Fear the Walking Dead showrunners explain that devastating twist ending
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's midseason premiere of Fear the Walking Dead titled "In Dreams."
Sunday's dream-filled episode of Fear the Walking Dead morphed into a full-blown nightmare in a shocking last-minute twist that is sure to have viewers talking.
The episode, titled "In Dreams," was a huge departure for the series — opening up with a very different color palate with super bright pink popping all over the screen to let us know that something was askew. That something was Grace transported 16 years into the future, where she met her daughter Athena and visited her own grave — learning she had died while giving birth to her child.
After meeting the future versions of her friends — including a completely grey-haired Morgan — Grace eventually realized she had been knocked unconscious by a car bomb and was, in fact, dreaming of the future. Those dreams led her to believe that while she was going to die delivering Athena, that her daughter was the key to repairing the rift between the different communities by giving them a united goal for which to fight.
Grace said goodbye to Athena in the dream world to go back and deliver her in reality — prepared to make the sacrifice to bring her daughter into the world and bring her friends back together. But that's not what happened.
Instead, Grace survived giving birth… but her baby did not, having absorbed the radiation that Grace incurred from the nuclear plant where she worked. Not only did Grace lose the baby, but the various communities tentatively aligned may have lost their best chance to unite over a newborn child that could have acted as the symbol of hope they all needed to come together to protect.
We went to showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg to get all the intel on this heartbreaking twist, whether they worried it might be too much for viewers to take, how they created the alternate dream world, if we should read anything into Grace's vision, and what it all means moving forward. Pick up another box of Kleenex and read on for answers!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into the specifics of you two being baby murderers now, let's start bigger picture. Where did the idea come from to have this episode be a big unconscious dream peek 16 years into the future?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: I think the way we got to the idea was we were really looking for a way to connect Grace to her unborn child and trying to figure out how we could invest her in a way that was very real, and also invest the audience in the relationship that she was going to have with this child. That led to the idea of having this take place in this unconscious world while she's knocked out. There are also a couple of episodes of television that have inspired this. There's a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "The Inner Light," that is all about Picard living an entire lifetime in the span of an episode. That's something that I've loved ever since I've seen it. Ian and I talk about it a lot, and we've always been looking for a way to do something that captures kind of that spirit.
So that's what we were kind of hoping to do. Another thing is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is a great movie, and it kind of exists in a similar space in someone's unconscious subconscious. And so we looked to that for a lot of cues, and we kind of put all that together in this story blender, and ended up building the story that everyone's seen. It was so much fun just to do something that was so far outside of the narrative box that we're usually in, in the zombie apocalypse. To kind of throw all the rules out the window and start from scratch. So, yeah, it was a lot of fun to write.
You use a very different color palate for those dream scenes including super bright pink popping all over the place. How did you all come up with your look for those scenes?
IAN GOLDBERG: That came from some very and exciting conversations with director Mikey Satrazemis from the get-go of what this world was going to look like, how we were going to differentiate it from the real world, but also kind of incorporate this bleed between Grace's memories, Grace's subconscious, things that happen to Grace in the real world, that are suddenly bleeding into the vision in that Eternal Sunshine way. That's what led to that pink tree aesthetic. It's really magical and beautiful, and it just brings you into this world that you want to be a part of. I think Mikey just realized it so beautifully.
You show other folks in these future scenes and everyone is reunited and happy, although Al's out on her search for Isabelle, which makes sense. But also in this story, we learn that Alicia went back to the baseball stadium with Luciana and Wes. Why not have them be part of this vision of the future? And should we read anything into that decision?
CHAMBLISS: I don't think we should read too much into it, because this really is kind of Grace's projection of what she thinks the ideal future will be if everyone kind of fulfilled who they were. I think for Alicia, her story is kind of going down this path of learning to really rely on herself, asking herself who she is and what she wants, and the idea that she would go back to the baseball stadium and turn it into what her mother wanted to make it is really just speaking to Grace kind of imagining Alicia fulfilling herself.
You lead us down this path where we all are expecting Grace to die in childbirth but Athena to live on and instead you flip it. First off, was that always the intent to have the baby be stillborn when you revealed Grace was pregnant back in season 5, or did you come across that idea later?
GOLDBERG: It was very important to us to honor and be truthful to Grace's experience and what she'd gone through at the power plant and her radiation exposure that we played as part of the story in season 5. So we wanted to be realistic with the truth of what would happen. In our research into pregnant women that had been part of radiation exposure and events like Chernobyl, we found that often the radiation did get absorbed by the baby and the baby didn't survive.
While it was the most gut wrenching ending for the story, it felt like, unfortunately, a very true ending to the story and also gave voice to something that I think a lot of people go through just in life. We wanted to tell that story, that's difficult and heart-wrenching thing that a lot of people go through and tell it through this prism of Grace and Morgan's relationship, seeing how this dream that they had, that we've been building since the beginning of the season, doesn't come to fruition the way that they'd hoped. So, that was sort of the genesis of it. That was why we told it the way that we did.
