Spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 3 “Alaska” past this point.
If there’s one thing you don’t expect when you’re watching a Walking Dead show, it’s a lot of smiling. Yet that’s exactly what happened on this week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead, titled “Alaska,” which found a grinning from ear-to-burned-ear Dwight (Austin Amelio) team up with Althea (Maggie Grace) under the steady directorial hand of none other than Victor Strand himself, Colman Domingo.
“You noticed!” Domingo basically yelled when Decider pointed out how surprising it was to see Amelio smile on the series.
Particularly given when we met Dwight (for the second time) he was working directly for Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) on The Walking Dead, was horrifically burned, and ultimately lost his wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista) after she ran away from Negan’s harem, there was no good reason to see happy Dwight. That all changed when the character headed to Fear.
“I remember when I first directed Austin’s entré into Fear the Walking Dead, and I had him smile when he met John Dorie [Garret Dillahunt],” Domingo recalled, of helming the classic “Humbug’s Gulch.” “He said, ‘Oh, Colman. You know, that’s funny. I’ve never smiled on the show.’ I was like, what? I said, ‘Now you smile. You can’t meet John Dorie — he talks about candy, and things like that — and not smile. You’ve got to take that in. I believe that’s part of your journey.’ And so then, we explored that even more so in this episode.”
“It just felt like I was kind of on Mars,” Amelio added. “It was after hiatus, too. We’re coming back to this episode, and it was just like, ‘What? This just feels like a different, different TV show.’ I almost forgot how to smile. I was like, ‘How do you smile? What does that look like? I’ve got to practice.’”
In this week’s hour, Dwight and Al are working for Virginia’s (Colby Minifie) Pioneers, scouting locations for resources, signs of life, and reasons for why different groups have fallen so that Ginny’s burgeoning civilization can avoid the same fate. Versus the threats of death Morgan (Lennie James) faced in the first episode of Season 6, and the literal shit shoveling Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Strand (Colman Domingo) tackled last week, Al and Dwight’s job is a relative cake-walk. There’s danger, to be sure, but the relative freedom allows the duo to bond over skunked beers.
Oh, and their missing loved ones. Dwight has the aforementioned Sherry, who he’s pretty much given up on finding — though surprise, they do have a beautiful reunion right at the end of the episode. And for Al, it’s Isabelle (Sydney Lemmon), the Civic Republic Military helicopter pilot she struck up a brief romance with last season (Isabelle also shows up by episode’s end, though in voice only as Al warns her to stay away from a building infected with disease).
“Someone described it as ‘the lone wolves becoming a wolfpack,’” Maggie Grace told Decider about the episode. “I really enjoyed that description… Austin’s a great dude. Those characters together brought out some interesting colors, I really loved that pairing.”
“Dwight has been through what she’s going through, times 100,” Amelio noted. “It’s a full understanding of another person’s motives.”
Despite that, and surprisingly given the ensemble nature of the show, turns out according to Amelio, he and Grace never worked together on the show before. “In order for that to work, that person sort of needs to be open,” Amelio said. “There just needs to be an ease with vulnerability… The writing and the emotions just go back and forth seamlessly. And then all of a sudden, it just seems like they’re best friends.”
Grace also added that she loved working with both Amelio and Domingo, noting that the episodes where actors direct — Domingo this week, James the previous week — are some of her favorite. Amelio agreed, adding that, “He just feels like your teammate. You try something … And he’s in it with you.”
As for Domingo, the feeling is mutual.
“I really love working with them, they’re such pros,” Domingo said. “They were naturally developing this kinship as well, and I think that resonates on the screen.”
Domingo had an interesting take on the episode, which finds Al confessing to Dwight about Isabelle, and the fact that she may be making a helicopter stop in the nearby city. In the process of trying to get to the landing pad at the top of a skyscraper, the duo find the residents — former office workers who have been living there for the duration of the apocalypse — are not just turning into zombies; the rats in the building are carrying the bubonic plague, as well. Given that it is what he calls a “Die Hard-esque episode,” that nonetheless adds intimate moments between the characters, he wanted it “to have a feel of jazz.”
“Some feel of it, the way it moves,” Domingo continued. “That it has that crackle and pop of city living.”
Domingo didn’t neglect the action elements, though, including a scene where Al and Dwight are crawling through the rat-infested walls.
“I don’t like the rats,” Amelio said. “I’m not a fan. Yeah, it’s cool, because you get to climb through with 50-100 rats. It’s an experience — but I wouldn’t say it’s fun.”
Adding to the fun? The walls were made out of mashed potatoes. Really. “When [Al] pulls it apart, and it sort of crumbles — that was set designers’ genius at work,” Amelio said. “It was all mashed potatoes. It was pretty cool.”
Beyond rats and mashed potatoes, there are those big, Dwight smiles. “There’s that balance with Al,” Domingo noted. “Al was in a more conflicted place — played by the beautiful, wonderful, phenomenal Maggie Grace — and his job was to have her look on the brighter side. I also wanted to take him far away from — I wanted him to feel a bit more whole. Not dwelling on his hunt for his wife. I wanted him to put a period on that, and say, ‘This is my life, and I need to move forward. I need to have joy.’”
Dwight gets that joy in the closing seconds, as he’s reunited with Sherry in exactly the sort of running towards each other in an alley, kissing, the camera sweeping around them moment you’d want, right out of a romantic comedy. The import of the moment — particularly for fans — wasn’t lost on Amelio.
“I knew that the past two years were going to be working up to that moment, which is sort of scary,” Amelio said. “But at the same time, everything comes together on the day. You can plan to bawl your eyes out six months before you know this is going to happen — doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I tried to just let whatever happen, happen between us. Colman allowed that too.”
It helped that Amelio and actress Christine Evangelista have a rapport stretching back to their time together on The Walking Dead. Amelio recalled that filming with her is “an easy thing,” lauding that it’s “fun to hang out with her” and “an interesting person.” Naturally, there will be a lot to work out between the two, with all the years where they haven’t seen each other — and the threat of Virginia on the horizon.
“You’ll see these lives, like two pieces of a puzzle that don’t really fit together,” Amelio said of what’s coming next. “Or one piece of the puzzle’s been folded up and water’s gotten on it, and you’re trying to force it in. It’s going to be different. It’s not going to be what they thought it was going to be.”
For now, at least, for Dwight and Sherry there’s nothing but that joy before what Amelio teases is “some crazy shit’s about to happen.” But what about Isabelle and Al?
“Oh, gosh,” Grace said on the prospect of an actual reunion with Isabelle, and getting Sydney Lemmon officially back on the show. “They’re working on that possibility. I know she has some other commitments as well. But, you know. At least via text, she really enjoyed our show and our group. We certainly hope to work with her in the future. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that. [They’re] gonna kill me. I think I can express a personal hope that that happens, right? That’s allowed.”
Fingers crossed, Isabelle and Al get that joyful, happy ending too. At least until whatever goes down next.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Source: NY Post