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Exclusive: Director Michael Satrazemis on Filming the Fear the Walking Dead Finale & the Shocking Ending

***The following interview contains big spoilers for the finale so please watch it before reading***

Fear the Walking DeadTonight, the final episode of Fear the Walking Dead aired on AMC and AMC Plus. “The Road Ahead,” which was directed by Michael Satrazemis, picked up where part one of the finale ended, with Madison (Kim Dickens) having stabbed Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman), only to have him reveal that Tracy (Antonella Rose) was Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey)’s daughter. What follows is an epic conclusion of second chances and things coming full circle, with a shocking reveal before the end. 

Recently, Satrazemis spoke with SciFi Vision about filming the finale, including paralleling the scene of Madison’s sacrifice to that of season four, what it was like working on the end of a series, the challenges of the episode, working with a lot of walkers, keeping the secret of the final reveal, and more.

Read the full transcript below.

SCIFI VISION:   When you first found out you were going to direct the finale, what was running through your head? Did it make you more nervous, because it's such an important episode? Or were you just really happy that you got to do the finale? Did that fact change the way you felt about it?

Fear the Walking DeadMICHAEL SATRAZEMIS:   I mean, I knew I was going to do the finale at the beginning of the season, And I would have demanded that I get to do it. Listen, I love to put a great deal of pressure on myself and convince myself I can ruin things, just because I like how I react when I'm terrified. So, this was pretty easy. You know, it's the end of a series. So, that was kind of front loaded in, and then you start processing, you start thinking about the complications of the end. You know, at the end of every season, if you're directing the last one, a lot of people are moving on, and they're thinking about other jobs and vacations and things like that. The end of a series, people are processing the end of a family and the end of playing a character forever and not seeing people for years. So, I think that the important thing, or the thing that I kind of latched on to that we needed to do, was to stay together and be a family and live in the present and not waver, not think about tomorrow, and to stay locked in and do all of the amazing things that we've been doing, but better than ever. Also, it was an honor to have this script. I love that Ian [Goldberg] and Andrew [Chambliss] really came full circle and that it's about as happy as you can ever be in the apocalypse, which is riding off into the sunset with an ounce of hope. I mean, who knows what's down the street, even a mile, let alone back in Los Angeles. But to get that, the mother and daughter reunited, to have Madison and Alicia together, even with [Tracy (Antonella Rose)], a new daughter, and riding into the future together, is such a beautiful ending. It felt complete. It didn't feel like we're starting other shows. It's what you want to do when you're ending the show, and then you just want to do it as big as possible. We have so many talented creators and so many people; everybody really did stay locked in. But yeah, you're always going to be nervous. 

You made me wonder, just by what you said. We’re people kind of somber then, because it was ending, that you kind of had to deal with? 

Well, yeah, I mean, we all know that it’s the end, even though you know you're going to see everybody. Like, Lenny [James], Morgan, was hard for me. I mean, I was on the pilot of The Walking Dead. I mean, I was there as a camera operator when Morgan came back, and then as a DP, and then as a director, and then came over with Lenny in season four, and to say goodbye to him, I mean, I was tearing up a couple times; some of his performances were amazing. Then, his actual goodbye felt like this goodbye, and then a week and a half later, he had to come back for some reshoots. Two weeks later, we ate dinner somewhere, and a month later, we had coffee in Austin…But it's really hard to not process that. Plus, we have 300 people. You have 300 people that you can love inside and out for everything they give, and you can't help [but] process that. I mean, you can't help but not try to process that. You just have to put your head down and literally ignore it. You know it's going to creep up; it doesn't matter. Show’s gonna be over, you’ll be in the shower, and you're gonna feel the end. But I was trying to, you know, prolong it for the actors. There's a character that they built that they've been inside of for years that they're starting to realize they're never going to play again, or that they may never play again. You never know in the apocalypse. 

I
was gonna say, with this show, it's hard to know. You never know. So, you directed, obviously, in this episode, Madison saving everybody with the explosion and everything. But you also directed the scene originally when she did that at the stadium, and we thought obviously, we thought she was dead at that point. So, what did you kind of, I guess, bring to try to do so something similar to that to kind of throw back to it, but to also make it different? Like, were you thinking about that scene as you were filming this one?
 

Of course, of course, [and] it wasn't as I was filming, [it was also] in prep. We talked about it. I mean, that was, you know, 408 trying to give Kim Dickens a heroic exit into whatever her future was going to be, which nobody knew it would be finishing season eight with us. At that point in time, I had talked to Ian and Andrew about, like, “Hey, let's drop the dialogue stuff out; let's go into super slow motion, so it'll be a highlight reel of the stadium, and you'll jump through memories. It'll be beautiful. And it really worked out well. I was really happy with what we did and felt we had sent Madison off in glory, and then we had to kind of end the show and do it again. It was Ian and Andrew that brought it back up and were like, “We're going to have Madison come through and sacrifice herself to save everything.” And we just said, “Well, let's do what we did.” I mean, it's beautiful when your past and echoes what your future is, and that was a visual way to do it. So, it wasn't accidental. 