I remember the reaction to the episode "The Grove" when that happened on The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead could brutalize and kill people in so many ways, but then you do it to a kid, and it's a whole different story. I remember how they were so careful the way they shot that scene and everything. Did you guys have the discussion, and the concern that this this could be too much, and there might be some people that really would not be able to handle this?
CHAMBLISS: We definitely had those discussions, and we had a lot of discussions about how much we were going to see of the baby. And, for us, we wanted to tell the story. We obviously didn't want to kind of upset anyone by it, but in the same token, it was kind of what Ian was hinting at. I think there are so many people who lose pregnancies, who lose children during childbirth, who lose children very early on. And it's such a sensitive issue that it doesn't get talked about.
My wife and I had lived through several losses of pregnancy, and at the time we thought we were the only people, and it's only when it happened to us, when we started talking to other people that we realized it was much more common. So we didn't want to avoid that, and we didn't want to play something that didn't feel grounded in the reality. So we wanted to hit it head on, and it is upsetting, and it was hard to watch. Karen [David] and Lennie [James], as performers, really did an amazing job and it was hard for them to perform, but at the end of the day, it felt like there was kind of some truth and some reality in it. We think it's something that is worth examining.
Grace is convinced the entire time that the hope that Athena represented by being born is the key towards getting these different groups to unite and drop their differences and that she's going to give everyone something to fight for. Now that we see Athena actually died, what sort of impact will that have on everyone?
GOLDBERG: The impact is immense. I think you hit it on the head when you talked about Grace firmly believing based on this vision that she's had, that the future is going to be okay because of what Athena is going to bring to it — of how she's going to rally everyone, and unite everyone, and that's how they're going to overcome everything and resolve their differences. And now that Athena hasn't survived, it's pretty clear that version of the future is not going to happen. And this is a season about our characters being tested. It's also a season that started with Morgan wanting nothing more than to build a future for his family. And initially that was Grace and this baby, it became about the greater family, but it's why he built the water tower. It's why he was building up this town behind the dam wall.
It all started with this family he was hoping to build. So yeah, you're right. Where do they go from here, when that dream has evaporated? I think the other thing too, is Morgan started out the season with that note that he got, that we eventually realized came from Dakota of, "You still have things left to do." And Morgan's been wrestling with, why am I alive? Why did I survive? He thought it was about this family that he was going to help protect and nurture, create a future for, and now that's off the table. So it's a question for Morgan too, if this wasn't the reason I'm alive, then what's left for me? What's left for all of us? That's the big question that he and Grace and by extension, all of our characters are going to have to grapple with now.
Grace ends by saying "I thought it was going to be different. But it was just a dream." So is there anything we should take away from this unconscious dream/vision of the future she had?
CHAMBLISS: I think what she saw in her vision of the future and how everyone turned out was really seeing the best in all of them, based on her experience with them. So there was some truth in that. This is what Ian was just kind of hinting at, without something to bring out the best in them, it really is going to be a tough journey ahead. So, all those moments we saw, Strand and Daniel laughing together, or Dwight and Sherry as the happy couple with a couple of kids of their own, Morgan having built this place he wanted to — that is what I think is kind of in danger, and that's kind of what sets the stakes of what everyone could lose in the next four episodes that we have in the season.
I think the other thing just for Grace on a personal level is she is someone who doesn't open up to people. She has told Morgan and she even told Athena that she spent so much of her life afraid to take chances. Morgan helped her do that, but having a baby really was the thing that was allowing her to open up, was to make connections to Morgan, to be able to imagine this future. And she has now lost that child and lost that dream. But at the same time, the baby absorbed that radiation from her. So she's going to have some very complicated grief ahead because in many ways, she is alive and the baby's dead and that's kind of the opposite of what she imagined. Aside from the kind of global ramifications this is going to have for everyone, there's a really kind of interesting and tough personal journey for Grace ahead.
Where did the selection for Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" come from? Who's the Orbison fan amongst you all?
GOLDBERG: I'll take that one. I love Roy. I'm also a huge Blue Velvet fan, as well.
So Teddy's group now has the key. What does that mean for them and for everyone?
CHAMBLISS: That's a tough question to answer without giving everything up, but it means that our group needs to really kick things into gear. We are going to learn fairly soon what exactly it is Teddy's going to do and how he's going to pull it off. From Morgan's perspective, he knows he handed that key over, so he knows there's kind of a reckoning coming on top of kind of all the emotional trauma that he and grace have just experienced.
Okay, tease us up for next week. What do ya got?
CHAMBLISS: Back when we saw June bury John Dorie, Virginia's right-hand man, Hill, took one of John Dorie's six shooters. We are going to find out what happened to that gun and where it is, who has it, and maybe we'll see a quest to get it back.
GOLDBERG: Well, since we're talking about those guns, I would also say that the initials on the handle of those guns might take on a whole new meaning after next week's episode.
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