[This story contains spoilers from the season four premiere of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, as well as the season eight finale of The Walking Dead.]
“Am I talking loud? I am.”
A strange mixture of loneliness and optimism guides Fear the Walking Dead viewers into the drama’s new status quo, as newcomer John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) gets the first words of the show’s rebooted fourth season: a long monologue by a campfire in the dead of night, delivered to someone who may just happen to be no one in particular. It’s a tone-setting moment: Fear the Walking Dead, as it enters its fourth season under the guidance of new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg (as well as outgoing Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple, executive producer and architect of the greater AMC franchise), is on a new mission with new characters behind the wheel — and one very recognizable character as well, in the form of Morgan Jones (Lennie James), whose journey from the flagship Walking Dead continues this year in Fear.
The episode begins with John and Morgan’s strange first encounter in the thick of Texas, surrounded by nobody and nothing beyond darkness, silence, and a lone walker bobbing in the breeze. Soon, the action flashes back to reveal exactly how and why Morgan arrived upon this moment. After his side’s victory at the end of “All-Out War,” Morgan remained in self-imposed exile, despite protests from Jesus (Tom Payne), Carol (Melissa McBride) and even Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) — all of whom make a cameo appearance at the top of the episode.
“You can hide,” Rick tells Morgan, “but you can’t run.”
Morgan proceeds to prove his old friend wrong, as he packs up and hits the road for the first time since his epic road trip, seen in seasons five and six of The Walking Dead. As he makes his way toward who knows where, Morgan keeps a low profile, actively avoiding groups of people out in the distance. He eventually encounters a man suffering from a wound to his leg, and when Morgan tries to help, the injured individual scoffs.
“You looked like you were on your own,” Mogan tries to tell the man, which nets a dispiriting response: “We’re always on our own.”
But not for long: Morgan swiftly encounters John Dorie, a gun-slinging loner who isn’t a loner by choice. Having not used his voice in nearly a year due to his isolation, John is eager to chat and make friends with Morgan. Morgan, meanwhile, is not as eager. He tries to break free the moment he can, and instead winds up in the clutches of some dangerous strangers. Soon, John winds up in their clutches as well, in his attempt to help his new best friend. Cue the arrival of a the third party in this developing trio: Althea (Maggie Grace), a self-sufficient journalist who rides around in a heavily armed SWAT van, looking to meet strangers and collect their stories about their experiences before and during the apocalypse.
An elaborate action scene takes place, showing Morgan’s renewed commitment to not killing whenever possible (though that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to use a grenade against a room filled with walkers), mirroring John’s own disinterest in killing. Despite all of his attempts to leave this group, Morgan finds himself drawn back to John and Althea, eventually agreeing to tell parts of his story, his better instincts notwithstanding.
“I lose people,” Morgan tells Al, when she asks why he left Virginia, “and then I lose myself.”
Morgan loses himself out on the open road once more, where he stumbles upon the same man with the leg injury he encountered earlier. This time, the man is a walker. Morgan tries to catch up to see the man for himself, but he’s nursing a leg injury of his own, sustained earlier in the episode. Luckily, as much as he’s tried to run away, Morgan can’t hide from John and Althea. They catch up with the Alexandria expat and help him toward the zombie, allowing Morgan to put him down and bury his body.
Morgan decides to stick around with John and Althea at least until his leg heals, but their shared time together might last longer than he had hoped. The trio drive upon a young woman in the middle of the road, sobbing and warning about bad people lurking nearby. Before they know it, three other strangers emerge from the side of the road, weapons drawn, surrounding Morgan and his new companions. These armed strangers, as well as the girl, are all very familiar to the Fear the Walking Dead faithful: Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane), Strand (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay García). Notably absent from the crew: Madison Clark (Kim Dickens).
The final line of the episode belongs to Althea: “So … what the hell’s your story?” And it’s a fair question to turn back on Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, the creative minds responsible for bringing this new version of the apocalypse to life. (Dave Erickson, who developed the series with Walking Dead mastermind Robert Kirkman, exited as showrunner at the end of season three.) Read on for their breakdown of how the Fear season premiere played out, and what’s coming up next.
In the first scene of the season, John discovers his own voice for the first time in a year. Simultaneously, you’re discovering John’s voice for the first time, and using that as a launching point into your creative reset of Fear the Walking Dead. Why was this the right place to start the season, this encounter between John and Morgan?
Goldberg: One of the things that was important to us in the first scene is that both John and Morgan are isolated people. They’ve been separated from other people for a long time: Morgan by his own choosing, and we find out from John that it’s not of his own choosing. He very much seeks human companionship and kinship. His whole drive is that he’s out looking for someone. We really wanted to establish those two different sides of the coin to isolation, right from the very beginning. But also in terms of John and the way he speaks, the way he articulates himself, he’s a character with a lot of humor who sees the world with the perspective of someone with innocence, in some ways. But we also see when he draws his six-shooter that he’s someone who is very capable and someone to be reckoned with. There are some very interesting contradictions in John that we’ll see play out over the course of the season. The opening campfire scene is just the beginning of that.
