up playing a pivotal role here. Where did that idea even come from?
CHAMBLISS: We knew what Madison was after for her family, and it’s something that she has been searching for a very long time, was the life that they had had before the apocalypse. And we’ve seen her go to very dark places to try to find that for her family, but the one thing that was always very important to her was that their innocence remained. So that’s where we started talking about: What is the thing that sort of crystallizes that innocence?
We were throwing around ideas, and it just actually kind of came together from some stories that Ian and I had from when we were younger, and it really to us just seemed like these two kids fighting to keep a bird alive, and for Madison it’s something that means so much. It had that brittleness. And there was a moment when I was giving my 18-month son a bath, and was just thinking about him and the things I would do for him, and I remember calling Ian after that and being like, “We need to find some moment that is small from their past, that doesn’t have to be big and comic-booky, and doesn’t have to be in the apocalypse to be the thing that Madison is chasing here.
Inspiration strikes in the oddest places sometimes. Okay, Madison has clearly been the glue that’s held this group together no matter what state or country they were in. So, how does this show now change without her and her presence there?
CHAMBLISS: I think the answer to that question is what the back-half of the season is about. Even though we see the group sitting around the campfire, sharing a cup of noodles as the episode ends, there is still a lot for this group to figure out emotionally. Alicia, Strand, and Luciana kind of forgot what Madison fought so hard for, what she died for. It’s gonna be hard for them to square that with how they honor her moving forward. There are still tensions between Charlie and June and the rest of the group, for the role that Strand, Alicia, and Luciana feel like they made have played in what happened at the stadium. So that question is really all the drama that we’re gonna be exploring in the back-half of the season.
You’ve now wrapped up this past storyline and we have our answers as to what happened to everyone, so what happens next? What’s the next big challenge? What are these folks gonna be going through in the back-half of season 4?
GOLDBERG: That’s a great question, and without giving away where we’re heading in a story way, what we can say is that the group that we see sitting around the campfire is not a group that imagined they would end up together considering where we’ve seen their circumstances throughout the first half of the season. And so, there’s a lot to explore there in terms of Alicia, Strand, and Luciana. They’ve been on a very dark revenge mission from the moment we’ve seen them in a present-day storyline. They’ve stood down from that now, they’re no longer pursuing that. What’s next for them? That’s been their purpose, that’s what’s bonded them together. And now that they’ve sort of stepped back from that, it’s a question of, where do they go from here?
And same with Morgan. Morgan didn’t want to be with people, now he is. What is that gonna mean for him? John Dorie and June have found each other, what’s that gonna mean for them? Charlie killed Nick, was a Vulture that contributed to the downfall of the stadium, but now she finds herself with this unusual family of sorts that have been brought together by turns of events. And then there’s Al of course, who has been documenting their story and we saw that ultimately her story that she’s had of the Madison tape has changed the trajectory of all their lives as well. So there’s a lot to come, but they have a new story and emotions that we’re gonna explore with these people going forward.
This show has sometimes has had very clear antagonists like we just saw with the Vultures, and other times it’s more just other dangerous situations that the group is dealing with. Are there going to be clear antagonists in the back-half of season 4 or is it going be something else?
CHAMBLISS: That’s a very good question and I will say this much: Obviously we will have walkers as a threat because this is the zombie apocalypse, but we are going to be doing an antagonist that is something we haven’t seen on either show before, and let’s just say one of the big challenges that our group is gonna be facing comes from nature itself.
For more Fear the Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.