The Walking Dead-turned-Fear The Walking Dead star Lennie James had only a handful of concerns when first approached about crossing over from one series to the other: he wanted a worthwhile story for his Morgan Jones that didn’t retread already-covered ground.
James revealed his initial concerns in the just-released first installment of cafe-set mini-documentary series The Minds Behind Fear The Walking Dead, which peeks behind the scenes on the unfolding fourth season with intimate conversations between the cast and creators.
“One of the things that kind of attracted me to this ‘crossover,’” James said with finger quotes, “and when this was first broached to me — my concerns were story and Morgan. Was it right for Morgan, and was it right for me, just in the big arch?”
“I mean, it was that sense of, now that we’ve figured out how to survive — and we have figured out how to survive — we can walk amongst the dead, we can take on the dead. Mostly, we can survive the dead,” James said.
“It was also what you said to us in our first meeting, was you didn’t want to repeat things that had already been done with Morgan,” added new Season Four showrunner Ian Goldberg, who boarded the semi-rebooted fourth season with Once Upon a Time partner Andrew Chambliss. “That was something that was important to us, really important to us.”
“I think that’s kind of the litmus test we hold,” Chambliss said. “And with Morgan, also all the other characters on Fear, it’s always like, ‘have we seen them do this before? How can we push these characters to a new place?’ And for us, it was really about, like we’ve said, finding what comes next.”
Though she goes unmentioned here, that new beginning explored by Chambliss, Goldberg and Season Four executive producer Scott Gimple meant moving on from Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), whose death — revealed only in the mid-season finale — drove the plot and themes this revamped season.
“In the same way that we didn’t want to repeat what Morgan had gone through before, the characters on Fear have all gone on a pretty incredible journey, and we wanted a new journey from The Walking Dead,” Goldberg explained.
The executive producers said the plot first emerged once they had established their theme, summarized in just one word: hope.
“Where we started at the very beginning of the season was, we sat down and started talking about theme [laughs], and you know, where we wanted to take people emotionally before we had any plot,” Goldberg said. “It was just like, ‘what’s the story we want to tell?’”
“And what we want to do with this season of Fear is really tell stories about hope and about why you fight to survive and really, trying to create a world where there was a reason to live,” added Chambliss.
James previously explained Gimple, then showrunner on The Walking Dead, had the idea to bring Morgan from the flagship series to the spinoff to explore the character without the constraints of the larger ensemble in The Walking Dead.
“It was a way of exploring the character on a speed and a level that isn’t possible on The Walking Dead, because there’s so many characters. And it was an opportunity to get a little bit more Morgan-focused in a way that could happen on The Walking Dead, but it would’ve just taken a lot longer,” James said at Comic Con Honolulu.
James added he wasn’t sure “that they could hold onto Morgan in the way that they wanted to hold onto Morgan in the main show,” and that coming over to Fear “was a way of exploring him a little bit more before he finishes.”
Fear The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.