SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “MM 54” episode of Fear the Walking Dead.
I think I need a beer. But not as badly as Jim does. The brewmaster finally killed his first walker! Unfortunately, he was also bit in the process, signaling his impending doom. It was especially tough for Jim considering he never wanted to follow Morgan and Co. to the city to begin with.
That wasn’t all the big news happening in Sunday’s “MM 54” episode of Fear the Walking Dead. We also saw Filthy Woman’s backstory, learned he real name (Martha!), and got some intel as to what put Wendell in that wheelchair and what turned him against the world. And the episode ended with another reunion in the works.
We spoke to showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg to find out why they are putting Jim out to pasture, the significance of Martha’s backstory, and all the other twists and turns.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First things first: How did Lou Diamond Phillips end up directing this thing?
IAN GOLDBERG: Lou’s a big fan of Fear and has actually appeared on Talking Dead before just as a fan of the show, and is really knowledgeable about the universe and the world. We were obviously both fans of Lou’s acting and were massive fans of La Bamba.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: That is a childhood love of both of ours, and when his name came across our desk as a potential director we said, “At the very least we have to meet with him,” and he charmed us, so that is how that happened.
IAN GOLDBERG: We thought he did a fantastic job. He was great with the cast and he had, as you see, a lot of big action to navigate in the episode as well.
And we started right off with a flashback. Tell me about the decision to show Filthy Woman’s backstory.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: It felt to us that it was time to understand where her philosophy came from. This is the episode where we see it kind of come to a head. She has this standoff with Morgan and the rest of the crew and Morgan hits the nail pretty squarely on the head when he says to her, “You’re stuck.” We felt like that kind of confrontation would have a lot more meaning if we knew exactly what it was that Martha had been through that got her to this place.
So it was the opportunity for us to do one of our favorite things, which is an origin story, and to do it in a contained way. We just had this idea that the fact that she thinks helping people makes those people weak came from her own kind of tragic experience, and we just wanted to see those moments where that formation happened early on in the apocalypse when she was trying to escape the city and found herself on the side of the road and her husband was near death and everyone just kept driving off.
Really, that’s the root cause of it. But I think what we found interesting is that Martha isn’t in a place where she’s blaming other people for not helping, she’s blaming herself for not being strong enough to help her husband. And it’s kind of that insight to her that we think makes it a little more interesting than if it had just been the fact that she’s out killing everyone because they didn’t help her. No, she’s killing everyone because she thinks helping people makes them weak and it’s her way of preventing people from going down the same path she did.
IAN GOLDBERG: We see in the opening minutes of the episode that Martha went through a trauma, and we see that she’s sort of stuck in a loop of replaying that trauma over and over again. It hasn’t left her. I think the thing that really resonated with us is that we’ve seen that from Morgan before, someone who went though tremendous trauma and lost so many people in his life, stemming back to his wife and his son, and it sent him down a very dark path as well. So you see in the episode when he says to her there at the SWAT van, “You’re stuck. I was too.” It’s really kind of like a reflection of each other, which is why Martha really hits home for Morgan, because he understands what it’s like to be stuck in that emotional trauma and what it can do to you as a person.
Let’s stay in the present. The truck blows up, so our gang is deciding what to do and Morgan says they should hole up in the city. Jim thinks they should keep moving, but he finally relents and goes to the city with the others. But our heroes then get trapped by walkers and Jim gets bit. A lot of things to unpack here, but let’s start with this one: Why Jim and why now?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Jim was a character who has not been out in the world before, and we’re kind of seeing his first efforts at trying to survive on his own. For us, it felt like the guy who had actually been the recipient of help and who really wasn’t very grateful for any of that help that he received almost getting his comeuppance in a way where he’s calling Morgan out this whole time on making the wrong call. But if Jim really looked at the facts, he’s alive because Morgan made the right call before.
The idea we were trying to show is that what matters is that you try. If it were up to Jim, he would still be sitting back in his brewery, by himself, brewing beer for no one. And he’s kind of paying the price for that in this moment. He wasn’t out in the world trying to survive, he didn’t learn how to survive, he wasn’t helping people, he wasn’t making connections. It’s all of those things coming together that put him in a place where he does get bit.
