The Walking Dead

Fear the Walking Dead showrunners say a big reinvention is coming in season 8

"Season 8 will have a very different environment from what we have seen before. And it will, in many ways, be centered around the water," Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss tell EW.

Alicia Clark is out, and Madison Clark is back in. But that is just one of the huge changes coming to Fear the Walking Dead — changes that were put into motion on the final two episodes 7 and are about to kick into overdrive in season 8.

While Alycia Debnam-Carey announced her departure from the series after season 7’s penultimate episode, which appeared to show Alicia finally recovered from the fevers that had been plaguing her after being bit by a zombie, her on-screen mother Madison, played by Kim Dickens, made her long-awaited return a week later on Sunday’s season finale.

While Madison appeared to be killed off back in season 4 when she sacrificed herself by leading zombies back into the baseball stadium and then locking herself in so the others could escape, it turns out she actually escaped as well… although her return episode didn’t reveal any details as to how she survived.

We learned while talking with showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss, however, that those details are indeed coming. And that’s not all that’s on the way. Goldberg and Chambliss say the show — which ended season 7 with Madison and Lennie James’ Morgan en route to P.A.D.R.E. to get baby Mo back — will experience “one of the biggest reinventions we’ve done.” A reinvention that may not actually take place on land.

We spoke to the showrunners to get the scoop on Madison’s return, what Alicia’s departure means for the series, and what to expect next.

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark, Avaya White as Baby Mo - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Lauren "Lo" Smith/AMC

ANDREW CHAMBLISS:  It was a lot of fun. It was definitely a nerve-wracking experience. It had been something that we had been talking about for at least a couple seasons. And we were always batting around ideas for it, but then as we started to kind of figure out where season 7 was going, we started [figuring out] the story we were setting up with P.A.D.R.E. and a lot of the themes that we were going to be dealing with at the end of season 7, going into season 8. It felt like it was the right time.

So then Colman Domingo, who is a very good friend of Kim’s, kind of put out some feelers for us. And Kim seemed very interested in returning and continuing Madison’s story. So we ended up having a Zoom with her, where we pitched her the broad idea for how Madison would return, who her character would be in the time in which we have not seen her.

And she got excited, we got excited, and we started set to work on hammering out all the specifics of it. And we kind of sat on that news for, I think, about a year, which was fun to go from having that conversation with her to then seeing her actually show up on set about a year later to shoot that story.

So how did it work in terms, of did you come up with what had happened to Madison after the stadium and then built your P.A.D.R.E. story out of that, or did the P.A.D.R.E. story come first, and then you built Madison’s return into that?

IAN GOLDBERG: They kind of went hand-in-hand as soon as we started to form ideas about what the identity of P.A.D.R.E. was and what their philosophy was, and how we were going to incorporate that into the story. We started to talk about, “Well, what if Madison had been part of P.A.D.R.E.?”

And it also helped explain for us one of the big questions, as we were kind of digging into bringing her back, which is Madison was a character established from the beginning of the series that was all about her family. And we know if she’s still been out there since her last episode in season 4, why hasn’t she found Alicia? Why hasn’t she found her kids?

And this was the answer that we landed on, which is that she had been held hostage by P.A.D.R.E. and forced to do a lot of things she didn’t want to do. And that’s where we find her. And so it just was this really interesting heartbreaking change for Madison of being somebody who was all about her family, and now has become someone who has to rip families apart.

Fear the Walking Dead- Kim Dickens

Kim Dickens on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ | CREDIT: LAUREN “LO” SMITH/AMC

Was bringing Kim back tied at all to Alycia Debnam-Carey telling you guys that she was leaving the show?

CHAMBLISS: They’re definitely linked. And I think as we see in the finale, Madison is grappling with all the things that she did in service of trying to get to her kids only to learn that being reunited with them in Nick’s case impossible. And as far as she and Morgan think in Alicia’s case, very unlikely.

A big part of her story is going to be kind of dealing with that news. That being said, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Madison will give up hope on Alicia, and as Madison herself says, “No one has gone until they’re gone.” So Madison’s story, where it goes and whether or not she’ll ever pursue Alicia, that’s all kind of future story.

There’s no explanation given for how she got away from the baseball stadium back in season 4. Is that something you plan to get into at all in season 8?

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. I mean, we can’t say much more beyond that, but it’s something that we will be unpacking.

In flashback form or just described by the character?

GOLDBERG: Could be either, could [be] both.

What was it like finally getting Madison and Morgan on screen together?

