Before John (Garret Dillahunt) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) reunite with their group of survivors following a dead end search for Dwight's missing wife, they come across a greyed tree that has been painted over with a hopeful message: "If you're reading this it means you're still here."
Also depicted is a white ladder ascending from what appear to be flames painted on the base of the tree:
This symbolism would appear to be representative Madison's fate: she seemed to perish in a flashback revealed in the mid-season 4 finale when she made a final stand at the Dell Diamond Baseball Stadium, where Madison ignited a flare when staring down an advancing horde of walkers.
Madison then met her apparent fiery end when consumed by flames, saving the lives of children Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) as her final act.
The most encouraging piece of evidence is a potential future spoiler that surfaced on The Spoiling Dead Fans: a set photo from a future episode showed yet another tree similar to the one discovered by John and Dwight, this time with a white bird emerging from the flames and the quote "no one's gone until they're gone."
Not only was that quote borrowed from Madison's last words, but "No One's Gone" was the title of Madison's death-isode. An injured bird was also a key detail from a story Madison shared with documentarian Althea (Maggie Grace).
These trees will continue to play a role in the back half of the season as evidenced by the Season 5B trailer debuted at San Diego Comic-Con, which shows both Alicia and Strand (Colman Domingo) encountering the trees.
Could Fear retcon Madison's controversial death?
In an October interview with ComicBook.com, Dickens was doubtful Madison would have elected to stay behind, telling us, "I'm pretty sure Madison would have shimmied up that wall."
Despite that comment, Dickens later said she didn't expect Fear to revisit Madison — "As far as I know, she's dead," she told MovieWeb in March — but added she would consider revisiting what she called her "dream role."
"We would have to sit down and talk about it, but I love the character, I love the fans, and like I said, I was so proud of the show," Dickens said. "So, I would never say no, without discussing it and seeing what they were talking about."
Showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg — who have filled that position since Season 4 and earlier defended the decision to kill Madison — teased a "big change" that would "reinvent" the Walking Dead spinoff ahead of Season 6 when appearing at Comic-Con:
"Without giving something away, the world is going to expand in a big way and by the time we get to the end of the season, it's really going to shake the entire group to the very core and really change the show in a way that will launch us into Season 6, in a really big way," Chambliss said.
"We're constantly striving to change what Fear is and reinvent it. So just as soon as everyone thinks they've figured out what we're doing, we change things up, and that's gonna continue through Season 5. There'll be a big change at the end of Season 5."
The showrunners hinted the change is one that has been long in the works.
"We really see Season 5 as one big epic story, but as you'll see if you continue to watch, it all builds to an ending which very much sets up what the design of Season 6 is going to be and we've been planning it for a while," Goldberg said.1comments
"When you go back and watch it all," he added, what happens "might seem inevitable."
Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 returns with its mid-season premiere Sunday, August 11 on AMC.