Fear the Walking Dead Q&A — Michael E. Satrazemis on The Emotional Experience of Ending the Show

Michael E. Satrazemis is an executive producer on FEAR and director of 23 episodes of the series. In this Q&A with amc.com, he talks about directing the series finale, the callbacks to previous episodes as well as The Walking Dead, and Alycia Debnam-Carey's return.

Q: You had the opportunity to direct Fear the Walking Dead's series finale. What were your goals when it came to wrapping up eight seasons of story in this episode?
A: It's two-sided. Obviously with the story you want to do it elegantly and keep everyone on point and really bring your best to wrap it up. Create a really beautiful ending, keeping it as big, tight, and emotional as possible. I think on the other side of that, it's also an end for the family that you've been creating with, for the actors that you've been creating with. And although my intention is to work with every one of them [in the future], you don't know when that's going to happen. So, it was really important to stay present with everybody and really experience how great it is to have been able to create together – to create, to not look ahead, to not look beyond the present day or the present moment. I thought everyone did a really good job. I just wanted to be there. It starts to become emotional when you realize it's the end. It's already a very emotional and raw experience. It was really important to just be together and to cherish how talented everyone is and how lucky we are to have been a part of a show this successful.
Yes, and even though you lost some people from the first half of the season, namely Lennie James (Morgan) and Karen David (Grace), you still had a lot of the core cast from the later seasons.
Yeah, it was a full circle. It was a return. It felt kind of karmically beautiful. As we started reaching towards the end, I love that [showrunners] Ian [Goldberg] and Andrew [Chambliss] chose to focus on the core and allow it to become circular. We wanted to go full circle and bring it back to the beginning and that's what Ian and Andrew wrote, which was really beautiful and felt elegant. I'm very proud of the end. It feels very much like an end and a completion of this very long story of these eight seasons. I loved it. I had a blast. You know, it was right back to the very beginning.
Q: In the second half of Season 8, Madison and Strand finally got to share the screen again. What was your experience directing Kim Dickens and Colman Domingo in the series finale, especially in that scene when they parted ways?
A: I love their arc this season. They're head-to-head at the beginning and then there's a goodbye and a separation in [Episode] 12 and then a resolve. Strand seeing Madison and Alicia through the reflection in the mirror at the end and knowing that they're together and it's all right — it was very beautiful. I think it mimics what was really going to happen in a minute [after the cameras stopped rolling], so the emotions were easy to come by. They've also been acting together for so long. You just barely wind them up and let them go. They're just really a joy to work with and they both bring the best out of each other and have fun doing it.
Q: For longtime viewers, it was gratifying to have all the callbacks to events in previous seasons and even from The Walking Dead, from the Sanctuary and what happened at the stadium, to Charlie's role in Nick's death and Skidmark's return. How important was it to remind viewers of this show's long history and how it's played into this season?
A: Whenever you're going to wrap something up, whenever you're going to finish something, you need to be reminded of the journey and of the scars. It's eight years [of] so much rich storytelling and to be able to go back through that – including over on The Walking Dead with the Sanctuary, with the house from the pilot for Morgan, like those kind of things – it's amazing for a viewer and a creator to remember the history. You know, we are our history. We're made up of all of our past events. And to be able to elegantly work through some of the real highlight ones, the ones that affected the characters the most, that shaped them the most in this last season before we said goodbye to them, I thought was really beautiful.
Skidmark's return was probably the highlight for me.
You and Rubén [Blades]! Rubén told me one day, "Skidmark is the most important person in the entire show." I was like, "Rubén, I don't know about that." And he goes, "Don't you?" I was like, "Don't you even begin to tell me that cat is the most important part of this whole show!" So, I think Rubén manifested getting Skidmark back!
Q: I noticed that Julia Wackenheim-Gimple, an actor and Scott Gimple's wife, played one of Alicia's acolytes. How did she get involved in the end of the series?
A: We have a lot of very talented in-house people, friends or the family of people like my wife [Be Satrazemis, who played Marietta] that are all talented, and it really worked out in the end. You want to be very close as a family when you're wrapping it up and I think that was pretty much why we brought in some other talented people. Julia is a fantastic actress, and she has obviously been a part of The Walking Dead before FEAR. You know, our families have been blessed and tortured by the success of these shows! And Julia was great. I love her. I've always loved her so much. She's funny and just has a big bright light and it was great to bring her in. We had a blast! We laughed our butts off. For me, those kinds of things, especially at the end, were important. They kept me from thinking of the end and let me live in the moment and have fun and celebrate everybody. I think it was very important to bring her in. It really kept the mood right and she's a fantastic actress, so we benefited on many levels.
Q: Let's talk about the end. Alicia's return was thrilling, especially because she had the reunion with Madison we all wanted once it was announced that Kim Dickens was rejoining the show. What was it like to have Alycia Debnam-Carey on set again and to have this mother and daughter together again? They also brought the show full circle because of their intention to go back to Los Angeles.
A: Getting Kim back was a beautiful, beautiful surprise. Getting Alycia back again – even for this brief moment to allow them to be together again, getting that journey to complete itself and putting them back together – was really beautiful. Alycia, she's beyond special and we've gained quite a friendship. So, getting to work with her again was special. And then Kim and Alycia together, their performances are always going to be top notch.
Definitely. You talked about this experience being emotional, so it must have been emotional as well for the two of them to be together again.
A: It is emotional, but they're also a couple of goofballs so we laughed our butts off as well. You know, you have one choice or the other – you're either going to cry or laugh – and luckily those two want to laugh a bit too, so we didn't go too deep into sadness. We did speak about that a lot during the last episode, about, like, let's not think about the loss of each other and the separation. Let's think about how amazing it is to be able to create together, how much we respect each other and just stay in that present moment. I think it helped a lot to remind each other to finish this and then we can be sad, you know? Then we can talk about the separation. What I found is that we're all still talking today, so it's never really a goodbye.
Q: Is there anything else you want to say about the show that I didn't ask you about?
A: No, no. I mean, I think I've said it all. We're a family and it ended, but we're all still together. We're all still family. We love what we got to do. I'm really proud of the end. It felt complete. This is definitely an end. It's as good an ending as I could have imagined. I was worried whether we'd screw up the end, whether we'd get too emotional, all those things, and really everyone held together like the family that we are and did what I think is a very special ending. It's also nice to end something. Unless you get a bottle episode that has a beginning and an end, you're never really ending anything. It felt very refreshing and complete to really bring this one home.

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