‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Boss Talks Season 2 at Sea: It’s Not Gonna Be ‘The Love Boat’ With Zombies

fear the walking dead season 2
Image courtesy of AMC Film Holdings LLC

Fear the Walking Dead” returns for its second season on April 10, and Variety has a first look at the ominous new poster for the AMC drama’s sophomore outing, which sees our survivors heading for the ocean in the hope of avoiding the escalating zombie apocalypse.

Last season ended with the remnants of our blended family — Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), his son Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie), Travis’ girlfriend Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), her children Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and their allies Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) — meeting the enigmatic Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), whose yacht, The Abigail, offered a potential escape from the carnage and chaos of Los Angeles. But, as the ominous key art points out, even at sea, there’s no safe harbor from the undead — or their fellow survivors.

Variety spoke to “Fear” showrunner Dave Erickson about what’s ahead for our group in Season 2 and the lessons they’ve learned from Season 1. While he remained tight-lipped on potential spoilers,  Erickson did offer reassurances that the show’s seafaring twist won’t turn it into “The Love Boat,” promising “high adventure on the high seas” in the episodes to come.

Last season you shot in Los Angeles and Vancouver, this year you’ve relocated production to Mexico – how has that transition been?

It’s been fantastic. We’re at Baja Studios, which is the studio that James Cameron built for “Titanic,” and most recently they shot “All Is Lost” there. We knew we were going to go to the water and we were going to be on a boat, and in terms of the facilities they had to offer, it was perfect. Our production designer Bernardo Trujillo, he built a boat in six weeks — it’s pretty impressive. So that part of it’s exciting; the crew is great. In addition to the tanks they have plenty of stage space, so it’s been fun. There’s a lot of things about it that we could only get in Baja. One of the exciting things this season is, because of the water work and because we’re going to take our force-blended family and put them onto a yacht and stick them in the middle of the ocean, it creates a whole different dynamic. The levels of anxiety and tension and paranoia you get from that are pretty interesting — and being stuck in the middle of the ocean is one of my greatest fears.

We know we’re heading out into open water at the start of the run, but how much of the season will be set at sea, and how frequently will we be returning to land?

We make it to the yacht and our big question is “what is our final destination now?” It’s one thing to have escaped land, it’s another to think “where do we [go]” … The good thing about The Abigail is that as a boat, it’s a vessel we can live on for quite some time, which has its advantages but is also something that others might potentially envy. And what we will learn is we weren’t the only people with the bright idea to go to the water. You’ve got thousands of miles of coastline, and I think one of the interesting themes for us in the first several episodes is this question of displacement; we’ve literally watched our home be destroyed and we know we can’t go back – there’s no going home again, so where do we go? And now we’re stuck on this boat with Victor Strand who we don’t know very well, and somebody who is a bit of an enigma, so I think slowly we’ll peel that onion and get a better sense of who he is. And you also have the dynamic between the Salazars, between Ofelia and Daniel, and the Clark-Manawas, where they’re closer to each other — I think they have bonded over the past couple of weeks — but we will be playing with that question that Exner (Sandrine Holt) posed last season, “What is family? Is it blood or is it bond?” And I think that question will be tested over the course of the season stuck on the boat.

What I can tell you it is not: It is not gonna be “The Love Boat” with zombies; we’re not gonna be stopping at different ports of call. We will have a mixture of land and sea, but it will be a while before we land on a specific destination, and that’ll be part of the tension at the beginning part of the season. And the other thing is, The Abigail with a full tank of gas – which it has – can go a considerable distance. So the reality is, we could go back to Vancouver if we wanted to – or we could go to Hawaii or South America; it really opens things up in an interesting way.

How’s their food and supply situation?

It’s in decent shape but there’s a lot of fish in the sea. There are things they can do to survive on the water, but there will be some wrinkles that’ll complicate things on that boat that’ll force them to go where they don’t necessarily want to.

How much of a time jump should we expect when we kick off?

