Fear the Walking Dead showrunners explain Strand's shocking decision
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Sunday's episode of Fear the Walking Dead, "USS Pennsylvania."
Oh, Victor. What have you done? In a race against the clock to stop madman Teddy and his henchman Riley from launching missiles from a beached submarine on Sunday's episode of Fear the Walking Dead, "USS Pennsylvania," both Morgan and Strand tried to leave others behind to work their way through the sub to the weapons room in time. Morgan's approach was to quietly sneak away so he could take all the risk upon himself. But Strand chose a different route.
After catching up with Morgan (Lennie James), Strand (Colman Domingo) decided that he wanted to play the hero and save the day, and doing so necessitated a distraction — so he completely Sanjayed Morgan… which is to say he kicked his former friend and ally into a pack of walkers, leaving him to die while he made his way onward. Only Morgan didn't die. And the time that was wasted in the scuffle allowed Teddy (John Glover) and Riley (Nick Stahl) to get a missile with 10 warheads off — signaling impending doom for anyone within the blast radius.
What drove Strand to be willing to sacrifice Morgan for his own glory? What's the deal with those sub zombies? And what should we make of Teddy's reaction to the voice of the elder John Dorie? We called up Fear showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss to get some answers on season 6's penultimate episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, radiation zombies. I love radiation zombies. Tell me about getting to play with your look there for the undead this week and these poor saps stuck on the sub.
IAN GOLDBERG: There's a backstory that we get into a little bit in this episode about those walkers aboard the sub and the crew of the sub that lived on that sub and worked on that sub. It's actually a story that we hope to explore more. We have ambitions to see more of that story in another form at some point, but I think we were very interested in] getting in some of the texture of that story of who those walkers were, and also sort of a reflection of what could happen to our characters aboard the sub as they were navigating this gauntlet. And also just speaking to the dangers of that are very specific and unique to the sub and the warheads that are on it and the dangers of that. There's already such intense obstacles for our characters, trying to get to [Teddy] in the weapons room, that we thought that the walkers should also be as dangerous as possible.
Speaking of Teddy, I noticed he looked visibly shaken when he heard John Dorie's voice. Is that just small-world shock and surprise, or is there a level of fear there from a guy that otherwise — even last week when it looked like he was going to be executed — has been pretty unflappable?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Yeah, I think we definitely get something from him that we haven't seen before. I think the confidence that Teddy has is one that he found once the zombie apocalypse hit and once he started to realize everything he believed might actually be coming true. It's when everything kind of flourished for him, he was able to find all these followers. He was able to actually make headway in bringing about the end.
But I think in that moment, when he hears John Dorie's voice for the first time and John Dorie helps him place it and he realizes it was 40 years ago in a courtroom, I think that really brings out the vulnerability that I think Teddy felt way, way back when, when his entire life was being taken away from him. And it really did kind of pull him back. I think John Glover did a great job in showing a little bit of that vulnerability, but then trying to kind of reclaim his power, which is easy when you're sitting in the weapons room.
Let's get into the big moment when Strand kicks Morgan back and he goes through the tube to stop that missile. There are a lot of angles to this, so let's just start really broad. Where does this come from, and what's the intent when Strand does this?
GOLDBERG: If you take the thread and trace it all the way back to the beginning of the season with Strand, it goes back to that moment at Lawton when he was with Alicia [Alycia Debnam-Carey] and he chose to send her away and reassign her so that they wouldn't be together anymore because he says to her, "I have to forget who I am in order to do what comes next." So he's been operating from a place of acknowledging that he's going to have to do some morally gray things along the way. But in the end he believes that that's going to be for the greater good and that's going to help everyone.
Now the issue that has arisen is, as Strand has gone down that path, it has been at the peril of his own soul, and we've seen some really morally gray things that Strand has done, including if you want to look at what he does to Morgan, it's a little bit of an echo of what he did to Sanjay [Satya Nikhil Polisetti] in that same episode. The question that Morgan asks him in this episode is, "Are you doing this for you, or are you doing this for everyone?"