You make me wonder. You mentioned the flashbacks; when you put the flashbacks in, are you choosing the scenes or is that something that's already done in the script, and you just have to know where it's going to go at

You mean, when when we saw images of them? 

Yeah. Like, are you just deciding kind of where they fit in and what pieces to use, or is that already written out in the script? 

Fear the Walking DeadNo, I mean, because you have to - [laughs] Well, what we talked about is we wanted to see them happy. We wanted to see in her faded memories - like she was having kind of a traumatic experience, and she's seeing them, and we want them to be bright images, and there's not a lot in the apocalypse for anybody, so they were fairly limited. We had to dig through; the editors had to dig through the entire show to just find moments and memories when they were happy, because most of the time in the apocalypse you’re running for your life. Maybe you get a smile, but then most of the time when somebody smiles they immediately die. So, it was just just trying to find those, but they weren't scripted each frame from each scene. 

Interesting. I just was curious about that. 

We talked about what was happening to Madison as she couldn't breathe. She was going into this kind of traumatic experience and she was seeing them. And that also helped lead up to - it works really well with the reveal of Alicia, obviously. 

Right. So, obviously, it was a surprise that Alicia came back, and I'm assuming you guys knew that a long time ago, but was it hard to keep that under wraps? Because I assume that a lot of times, there's probably fans around while you're filming and everything, and usually AMC announces things ahead of time, and they didn't. So, I was really surprised. But how was it during filming? Was it hard to keep people out and not reveal it? 

Yeah, I mean, we knew for quite a while. We told nobody, not even the crew. You know that everyone's gonna be excited. I mean, we're ending the show and people love Alycia, you know, Alicia with a Y. So, everyone will be excited. People be talking. It's tricky to keep anything down. I think you should not even try to have secrets anymore, [laughs]because it always backfires. So, it's almost better if you can craft the way you want it to come out. But we did a pretty good job. I don't know how. She snuck in; she's snuck out. I really don't know. I mean, always, I assume there’s no way; let's not try. I even say stuff like, “let’s not try.”…Maybe it was just the luck of the end, and we were blessed. 

The other thing I was going to ask is obviously this episode has - I mean, a lot of them have; I shouldn't say this episode, but lot of them have a lot of walkers in it. How much harder is it when you have tons of extras? What kind of things do you have to go into worrying about with all that, in addition to everything else you're already worrying about? 

Well, I mean, it's just the amount of people, to bring them in. I mean, when you ask for an actor, one actor’s sitting in a chair, and they do little touch ups, and then they come in. When you're asking for 125 people to come in, you can guarantee some of them are still in the bathroom, some have taken off half their wardrobe, some are thirsty, and they're drinking water, you know, it's just human staggering. You can't keep it in. Then, really, I mean, with that amount of walkers, it's the one walker ruins the bunch. It's the bad apple thing. So, it's really keeping a keen eye. It's very hard to kind of do; you almost have to defocus your view to keep a keen eye to make sure that you don't have that one bad, crazy walker, because then, all of a sudden, that's all you're staring at for the rest of the scene in those shots. Luckily, we're very lucky that the apocalypse has been so popular, that when people come to work, they are really into being a walker and haven't had that much of a problem. It's like, it's a badge of honor, and I don’t know how, because it's really difficult work. If it wasn't for all these amazing people that want to come in and lose their face and be spoken to like they are a dead person - because it's hard not to. I've been like, you know, “Sir,” and hear, “I'm a girl!” and I'm like, “Sorry, looks like a dead man to me, a dead woman to me.” But we've been really lucky the show has such a strong fan base that even the people that want to come in and be walkers really, really take it seriously and then do a pretty fantastic job. There's always one here and there. 

What was the hardest scene that you had to film in the finale? If you can think back, was there one that sticks out that logistically was just more challenging? 

Well, they just did all of the elements of going down into the cell and killing the walkers, just because we had layers of VFX. And we had practical effects hitting all the things and the torches. It doesn't seem difficult. That one technically was really difficult. You know, the kind of fighting ring was super difficult, because we had so many characters, and I really wanted to shoot moments with each one of them just to really process the trapped and the failing, and the “Oh man, this is it.” I wanted to do that for everybody, because I didn't know where I wanted to use each layer. So, that one, just in the amount of time, and me, the greed that I want to have story-wise for when we edit. You know, it was really storming it, but again, we just have such an amazing crew. David Morrison, the director of photography, was just really, really quick. [The] lighting and amazing camera department and the actors are in it when they're off camera. They're still screaming and yelling and killing and like, you just don't find anybody not 100% committed. It's how you can do something that big on a TV kind of timeline. And we don't have the kind of eighteen day episodes. [laughs]We’ve got tens and twelves.

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