SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “…I Lose” season 4 finale of Fear the Walking Dead.
There was a sickening feeling about Sunday’s season finale of Fear the Walking Dead, and it came from a bunch of poisoned water bottles courtesy of the Filthy Woman (a.k.a. Martha). That put our group of survivors at the truck depot down, but not out. Morgan raced to the rescue with the only thing that could save them: beer. Lots and lots of beer. That undid the deadly effects of the anti-freeze and brought the group back from the brink.
After going back and putting zombie Martha down, Morgan had yet another change of heart. Instead of taking his group to Alexandria, he brought them to a denim factory to continue Polar Bear’s work. But not just to deliver boxes, but to build something bigger (as Alicia said) and to find people (from Al’s tapes). That sets the stage for season 5 of the show. We spoke to showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg about everything that went down in the finale, and what to expect when the show returns in 2019.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into some of the heavier stuff, you have this moment early in the episode where Morgan is telling the group about Alexandria and the other places like it, and Al asks about “the king and the pet tiger.” How much fun is it to throw in these little references to the other show from time to time?
IAN GOLDBERG: It’s a blast. Andrew and I are huge fans of The Walking Dead universe and so any opportunity we can get to reference The Walking Dead and the shared universe is pretty exciting.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: I’d say the other thing that we enjoyed about that moment was it was really a callback to that interview that Morgan gave to Al in the season 4 premiere, and it was really kind of all about showing how this group has come full circle and come together in a way we probably never would’ve expected in that episode.
So much of this episode was the Martha-Morgan stuff and I want to approach this from both sides. Let’s start with the Martha side. Why was she so obsessed with Morgan? What was it that she saw in his video that made her really focus in so much on this guy?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: I think it boils down to the fact that really Martha and Morgan are two sides of the same coin. Martha is almost the cautionary tale of what could have happened to Morgan. And they need to be honest. Morgan has been in a place very similar to her when he’s been in his “Clear” days. And if it had not been for Eastman pulling him out of that, if it had not been for John Dorie stopping him when he was on his trek across the country, Morgan very well could have ended up like Martha. And I think Martha recognizes that. And I think, deep down, even though she’s always saying, “Helping people makes you weak”, she just wants to be strong in killing, and strong; and walkers are strong because they kill.
I think part of the fascination with Morgan on her part, may be from the fact that Morgan was in a similar place to her and he somehow came out of it. Maybe that scares Martha, because I think she’s in such a dark place she doesn’t think she’s strong enough to get out of it.
IAN GOLDBERG: I think you see from the beginning of the episode that Martha is baiting Morgan to come back. She knows that he will come back to help her. She’s seen how dedicated he and the rest of the group are to helping people. So Martha is essentially setting a trap for Morgan from the beginning. And she’s got one goal, which is to make Morgan strong. The way that she wants to do that is either by making him kill her or letting her turn and turning him into a walker. Those are the only two ways that she believes he can be strong again. And it puts Morgan in a very difficult position.
Why does she finally open up now about what happened to her husband? And why does she pick Morgan as the guy to tell this to?
IAN GOLDBERG: In terms of why she opens up and tells him about her past, I think there is part of Martha that is incredibly damaged and emotionally wounded and there is a part of her when she’s in the back of that police car that is genuinely unburdening herself to Morgan. But I think at the end of the day, it’s all part of her plan to trap Morgan and to keep him from getting back to his friends.
Let’s flip it and let’s take a look at the other side and why Morgan feels this burning need to go and help Martha constantly. And I ask that because the two of them actually kind of argue at one point about his real motivations for coming to find her. He says it’s one thing, she says it’s another.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: If you were to ask Morgan why he’s going after her, it’s what he says to John Dorie in that scene where he’s leaving the camp, and it’s the fact that he has been in a place like that and he had someone who helped pull him out. But you know, it’s kind of an interesting moment between the two of them because John Dorie calls Morgan out and says, “Are you going to help her because you really want to help her? Or are you just using this as an excuse so you can leave this group that you’ve grown close to because it scares you?” So, you know, I think Dorie’s probably right, Morgan’s probably right.
It’s very much kind of a gray area. But ultimately, I think Morgan’s reason for going to Martha is almost like a test for himself. If he can save Martha, then he may think he can be saved. He won’t go to a dark place again. So yeah, it’s a complicated fascination that he has with her on his end. And ultimately we see, when the two of them get together, it doesn’t really turn out all that well.
You all dropped a clue a few weeks back about the poisoned water. Where did you come up with this idea that this would be the thing that would put the group in such jeopardy?
IAN GOLDBERG: Well, I think we’ve seen, as we come to know Martha with the back half, that she has a real beef with anyone who’s trying to help other people. Obviously we’ve seen that with Morgan and his group, but the other group that that was very much directed at was Polar Bear and his group of truckers.
We saw in episode 414 how far she was willing to go to kill those truckers. And she was hunting down Polar Bear to kill him too, and she was not successful in doing that. But, any chance that she has to tarnish Polar Bears legacy, to make people realize that helping is weak, she takes it. And we saw her do that in episode 412 when she was putting tainted water in the water bottles that ultimately made Al sick. And that’s what she did here. We saw that she put antifreeze in the bottles of water at one of Polar Bear’s truck stops. It was really her way of making a statement about what happens when you try and help people.
