On Set With ‘Fear the Walking Dead’: Lennie James Directs a Sticky Situation
So said Morgan Jones (Lennie James) into his walkie when we last saw him, bleeding out from a bullet wound and hoping someone was listening in Fear the Walking Dead‘s Season 5 finale. Vicious visionary Virginia (Colby Minifie) had shot the former leader and, with the help of her obedient Pioneers, split up his makeshift family, shipping the once-hopeful group off to parts unknown.
But can Morgan himself learn to just live? Will he live at all? The zombie drama’s Season 6 premiere jumps ahead about six weeks from the finale’s events, revealing how Morgan — now sporting quite the beard — manages to survive his wound and the walkers that were zeroing in on him as Virginia left him for dead. Not-so-spoiler-alert: he isn’t out of the woods just yet. In the premiere, the corporate cowgirl sends a mysterious bounty hunter to locate the still gravely-injured Morgan. “Morgan’s fate is up for grabs, really,” James reveals on set outside of Austin, Texas in February. “It doesn’t necessarily go the way everyone thinks.”
That overcast day was James’ second to last one directing Episode 2, which mostly follows smooth-talking Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), “with a dollop of Alicia [Alycia Debnam-Carey],” James confirms. The tension-filled episode, says Domingo, is a return to form for his mercurial character. “We’ll see elements of Strand from Season 1,” Domingo notes. “I think there’s something about Virginia that he sees in himself. You can’t con a con man, and you can’t play a player.”
Domingo and Debnam-Carey just finished shooting a scene in which Strand, Alicia, and a handful of other captives, under orders from Virginia, must clear out a warehouse filled with the dead. And molasses, lots of it — the sequence features more than 70 oozy extras. Let’s just say, things get messy — quickly. Luckily, the lead actors break through the serious mood with spontaneous singing and lots of laughter, while James confers with the crew.
At least Strand and Alicia are together. One thing to expect this season is a deeper dive into the characters, as the drama takes on an anthology-like structure, focusing on one to two survivors per episode and playing with time between installments. “[We] get to really explore the dynamics of the characters,” Debnam-Carey says excitedly. Executive producer Ian Goldberg likens the episodes to mini-movies with rotating genres. “Each episode has its own world,” he explains over lunch after the cast and crew have cleared out of the catering tent to prep for the next scene. “In the first half [of Season 6], we have everything from action to horror to romance to murder mystery.”
An unfortunate downside to this fresh format is that it’ll take even longer to see what happens next with certain survivors. Newlyweds John and June Dorie (Garret Dillahunt and Jenna Elfman) have been separated, and pregnant scientist Grace (Karen David) was torn from Morgan as the two finally confessed their feelings. The future, hints David, is “quite dark and scary for Grace.”
We do know Dwight (Austin Amelio) and wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista), who parted on The Walking Dead, find each other again, but don’t hold your breath for a big group reunion — at least not right away. “Last season, it was all about these people forming a family,” says executive producer Ian Goldberg. “What does it do to you to be separated from the people who make you who you are?”
There’s also something sinister on the horizon, according to Goldberg. And he isn’t necessarily talking about Virginia, whose layers will be explored this year with the introduction of her kid sister Dakota (Zoe Colletti). He teases: “There will be a threat over the course of the season that I think I can confidently say is the biggest threat to any group in the Walking Dead Universe that we have seen yet.”
Now that’s something to live for.
Fear the Walking Dead, Season 6 Premieres, October 11, 9/8c, AMC