Obviously, it’s going to have big ramification because Morgan does feel responsible. He’s found himself in this place where everyone’s looking at him as the de facto leader of the group, and he doesn’t feel comfortable with that. He just got to a place where he feels okay being around people, and all of a sudden he has the responsibility of their lives on his shoulder. That’s hard enough, and now the fact that one of the first big decisions he made led them to a place where someone’s now at death’s door is not going to be something that sits well with him.
And this is game over for Jim. This is not a limb you can quickly chop off. What does this mean for Jim in terms of how he wants to handle his remaining time?
IAN GOLDBERG: Well, I would say just watch next week’s episode because that’s very much a part of that. Without spoiling it too much, I think you see a little bit of how crestfallen Jim is at the end of episode 14. Obviously, he’s facing his own mortality. He knows he’s going to die, but we’ve also seen that Jim is a character who has a real drive and a purpose in this world, and that purpose is brewing his beer. That’s what we knew he wanted to do from the beginning.
That’s why he struck a deal with Sarah and Wendell after they kidnapped him, because he wanted to get to that place in Virginia Morgan was talking about — a place where people were trying to rebuild and where his beer would actually be helpful and it would benefit other people. And it would benefit him, and it would give him the thing that he didn’t get to have in the world before the apocalypse. He’s saying that on the roof as he realizes he’s bit. He says, “I have beer to brew. I have beer to brew.” Suddenly, that purpose is being ripped away from him too, so it’s just this really sad confluence of disappointment for Jim in that moment. But yes, next week I think you’ll see exactly how this weighs on Jim, and he might do some things that will surprise you.
We not only got Martha’s backstory but Wendell’s as well as he tells us how he pushed a kid out of street when he was 10 and got hit by a car. But the twist is, instead of this being the explanation that led to him not wanting to help people and eventually stealing that truck— instead he says that this incident made him want to help people even more and it was only when tried to become a Marine and got laughed out of the recruitment office that he adopted his new no-help philosophy. How did you all come up with this unique backstory?
IAN GOLDBERG: When we first met Wendell in episode 11, he told Morgan that the universe gave him reasons not to help. I think the expectation there was that those reasons were what put him in the wheelchair, but actually the sadness of it is that his wanting to help and the universe rebuffing him in the way of rejecting him from the Marines was a real blow to Wendell because all he wanted to do was help people and he wasn’t going to let the fact that he was in that wheelchair keep him back from doing that. So that kind of put him in a cynical place as it relates to help, and that’s why he stole Polar Bear’s truck in the first place with Sarah.
But I think the other thing that really appealed to us — and why we gravitated toward that backstory — was another thing that you hear in this episode, which is Sarah, and Al figuring out that Sarah used to be military, that she was in the Marines. Sarah says, “I didn’t agree with their code of conduct,” and Al is sort of piecing it together in that conversation with Sarah that the reason that she left the Marines was because they rejected Wendell. We thought there was just a beautiful quality there to how much she cares for her brother, even if they’re both bonded by this cynicism. It’s them against the world, a world that they tried to help people and were rejected. But they’re working their way back toward being those helpful people; it’s a journey for them.
Finally, we have Alicia and Charlie. Alicia wants to get Charlie to the beach. Instead judging by the flooded area and the hat, it looks like they may have stumbled upon John Dorie and Strand. What does that mean for these four moving forward?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Well, I’ll say right now we’ve just seen the hat. People will have to watch next week to see who exactly is on the other side of that river. But you’ve probably got it figured out. For us, what we liked about the story was Alicia feeling like every effort she’s made to find the people she cares about ending in failure, and it’s her trying to take control of the world and just say, “I want to do one good thing for you, and I know I can get you to the beach,” and then being rewarded through that act of help by finding the hat and ultimately who’s on the other side of that water.
What we’ll see next week is that Alicia’s decision to help Charlie and what that brought her is something that will actually serve as inspiration for some other characters going forward, particularly the idea that Alicia and Charlie — these two characters who episodes ago were in a place where they were thinking about killing each other — are now actually working hand in hand.
What can you say about what’s coming up on next week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead?
IAN GOLDBERG: Well, we saw in this episode Martha suffered a pretty bad gunshot wound. We can tell you she may be down, but she’s not out. She will be back next episode. We also saw her lose her walker, Quinn, in this episode, and we know that Martha doesn’t like to be without one, so she’s going to be on the lookout for a new walker.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Next week we will see Al’s SWAT van used in a way that the manufacturer of it probably did not intend.
For more Fear the Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.