There’s no better way to show that helping people makes you weak than putting antifreeze in the water. It’s a pretty sick thing to do, but in her twisted view of the world, it makes perfect sense to Martha.
What about that last hurrah, where the group makes this big last push to get the ethanol out of the truck? We see their strength, and their resilience, and then you pull the rug out from underneath them, and it doesn’t work. That’s a pretty big high and low you served up there, and you totally had me fooled. I thought that was going to be their big triumphant moment, but it didn’t end that way.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Well, if we got you, then we did our job. Really, our whole desire there was to make it feel like this was the moment in the finale where everyone was going to band together as a group, even though they’re physically in terrible shape, and make things right by having a big fight with walkers. But then, we wanted to bring the audience to a place of feeling that hope and then kind of, as you said, pull the rug out from under the audience.
That was all about what we’ve been doing all season, about contrasting hope and hopelessness. And we wanted to put our characters into what seemed like one of the most hopeless places they’ve been and have Morgan on the other end of that, thinking he’s going to lose everyone. It’s the ultimate test for him to see if he could hike through that and finally conquer his fear about losing people, making him lose himself. It was really all about putting the audience in the same place that Morgan and the rest of our characters were.
Okay, let’s close the book on the Filthy Woman here. We see her walking down the street as a zombie here at the end. She’s left an arm behind. Morgan finishes her off. How’d she get out of those handcuffs?
IAN GOLDBERG: She wanted to get out very badly and she cut her own arm off. And she used the same instrument to do that as she did to carve the word “Strong” into her forehead. It wasn’t enough to have just a marker. She wanted that to be there for all time. I think that’s a pretty tragic moment for Morgan and for Martha because we’ve just seen Morgan at the truck stop wipe the words off his face that Martha put there, “I lose people. I lose myself,” and that’s sort of symbolic of Morgan coming unstuck. He’s moved past that trauma. He’s no longer stuck in that place.
Martha, as we see, she’s carved “Strong” onto her forehead. She’s become a walker. That was what her vision of being strong was. She never became unstuck and I think that’s the tragedy. But it’s ultimately what compels Morgan, we see in the next scene, to make the decision to stay here and to not go back to Alexandria. Because Martha is an example of someone who needed help a long time ago and no one stopped to help her, and as a result, she became stuck in the trauma that got her in that place to begin with. She became violent, dark, and it didn’t have to go that way. And so they’re staying behind and mobilizing behind their new mission of help to make sure they do everything they can not to have anymore Marthas.
Let’s pick up with what Ian was just saying there with what happens at the end. Morgan sells the group on this idea of staying at the denim factory and continuing Polar Bear’s work with the boxes and what have you. But what I want to ask you about is what the others add on to that. Morgan says, “Let’s get these boxes out there”, and Alicia says, “We’ve got to build this into something more like my mom did”, and Al says, “Hey, maybe we can find those people on those tapes.” So, moving forward now, into season 5, what is it that this group is envisioning here? What are they trying to build?
ANDREW GOLDBERG: I think we get a little bit of a taste of what they’re doing at the very end when we see that convoy go out looking for people. That’s very much is going to be what their mission is going forward. It was very important for us that it wasn’t just Morgan’s idea, that the whole entire group was invested in it. And that’s why we did have that moment where Alicia said they need to keep Madison’s philosophy alive and where Al talked about finding people on the tapes. Even where Luciana invoked Polar Bear when she convinced Sarah and Wendell that they should be a part of this.
It was really about bringing all of our characters’ journeys over the course of the season together and making the synthesis of that into the mission going forward. You know, that being said, while the group sets out at the end of this episode bright tailed and bushy eyed, filled with hope, thinking they’re going to help people, what we want to explore in season 5 is just how difficult that might be in this world. Because of external obstacles, but also because of internal obstacles. These are characters who still have a lot of work to do on themselves. We’ve seen everyone change a lot over this season, but that doesn’t mean that they’re past all the trauma that they’ve been through.
Do you see this factory being a home base of operations we’re going to spend a lot of time at in season 5 or are we going to be out on the road a lot like we were in this back half of season 4?
IAN GOLDBERG: It’ll be a little bit of both. What we see at the end of the season here is that their mission is to go out into the world and help people. They will be using Al’s tapes as a guide to find those people. They’ll find some other people along the way, but they’ll also realize that, as Strand said, finding people won’t be easy. They are in short supply. So, they have a strong mission that their rallying behind but who knows what obstacles they’ll hit on the way to do that, and what inhabiting the river mill will look like with the new purpose?
I’ve know that Scott Gimple, who works with you guys on Fear The Walking Dead, likes to think of The Walking Dead in half-season chunks, and it certainly felt like this season of Fear was like that as the two half-seasons were very distinct from each other. Do you see that moving forward again? Or do you see more of a through-line in terms of this whole direction for season 5?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: That’s a good question and I think the best way to answer it is to say that the group’s mission and their desire to help people as a way to kind of find their own redemption is something that is going to stick with them throughout season 5. But, that being said, this is a show that likes to reinvent itself every eight episodes. So I think the way the characters carry out that drive will change quite a bit over the course of the season.
For more Fear the Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.