Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg have been the showrunners of Fear the Walking Dead since the beginning of Season 4. In this Q&A with amc.com, they talk about reuniting Madison and Strand, bringing Troy Otto back, and their mantra for this final season.
Q: Can you talk about the genesis of the storyline with the German speakers? I thought it was an innovative way to get viewers back into the show, especially when Victor Strand shows up in this community as a person named Anton.
Andrew Chambliss: It's been a half season since the audience has seen him, and in terms of story time, it's been far longer than that. What we really wanted to land in reintroducing Victor Strand to the audience was to make sure that he felt as different from the Victor Strand we last saw at the end of Season 7 as possible. For a while we had this idea floating around about a group of tourists who were stranded in a different country because the apocalypse started while they were on vacation, and it felt like that would really mesh with what we wanted to do with Strand. On top of that, I think there was this element of characters who are forced to change because of their circumstances. That was a thematic thread that is following both Strand and Madison through the episode, and it seems like that was reflected in these Germans who had to create a new life in the middle of the swamps of Georgia because they got trapped there during the apocalypse.
Q: On a related note, I don't speak German, but Colman Domingo really sounds fluent while speaking. Did he already speak German, or did he learn it for this role?
AC: He did not speak it. He learned it very quickly! We got him a tutor who worked with him in the lead-up to production — and this was also while he was working on some other projects — so he squeezed in every German lesson he could. Also when he was on set, we had a German instructor there who was able to help him through some of the nuances of it. Occasionally, he had an earpiece in while he was acting. It wasn't to give him line readings or anything. It was just to be there so that the German instructor could feed him the word if it didn't come to his mind, so he could focus entirely on the emotive side of the performance. And yeah, neither Ian nor I speak German. But when we saw the dailies, we were convinced that this was someone who knew what they were saying.
Ian Goldberg: Colman doesn't shy away from a challenge, that's for sure!
Q: Then you had to populate this world with other German speakers. Isha Blaaker and Julian Grey were perfect for their roles as Frank and Klaus. I assume they spoke German already?
IG: Yes, they did.
Q: Okay, so aside from their language abilities, what were the most important considerations when it came to casting them?
IG: Well, our goal, in addition to wanting to make this feel like a lived-in community of people who had spent many, many years together building this way of life in the apocalypse, is we were building a family for Strand. It was really important to us that that felt believable and the chemistry was right and that you understood why Strand was so invested in this new life that he built for himself. Even though he’s going by a different name and in many ways is misrepresenting himself, his love for Frank and for Klaus is real. It was a complicated dynamic and it was really important that we nailed that with the casting. Even though Strand is lying about a lot of things, his love for his husband and his son are real. That was really the most important thing, and I think that we really lucked out and that love is palpable when you watch the episodes.
AC: While we're on the topic of German speakers, just a fun little tidbit. Our line producer, Frank Hildebrand, is Swiss German and he actually has a cameo in some of the German scenes. He plays one of the people in the council meeting who's got the flat cap on, so that was a lot of fun.
I saw that in the credits! Was his character's name Hildy?
IG: We may have written that role specifically with Frank in mind as you can probably guess.
Was he doing his job as a line producer as well as acting on the show?
IG: That's right!
AC: He's multi-hyphenate and multi-talented!
Q: When I interviewed Kim Dickens earlier this year, she told me how excited she and Colman Domingo were to act together again on the show. How did you decide to reunite Madison and Victor in this non-cliché way where they got their heartfelt hug but then Victor threw the whole situation into confusion by denying who he was?
AC: For us, it was really driven by Strand's arc in this episode and wanting to represent just how badly Strand needed to believe that he had become a new person. He had built this family with Frank and Klaus and we really wanted to show how protective he was of that. So, we knew coming into [the second half of Season 8] that the reunion of Strand and Madison needed to be this huge moment because the last time Strand saw her, he thought that was the last time he ever saw her because he thought she died. We wanted to have this moment that felt real where his guard was totally let down and we saw his true emotions — and that's him seeing his friend who's alive and just being in disbelief. We wanted to show how much this life he had built for himself meant to him and how much he needed to protect that at all cost. So, we see his true feelings for Madison, but then in an instant we see him shut those down because he truly believes that Madison's presence will reveal to his husband and to his adopted son exactly who he is, and he thinks that will drive them away.
I also think that for Strand, having Madison come back into his life is just this huge reminder of the man he used to be, a man he doesn't want to be anymore. He would rather forget that as well. It really does make for this complicated moment because I think from the audience's point of view, they just want to see Madison and Strand together. I think it's fun to see them have to work through it all to get to that moment later in the episode when Strand finally comes clean about his whole entire journey and why he denied who he was to her.