It’s not a terribly big time jump and that’s primarily because I felt it was important… all the characters have gone through incredible losses in the last episode, and on top of that, they’re also seeing the loss of their homes, so I thought it was important not to brush past that too quickly, and to let that be part of what they’re dealing with as we move forward. And also, I wanted to make sure we had their introduction to the boat — I didn’t want to jump too far down the road and have it become pat by the time we got there, that they’re tying knots and they’ve become seamen. I thought that would be a little too abrupt. So there will be a time cut, but it will not be a dramatic one.

Last season was only six episodes, this year you’ve extended to 15. How has that been for you in terms of breaking the story – does it feel like that’s the right number?

That’s a loaded question. [Laughs.] We’re completing the break on the complete season; we’re shooting episode 7 right now – that’s our midseason finale, and prepping episode 8. I did “Sons of Anarchy” for four seasons and that was 13. I think 13 is a good number, I think 10 is a very healthy number, I think there’s always challenges when you start to expand. The good thing about it is it’s broken in such a way that you can look it as you’re doing Season 2A and Season 2B, so if you look at it that way, it’s manageable, and you just make sure you’ve got a very distinctive line that takes you up to the end of the first half and then make sure that spins you off into the second in an interesting way. Eight, that’s my favorite number — eight is awesome, but that’s not the nature of the show.

What are some of the lessons you took away from Season 1, or things you were particularly eager to explore in Season 2?

People do not like when our characters talk to zombies, so we’re doing far less of that. It’s interesting because we talked a lot about the slow burn element last season and how we were trying to build something that was more about the anxiety and the anticipation and the paranoia, and that’s not something I want to abandon completely, because I do think it’s tonally important for the show. And I do think that putting our family on a boat in the middle of the water lends itself to that to some degree, if you think of “Dead Calm” and other films set on the water, so I do want to play to that. But at the same time, we’re deeper into the apocalypse, and they’ve finished their freshman year, they know what the zombies are — even Travis, who fought it tooth and nail last season, is in a much, much different place and in a broken place, frankly, after what happened with Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez).

So I think it’s a matter of balancing the engine as it now accelerates, as we get deeper in the apocalypse, and there’s still room for discovery. If you count the days from last season, I don’t think that Rick Grimes has woken up, necessarily, so I think there’s a little bit of, “We know things went terribly bad in Southern California, but where might it be safe?” and that’s one of the questions that they have when we start the season – if we can’t go home, where can we go? And the element of displacement is something that weighs on all of them – they are all essentially apocalyptic refugees now, and they need to find a place, and in the hope for that and the search for a destination, I think it not only gives an endpoint, but it gives a drive and an energy to Madison and to Travis, and what are they willing to sacrifice to get there? Who are they willing to trust to get there? And ultimately, will Madison and Travis be at cross purposes in that endeavor? So in terms of what have I learned, I think without completely abandoning a tonal quality that I personally like for the show, there’s gonna be high adventure on the high seas; there’s going to be danger and I think we throw a lot at these characters, especially in the first half of the season. It will not be a slow burn, let me put it that way.

Can you preview any of the new characters we might meet in the upcoming episodes?

I could, but I won’t. [Laughs.] I think the answer to those questions lend themselves to the larger arc of where do we go, and I want to let that be a surprise. But there will be new faces – I think one of the things we will quickly realize in the premiere and beyond is, it’s no safer at sea than it was on land, and we will find opposition and obstacles on the water that will drive us back to the coast, and then we will find problems that are equally dangerous there. We’ll be caught in a vise between land and sea as the season develops.

“Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462,” the interconnected web series, is still going on, with the promise that someone from that series will eventually be joining “Fear” in Season 2. Anything you can say about integrating that project into the show and how it’s been working out as a supplemental stopgap between seasons?

In terms of a stopgap and the design of it, I have to give credit to AMC, I think it’s been great, because it’s kept the story alive over the hiatus and I think that’s incredibly helpful. And I think there are characters on that plane that I’ve found really riveting and really interesting and it remains to be seen… I can’t tell you that we’re never gonna see any of them again, but I think it’ll be exciting to see how and when we might integrate them.

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