Huge spoilers for the Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 premiere, but the new big bad of the series is… Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). Or at the very least, Strand has taken a seriously villainous turn in the episode, something that co-showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss have been planning since Season 6.
“The thing that we got excited about was essentially platforming Strand as a villain that came from within our group’s own ranks,” Chambliss told Decider.
In the episode, picking up on the cliffhanger from the Season 6 finale, the world of Fear the Walking Dead — and in fact the entire Walking Dead universe — has been massively transformed by an exploding nuclear warhead. Now covered in ash and smoke, most of the environment is completely uninhabitable. The lone beacon of hope? Strand’s Tower, a community he’s built off the back of Howard (Omid Abtahi), who collected great works of art and kicked off the whole process.
On the surface, Strand’s community is a utopia, full of yoga and fresh food. But under the surface, it’s powered by Strand’s obsessive need to prove both Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) wrong about him. And to do that, he not only builds up The Tower, but also dons a new costume that one could probably call “General Strand.”
“Strand really sees himself as this historical figure whose writing a new chapter in his own history, in the greater history,” Chambliss continued. “So, that’s why he’s carrying a sword from 19th Century Texas history. That’s why he’s wearing this jacket that also has a historic relevance to him and the hat that he has of a military general. It’s all this image that Strand is cultivating of himself as this historic figure.”
In order to introduce Strand 2.0, the showrunners (who also wrote the episode) made the choice to start with a new character named Will (Gus Halper), who is living on his own in the nuclear wasteland. After encountering Strand’s group, he’s taken back to The Tower and it quickly becomes clear that Will isn’t a random survivor at all. In fact, he was a member of Alicia’s group that was locked in a bunker at the end of the previous season. He knew Alicia, maybe even loved her, but was kicked out for unknown reasons that may or may not have to do with “PADRE,” Season 7’s mystery word.
And then at the end of the episode, after Strand and Will bond, the former throws the latter off the roof of The Tower, killing him.
“We wanted to have someone come in and view Strand with a completely clean slate,” Goldberg explained. “At least while we’re watching it, we think he knows nothing about Victor Strand or who he is; and we get to see the terror, we get to see everything that Strand’s built, and really get to see Strand as this heroic figure who has been able to kind of carve out this little oasis in the nuclear fallout.
“And as the story progresses and we realize that will has some connections to Alicia and that he and Strand have some common interests, our hope was to build what felt like kind of a genuine kinship between these two men, and make it feel like perhaps Will and his history with Alicia could be the thing that reminded Strand of who he used to be, and who he wanted to be for Alicia. And we wanted to do that so that we could then pull the rug out from under the audience and have Strand turn on a dime when he realizes he’s allowing his emotional attachment to Alicia get the better of him.”
So if you were watching the episode and thinking that Will was about to become a new series regular, and Strand’s right-hand man? That was the whole point. But that said, this is Fear the Walking Dead, and even though Will has definitely been zombified by the end of the episode, doesn’t mean we won’t see him again.
“As we hinted at in this episode, he does have some history with Alicia and we may very well go into the bunker and see what transpired between those two,” Goldberg noted.
Ultimately, though, what Season 7 — at least the first half — is about is Strand’s newfound power versus Morgan’s hopeful philosophy (more on where that stands on next week’s episode), and the outside world.
“[Will’s death] set the stakes and the spike for what the season was going to be about, as we have the world outside of Strand’s tower, and we have Strand in the world inside of his tower, and how those two things are going to collide,” Chambliss said. “Starting with Strand was really important for setting the tone and the promise of the conflicts to come.”
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC, and streams a week early on AMC+.