And in the moment, Strand says, "I'm doing it for everyone." But ultimately by the end of the episode, we realized what Strand really wanted to do was be the hero. And he really wanted to step out of this sub and be able to have his head held high and say to Alicia, "All that stuff that I told you at Lawton about what I was going to do, it's all paid off because, look, I emerged the hero and saved the day." And it would vindicate him, but it just completely backfires and does not have the result that Strand had hoped for. It actually ends up putting him in a worse position with Morgan and the rest of the group by the end of the episode.
Andrew, I want to get your take obviously on this too, because as Ian says, you have that scene at the end where Strand says, "I did it to save lives," and Morgan says, "No, you did it so you can be the hero." Is Morgan right then?
CHAMBLISS: I don't think it's that easy to say Morgan's right. And I think that's what makes it so interesting. And I think that's what makes Strand such kind of an interesting character, because there's always that question mark about whether what he's doing is really for himself or it was really for other people, because what Strand says to Morgan is, if you had gone the path that you wanted to through that array chamber, you think you would've gotten here, but we don't know that. Strand tells Morgan he did what he thought was the smartest thing, even if that meant turning Morgan into a walker.
So yeah, I think it really leaves this question about what was really motivating Strand, and ultimately it goes the complete opposite way Strand wanted. It goes probably about as badly as it could with one of the missiles getting fired and Strand having to live with that question, whether he did it for himself or whether he did it for Alicia and for other people. And I think that's a question he probably in the moment doesn't even know the answer to, but it's something that he is going to really have to process and come to an answer to very, very soon.
So what does that mean then when Stand has this sort of light bulb moment about Alicia's message being meant for Morgan. Why does that sort of shift him into action?
GOLDBERG: I think it shows how far he's fallen in Alicia's eyes. The one person that she would reach out to in her time of need would not be Strand, it would be Morgan. It shows the consequences of the person Strand has become post that moment at Lawton, where he gave her the St. Christopher's medallion. We've seen that relationship with Alicia disintegrate. We've seen Strand go to some really dark places, and that's the cost of it. And I think that's what's really driving him in this episode is he wants to do right by Alicia, and he wants to mend that relationship, and feel like everything he's done has been worthwhile. And again, it just backfires spectacularly.
And this goes beyond leaving people behind to put only yourself in danger to get something done. Victor kicks Morgan into a pack of walkers. That's not a situation Morgan is guaranteed to make it out of alive. What's Strand's internal calculation there when he does that? Because he's not just leaving him behind, he's also leaving him in massive peril.
CHAMBLISS: I think in that moment, he very much is intending for Morgan to be walker chum to draw the walkers away so he can get to the weapons room and stop the missiles from being launched. In his mind, that's completely justified. I mean, it's sacrificing Morgan to save everyone else. And he's spent the entire episode seeing Morgan on this kind of self-sacrificial bent, where Morgan thinks the reason he survived the gunshot at the end of season 5 and has survived this entire season is to do something like this.
So in Strand's mind, he can justify that by saying, "It will allow me to get to the weapons control room to stop Teddy, and I'm giving you exactly what you want. You get to go out being the hero." And I think in Strand's mind, if he had gotten to the weapons control room and he had stopped Teddy, he would have played up Morgan dying the hero and would have left out the little details, but he's the one who pushed Morgan into those Walkers.
Why does Morgan ultimately let Teddy and Riley go? They fired the missile, it's got the warheads on it, Alicia is still locked up somewhere. These guys are still dangerous. Why does he let them go?
GOLDBERG: Well, I think the sad truth of it is that at this point, the damage has been done. There's no recalling that missile. There's no stopping it. It's been fired. And I think it was just a moment of utter defeat for Morgan, and killing Riley or Teddy isn't going to change that. So I think there's just such an element of disbelief and shock that this has happened. That really the worst thing that could have happened already has, which is this missile's being fired and now they're just going to have to live with, what do we do next?