After the first scene, we return to the Alexandria area, where Morgan receives three visitors: Rick, Carol and Jesus. Why did it feel right to bring these three main Walking Dead characters into Fear the Walking Dead?
Chambliss: We’re telling a story about Morgan running away from people and running away from human connection. It seemed like the only way to really tell that story would be to see a bit of that connection in action. Rick, Carol and Jesus are three characters he has very different relationships with. It just seemed that for his send off from The Walking Dead and the start of his journey here, we should see what he was running away from. I think it really helps us get into Morgan’s head. He does have relationships. He does have it in him to be capable of human connection. It makes the moment he’s sitting at the crossroads and he decides to run into a completely different direction — when he could go back to Alexandria, the Hilltop or the Kingdom — and he chooses to go away from all three of those places … it makes it all the more tragic.
Have we seen the last of Rick, Carol and Jesus on Fear?
Chambliss: It’s a very big universe, and we hope to tell many more stories. For the time being, Morgan is the character we’re focused on.
Goldberg: Even though Morgan chooses to run away from Rick, Carol and Jesus, the words that the three of them say to him before he goes — and particularly Rick’s words about Morgan being connected to people, and that he’ll find his way back to the world — those are things that will resonate with Morgan, and to a certain extent haunt him as he runs away and pursues isolation. The words will continue to be carried with him throughout the season.
Morgan and John encounter Althea, a post-apocalypse journalist of sorts. What was the inspiration for her character and her pursuit of recording stories from all across the apocalypse? Are her recordings simply a character note, or are they building toward a larger arc?
Chambliss: The inspiration for making Al a journalist who was documenting what we’re seeing in this world started from the thematic place that all of our storytelling is coming from: the idea of finding hope in a hopeless world. Even though Al is a character who is very matter-of-fact, her mission is one that’s unique. It’s not just about survival. It’s about something more. The idea that you would be documenting what happened and trying to build a record of it speaks to some optimism and some hope that one day, there will be a time where people care about these stories and care about what happened. For us, it was very important to have a character who had a real mission with some nobility to it. We can say that we’ll be seeing a lot of Al’s camera this season. It’s an element of the show we’re very excited about, and one we’ve had a lot of fun with. We can’t wait for people to see how it plays out.
The episode is almost completely devoid of the Clark family until the final scene, in which they appear much worse for wear. What went into the decision to keep the Clarks out of this first episode, and then surprising both our new characters and the audience alike with positioning the Clarks almost as antagonists?
Goldberg: One of the things we set out to do this season was to put the Clark family, the characters the fans have come to know over the first three seasons, on a very different path than we’ve seen them on previously. That means finding them in a completely different place emotionally, and also creating mystery about where they’ve been and what has brought them to this place. It goes back again to our theme of characters in isolation. It’s how we find the Clark family, in these very mysterious and very dark circumstances. But there’s much more to that story to be told. We’re going to be exploring how they came to be in such dire straits as we go forward.
Madison is notably absent from the group. How concerned should we be about that?
Chambliss: People should tune in for the second episode. They may start to get some answers to the questions they’re asking. We were very excited to come into the show and tell Madison’s story. She’s had a difficult journey from where she was in season one through the end of season three. We’ve seen her do some very dark things. We’ve seen her walk down a very dangerous path. But at the end of the day, it was all for a very relatable reason: to protect her children and keep her family together. That really speaks to the larger themes we’re exploring this season, with isolation and community. We’re excited to fold her into those themes. We take Madison to some places that people haven’t seen her character go before, and answer some questions we think people have been asking along the way from seasons one through three. Her goal was to find a place where her family could be safe, where they could be happy and where they could build a life. We may get to see her get exactly what she wanted.
What’s ahead in next week’s second episode?
Goldberg: If you’re surprised and intrigued by how we found Nick, Alicia, Strand and Luciana at the end of the premiere episode, stay tuned. You’re going to start getting some answers about what led them to that place. You’ll also discover some entirely new things about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing since we last saw them at the end of the third season.
Chambliss: We’re very excited about the second episode. It introduces a new setting for the characters that we were very excited to create. It was not easy to create on a production level, and it turned out very well. The new setting provides some villains who are very different from the ones we’ve seen on either Fear the Walking Dead or The Walking Dead. These are not villains who you can go up against with weapons. They are much more difficult to defeat. They’re going to really test Madison and her family and push her to her limits.
What did you think of the season four premiere? Sound off in the comments section below and keep following our Fear the Walking Dead coverage all season long.