Q: We've spoken in the past about actors on the show directing episodes, from Lennie James and Colman Domingo to Alycia Debnam-Carey. How did Danay Garcia get tapped to direct this one?
IG: We've been really fortunate that we had such great experiences with cast members directing the show across many seasons. As you've said, Lennie, Colman, and Alycia all just knocked it out of the park, and Danay followed in that tradition with this episode. It really was as simple as Danay coming to us and saying that she was interested in directing in Season 8. She had directed a short film that was really good, so we already knew that she could handle it technically. It became about finding the right episode logistically. We wanted to give her one where she didn't also have to act in it as Luciana so she could focus her attention just on the directing side of things.
This turned out to be the right fit, and Danay really dove right in and there were a lot of challenges in the episode! As we talked about, a lot of it is in German. She had an episode where we're reuniting Madison and Strand. We were introducing Strand in this whole new environment, this entirely new community we've never seen before. There's some complicated action in the episode. Then of course the grand finale of it is that we're bringing back this iconic villain, Troy Otto, from Season 3. So yeah, Danay had her hands full, but she really delivered on all fronts, and we hope that she continues to direct because she did a wonderful job.
Q: You mentioned Troy Otto, so let's talk about Daniel Sharman's return for the first time since Season 3, when we all thought he died… but we never did see a dead body. Why did you decide to bring him back?
AC: I think there's a couple of reasons. First of all, we're obviously a big fan of the character Troy Otto. We're a big fan of Daniel Sharman and his performance and the way he brought the character to light. Then another big reason was that for this final run we needed an adversary for Madison, for Strand, for Daniel, for Luciana who really felt worthy in the final six episodes of the show. Given that so much of the thematics of Season 8 are about these characters looking back at who they've been and taking stock of where they are and who they've become, it felt like having an adversary from their past as the antagonist would really help them dramatize that.
We started talking about the idea of Troy Otto and then we reached out to Daniel Sharman and he was excited about coming back and continuing to play the character. Luckily schedules all aligned and we were able to actually bring him on as the villain. As we started to dig into the story possibilities, it got us very excited because so much of this season for Madison is about her finding herself without her biological family, without Alicia, and her starting to put together this makeshift family with Strand, Daniel, and all these kids from PADRE. At the same time, if you look back and see what transpired between Madison and Troy in Season 3, in many ways Madison took his entire family from him. As he says at the end of the episode, she took everything from him, so he's now going to do the same. This really serves as this platform to put these two characters together opposite each other who think they've both been wronged by the other. I think it'll lead to some exciting stuff coming down the line.
Q: What can you tease about what's going to happen for the rest of the season, the rest of the series? What can you say without giving anything away?
IG: Well, of course, we're bringing the show and these characters to a conclusion. But our goal when we set out to make these final few episodes was that we also wanted to bring everything full circle, meaning that as we bring characters toward their ending, we're also exploring their beginnings and how that has changed them. Andrew and I approached this final season with this sort of mantra in mind of "the end is in the beginning." So, what you will see for these final few episodes is characters wrestling in various ways with their pasts. We're going to see their pasts come back and resurface in unexpected ways. That means that we're going to see some other familiar faces that maybe we haven't seen for a while. We may also return to some places that we have seen elsewhere in The Walking Dead Universe and we're excited for fans to see that. And of course, it's going to be the rising conflict between Madison and Troy over PADRE and seeing where all of our other characters fall into place as that conflict escalates.
Q: Now that the series is ending, what has the show meant to each of you? What are you going to miss the most about it?
AC: First and foremost, I think we feel very lucky that we were able to come into this world, tell stories in it with all these incredibly dynamic and interesting characters. But on top of that, I think the thing that I'm going to miss even more is just all the wonderful people that we've worked with. Starting with Ian and Michael Satrazemis, to Scott Gimple, the amazing cast, our writing staff, our crew on the ground in the various locations we shot. It really was an amazingly talented group of people who gave the show every bit of their creativity and produced something that far exceeded what I think Ian and I ever imagined when we started in Season 4. I think that's the thing I am most grateful for and at the same time, having wrapped months ago, the thing I miss the most.
IG: I would second everything Andrew is saying. It was a life-changing experience for me. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it. I came into this as a massive fan of The Walking Dead and FEAR, and was constantly pinching myself and continue to pinch myself that I got to work so closely with people that I admire so much, from Andrew to everyone on the cast and crew, including Mikey [Satrazemis]. I'd like to go through every name of everyone that we worked with because it did become a family. It was at times very, very difficult; it was a lot of work. Everybody gave it their all and that's what made it so rewarding. We became a family. Even though the show's over, that will endure, and I feel like I've made connections that will last for the rest of my career.
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