This post contains spoilers for the Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 midseason finale.
Sunday’s Fear the Walking Dead midseason finale delivered the series’ most shocking blow yet: Madison Clark, one of only two characters that remained on the series from its very beginning, has died.
Madison met her ultimate fate doing what she’s always held most dear: protecting her kids. When the Vultures—led by the malevolent Ennis, who violated his brother Mel’s code of scavenging but not killing—unleashed a bunch of burning zombies on The Diamond, Madison saw that her kids were trapped in a car amid a sea of walkers. She lit a flare and lured the massive horde into the stadium, trapping them inside. She had planned to escape, but realized she was trapped. In the end, Madison’s last words, said to her children via radio before she threw the flare to the oil-soaked ground, were, “I was afraid to lose this place because I thought you needed it to stay who you are right now, but you know it: no one’s gone until they’re gone.”
Kim Dickens, who has played Madison since the series premiere, was one of only two original actors left on Fear. Alycia Debnam Carey, who plays her daughter Alicia, is now the only remaining actor whose work on the show dates back to the series premiere—at least, unless Rubén Blades’ Daniel Salazar, who has been absent from this season, ever returns. Technically, we didn’t see Madison die—so there’s a sliver of a chance that this sequence was a seriously gut-wrenching trick from a franchise that specializes in those kinds of gambits. After all, Daniel Salazar had his own miraculous resurrection in Season 3, after apparently being burned alive.
But something tells me that this death really will stick. And if it does end up being a trick, Dickens hid the truth well on Sunday’s Talking Dead, where she opened up about saying goodbye to her character.
“It’s so sad; it’s been sad,” the actress said. “Madison has been an incredible character to play.”
Dickens told host Chris Hardwick, that it’s been an honor to play Madison, particularly because of what she represents. “She’s this special character that has pushed through perimeters of female leads in a genre piece and she’s complex, she’s flawed, she’s good, she’s bad, she’s a mother, she’s not in her twenties or thirties, it’s unique.”
This season has not been friendly to the Clark family, which suffered no casualties throughout the show’s previous three seasons. (Madison’s fiancé, Travis Manawa, and the rest of his family, suffered grim fates as the series unfolded, but none of the Clarks died until this season.) It started with Nick, who died earlier on in a devastating and beautifully shot episode; now, Madison has joined him. Naturally, Dickens was upset when she found out what would become of her character: “I spoke to the new show-runners and the producer before going into production this season, and they told me that’s where they saw the story going this season, and I was heartbroken,” Dickens told Hardwick. “I was devastated.”
If that isn’t enough proof that Madison is really and truly gone, Dickens also solidified her character’s demise by making it Instagram official:
Madison’s fate also comes at a pivotal moment, both for Fear and for the Walking Dead franchise as a whole. Andrew Lincoln is on his way out from The Walking Dead in its upcoming ninth season, with Norman Reedus’s Daryl Dixon expected to replace Rick Grimes as the series’ lead. Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple has moved to a position in which he will oversee the Walking Dead franchise and all its moving parts, while Angela Kang has stepped in to replace him on the flagship series. Fear has undergone its own transition this season with newly installed showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg. Everything from storytelling style to cinematography appears to have changed on the series, and Madison’s death is the biggest shift of all. Does it mean Alicia Clark is now the series’ new protagonist?
If so, the show is in good hands. Alicia has been a beloved character since Fear began—and genre fans were likely already warm on actress Debnam Carey because of her performance on the CW’s The 100, where her character Lexa’s death stirred serious controversy. If Alicia becomes the Fear ensemble’s new star, the series’ dynamic will almost certainly shift in fascinating ways. Madison’s protective inclinations as a mother formed a large part of the series’ core; in many ways, she was a female Rick Grimes. But while The Walking Dead decided to kill Carl—who remains seen as the future of the comics, where the character is still alive—Fear appears to have actually embraced its young protagonist as its new hero. Lexa would be proud.
Given the way Fear’s timeline has unfolded this season, there’s a chance we’ll see more of Madison through flashbacks. Barring that, though, it appears another Clark has bitten the dust for good.