In the chaotic carnage of the apocalypse, can enemies come together to outlive the living dead? We'll find out when Madison opens the gates of Broke Jaw Ranch to The Nation, and with the mid-season 3 premiere episode airing September 10th on AMC, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Dave Erickson about the back half of his final season as Fear The Walking Dead showrunner (he'll be busy developing another series for AMC), including the deepening divide between Madison and her children, tense times at Broke Jaw Ranch, and the aftereffects of a critical kill.
Congratulations on the first half of season 3, which was really timely and compelling television. Now we’re seeing [Qaletqa] Walker’s people moving into Broke Jaw ranch and everyone is going to have to try and co-exist peacefully, which feels timely with current events right now. Did real life events impact the writers’ room for this season?
Dave Erickson: Yeah, I think more so this season. There have been elements in the first couple of seasons that people have brought up that seem to be commenting on or echoing what was going on at the time, and usually that wasn’t intentional. We built up the end of season 2 to bring us to the border, and this pre-dates the election, but there was definitely an intention in introducing Dayton [Callie]’s character, Jeremiah Otto, and his family and this militia/prepper group on the border. The intention was to always examine that dynamic to a degree.
In the first half of the season, Madison is associating with some incredibly unsavory, violent people, and she finds a way to justify that in the name of the greater good, her family’s greater good, and what’s going to protect herself and her kids. That, to me, does seem topical and it does seem timely because it’s a question of, “If you’re willing to dance with the devil for what you believe is a good reason, can you ignore all of the evil and bad that comes with that?” And ultimately, what I think we’ll come to realize with her over the back half of the season is that she chose the wrong dancing partner. By the time she begins her relationship with Qaletqa Walker, in a real sense, I think that they get along to a certain degree, but it’s a truce that comes out of convenience more than anything else. But what she has in that relationship, unlike with Otto, is that she’s working with someone who is very much for The Nation.
And what we’ll come to see as the season plays out is that he’s [Walker] not going to be accommodating and that he’s ultimately going to do for himself. And I think what we’ll see with Madison is that the compromises she’s made— compromising on her ethics and morality—it’s going to come back and bite her on the ass to some degree. So there’s a lot that we’re playing with that speaks to the current political climate, and especially to a lot of questions that center around the border, and however people want to interpret that is up to them. Fundamentally, one of the main thematic lines for the season as a whole is this question of violence and “when is it justified?” and “is it ever justified?”, and we started to edge towards it, because one of the books we had talked about—going back to season 2—was Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and there’s some elements of that that we began to touch upon in terms of this chaotic quality along the US/Mexico border, and how in this apocalyptic world, it’s become more of a borderless territory. And it is a season very much about appropriation and re-appropriation and trying to take back what's been stolen and sort of a righting of the scales, and I think that was something that we wanted to inject into the story as well, and it gets a little bit more clear when we get to the final episodes.
You’ve done a great job exploring a lot of territory in the post-apocalypse and seeing how these communities get their start. By the time we get to The Walking Dead timeline, these communities have turned into something much bigger, but the early days of these communities and their initial formations are really fascinating. Is there anything new on the horizon that we’ll see come into play?
Dave Erickson: In some respects, it’s the rebuilding of civilization, and societies are coming together in fits and starts. They are kind of embryotic and roughshod, and they haven’t really established themselves yet, whether it’s the dam, or whether it’s The Nation or whether it’s the ranch. The short answer is that season 4 in my mind would have been very much about what you just described—there are some characters we haven’t met yet who would be important to this—really laying the groundwork for a longer-lasting community. What’s always been interesting to me is to imagine which of our characters could potentially become The Governor, and what would that look like? I do think in terms of where season 4 might have gone—with the intention of [executive producer] Scott [M. Gimple] and [new showrunners] Andy [Chambliss] and Ian [Goldberg], I’m not sure—I think it’s very much about watching the growing pains of trying to establish something.
In theory, Broke Jaw Ranch should have been stable, and the interesting thing about it is had Madison and company not arrived, would they have continued as they were? Would they have been able to maintain? Even though she develops this very sullied relationship with [Jeremiah] Otto and Troy, there’s something about Madison ultimately, because I do think fundamentally she is good, she wants to do right by her kids, and I also think that when she develops this relationship, this partnership with Walker, he is the one she’d rather be in business with. He is the one she’d rather have her alliance with, and I don’t think she’s shedding any tears over the death of Jeremiah Otto. But, going back to the theme of violence, whenever we have a significant kill, we don’t like it to fade, we try very hard to see what the impact of that would be on the people involved. And going into the back half of the season, that’s a real, genuine weight for Nick, specifically, because he had to pull the trigger. And Madison has mixed feelings about it, because I don’t think she wanted her son to do that. One might wonder then, “Why does she tell that story about her own father in the seconds before she walked out the door to confront [Jeremiah] Otto?" But I think she now sees this burden on her own kid, and had he not shown up, I think she would have shot Jeremiah.
There is this dramatic and philosophical divide between Madison and Nick and Alicia, because all of them are caught up in this vortex. What you're going to see moving into the back half of the season are the kids who Madison has worked her ass off to protect at all costs, they are going to start to establish and find their own paths. They're going to find themselves in opposition to their mom and her philosophy, so you're going to see a bit of a rift moving forward between our core family.
Yeah, now they realize that mom isn't exactly who they thought she was. And I thought the revelation that she killed her father was really compelling. Can we expect to see more layers of Madison's past peeled away moving forward? Is there more to explore?
Dave Erickson: Yes and no. We delayed that reveal for a time, and we've referenced it in bits and pieces through things that she's done. When she killed Celia, for example, last season, there was a reason—and now we know it—why she was able to do that and to really downshift on her emotions and show that cold-blooded side of her. I don't think you can look forward to any more huge expositional tracks or any flashbacks to what happened after she put down her father, but it is very much part of the emotional fabric of the show and the character for the rest of the season. Fundamentally, this series is about the Clarks ultimately, and in my mind, there is a violent confrontation that would come between mom and the kids, mom and Nick, based on their violent past and the choices they're going to make, really the choices they make in the back half of this season. And you'll see it when we get to the penultimate and the finale, you're also going to see a very significant change for Alicia when we get to the middle of the back half.
Basically, we were laying tracks for a final confrontation, which would have been something to explore deeper in the show in a later season, and whether that manifests now, I'm not sure. But the reason Madison is as violent and cold and merciless as she is and whether that's something that Nick and Alicia want to inherit, fundamentally that's a big part of what we're exploring and dramatizing in the back half of the season. So, we wouldn't necessarily be getting more details about, "Did Maddy go to juvie after that? Did mom cover for her, etc.?" But the fact that we've now set the table as to who she is, it has a huge impact on Nick's reaction to her over the course of the back half and Alicia's as well.
I know you'll be passing on the showrunner baton after this season, and I've really enjoyed these last three seasons, so I just wanted to congratulate you on that. I love how this show has had its own identity even though it's within this larger world. I'm excited for whatever the future holds for you. Is there anything you can talk about that's on the horizon for you?
Dave Erickson: My wife, Sheri Elwood, and I are supposed to be adapting David Cronenberg’s novel Consumed, which was sold to AMC, and that's probably going to be the next thing up. It's a psycho-sexual thriller and it's incredibly Cronenbergian in its exploration of human nature and sex and technology, so it's a nice break from zombies. Hopefully that's the next thing that we'll be working on, and then we'll see. We're definitely excited about working on Consumed and going into the land of Cronenberg for a while. I think it's going to be fun.
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