CHAMBLISS: It was a lot of fun. Because I think these are two characters who are incredibly iconic within the Walking Dead universe. They were on screen in the same episodes in season 4, but they never actually met. And it was a lot of fun to put them together, but to put them together in a way that was antagonistic.

And really, the reason we landed on that was we wanted someone who could view Madison in a way that no one else could. And Morgan, when he first meets Madison, doesn’t know who she is. So he’s not bringing all the preconceptions that all the other characters in the show who had interacted with her would have.

And then we got to kind of all turn that on his head when he finally realized it was Madison, and the woman who was standing in front of him who stole his daughter is not the woman he has heard so much about, not the woman who Alicia and Strand sat around that campfire in season 4 and told him about, about how heroic she was, and the great length she went to protect her family. So it’s our way of having Morgan see the new Madison, and then being able to contrast what he knew of the old Madison.

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark, Lennie James as Morgan Jones - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Lauren "Lo" Smith/AMC

Kim Dickens and Lennie James on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ | CREDIT: LAUREN “LO” SMITH/AMC

The P.A.D.R.E. people were like, “We’ll tell you what you’re called.” But I don’t remember ever hearing a new name.

CHAMBLISS: We’ll hear it in season 8.

With the bodies buried in sand with the heads popping out as the surf comes in, was that a nod to Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen in Creepshow?

GOLDBERG: That’s a great segment in Creepshow. We were actually inspired initially by old westerns. We didn’t know that this was the term for it when we looked it up, it was called the sand necktie. And we see it in a lot of the old westerns. And we thought it was just a striking image to bring that into the zombie apocalypse.

And also, it kind of spoke to this group of bandits who’d had their kids taken from them, and what this has done to them that they are now doing this to other people. So it worked just both as a horrifying image and like an embodiment of the thematics we were going for.

We see Madison and Morgan at the end traveling on a small boat to what looks like a bigger boat around the bend. Is that boat P.A.D.R.E.?

CHAMBLISS: That boat is not P.A.D.R.E., but that boat will be taking them to P.A.D.R.E. And yeah, that’s as much as I’ll say about the location of P.A.D.R.E.

What can you say about what these folks at P.A.D.R.E. are doing with these children after they are taken?

GOLDBERG: Well, I wish I could say more about this, but honestly, we get into that in season 8. That is very much what season 8 is about, is seeing how that philosophy that Madison talks about of P.A.D.R.E., of separating kids from their parents, what the end result of that is with the kids that they’ve taken. And to say anymore would spoil where we’re going in season 8. But just know that’s very much going to be answered right away at season 8.

With Alycia Debnam-Carey leaving the show, how does that impact the action and the story in season 8?

CHAMBLISS: I think it impacts it in a really big way, because she was such a core character throughout the length of the show. She, in season 7, was one of the few characters who had been there from the very beginning. Strand joined a few episodes after the pilot of Fear. So it definitely changes the fabric of the show. And as we were kind of alluding to earlier, her absence is definitely a part of the narrative, and is definitely something that Madison is going to be dealing with in a pretty big way.

Colman Domingo as Victor Strand, Kim Dickens as Madison Clark - Fear The Walking Dead

Kim Dickens and Colman Domingo on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ | CREDIT: RICHARD FOREMAN JR/AMC

It’s interesting, because you have Strand and Alicia, who were so close. But before there was Strand and Alicia, there was Strand and Madison. So how should we anticipate Strand might react to finding out Madison is alive?

GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, you said it. There was such a strong core friendship between the two of them. I think that’s going to be pretty seismic news for him. The other thing is that Strand’s got a lot to make up for after the person he became in season 7, and so does Madison, in terms of what she told Morgan she’s been doing for some time now. So there may be some connection between Strand and Madison on that front. But again, we don’t want to spoil where that’s going, but it’s going to be big when they come face-to-face again.

Anything else you can tease about the arc of season 8?

CHAMBLISS: I think one thing that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the production of the show is that we’ve been for the past four seasons in Texas and we’re going to be actually moving the show to Savannah, Georgia, which is on the water. And we end the season with Morgan and Madison going out to a boat. So I think it’s safe to say that season 8 will have a very different environment from what we have seen before. And it will, in many ways, be centered around the water.

GOLDBERG: In [season 7 episode 16], Madison is in a mirrored room speaking to someone on the other side of a mirror. We will find out who that person is on the other side of the mirror. And the other thing I could just say in conjunction with moving to Savannah, we always talk about doing reinventions on the show every season. This will be one of the biggest reinventions we’ve done. We’ll be introducing P.A.D.R.E., and kind of seeing that for what it is, removing the location. But the circumstances in which we find the characters is, we hope, going to be very surprising for everyone. It’s a big change.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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