[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 12, “In Dreams.”]
It doesn’t feel presumptuous to say many fans likely went into “In Dreams” expecting the episode to be Grace’s (Karen David) last. There’s never been a straightforward, uncomplicated pregnancy used as a major plot point in the show’s universe: Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) died in childbirth; and while Maggie (Lauren Cohan) survived in the end, but she suffered complications and nearly died, too. (All seems to have gone well for Danai Gurira‘s Michonne, but that took place over a time jump.)
With such a precedent set, it seemed the writing was on the wall for poor Grace…and for much of the episode, it seemed that was the direction things were headed. And then, in the final five minutes, Fear the Walking Dead upended those expectations and introduced a new heartbreak to the franchise with real-world resonance: stillbirth.
We chatted with Karen David about her character’s loss, how she prepared for the episode’s final scene and where Grace goes from here.
What was your reaction to this storyline as you were reading the script?
Karen David: I knew about this storyline pre-pandemic, so I feel like I had the gift of time, which we normally don’t get. I could really let it sit with me because it’s such a sensitive subject. It’s a subject I’ve had personal experience with through my family, and dearest friends who’ve suffered through infancy loss. As an actor, looking at it from an acting perspective, I was excited to delve into something so deeply emotionally, and physically, challenging. I can only hope and pray that I do the storyline justice and with extreme sensitivity, especially having people in my life that have been through this. It’s a real honor to tell Grace’s story.
There is a poem that Scott sent to me that was written by a couple who had experienced losing a child, a young infant. It was an interactive poem, and he said he saw this poem and wanted to share it with me. It was a beautiful, poignant, heartbreaking poem written by two parents about the gift of life and the tragedy of the loss, all at the same time. I cried when I read it, and I immediately printed it out.
I folded it on a piece of paper and tucked it in my bra because that was the one place I could keep it close to my heart. And every time I needed to reconnect, after my lunch break or before a new day of filming, I would take the poem out and read it. It stayed with me through every moment and every beat. It is a reminder similar to what Grace has been through, and it was my way of paying homage and respect to all the families who have been through this experience.
I wanted to ask you about that final, devastating scene with Grace and Morgan (Lennie James). How did you get to that place and prepare for that, as an actor?
When I was preparing for the episode, [I watched] many videos of families who have been brave enough to talk about their grief — I had to press pause in between watching and hearing their stories, it makes me well up just thinking about it — and [I talked] to family members and friends who have been through it.
When it came to that moment, I remember Mikey [Satrazemis, episode director] coming up to me and saying, “It’s just us. It’s just Lennie,” who is the most wonderful, wonderful partner, and I knew I was in the safest hands with him and our crew — it was this close environment. We didn’t want to over-rehearse the scene. We did one take. Everything was one take. It was going to be what it was going to be, as Mikey said. Let’s just go with it — if it’s messy it’s messy, if it’s unbearable it’s unbearable, if it’s not the perfect take, it’s okay. I let myself go, and my tears in that final scene were tears for my family, for my friends, for all those interviews I had watched of families that had been through it. When Lennie placed the prosthetic baby in my hands, it just broke me. I didn’t have to act.
Where does Grace go from here? She has experienced this heartbreaking loss — how does she approach her own survival now?
I think Grace is completely lost. She was only beginning to find some purpose in her life again when she met Morgan and the rest of the community. It does impact her relationship with Morgan and everyone around her, because she is consumed by the unbearable pain that she is going through.
No parent ever gets over the loss of a child. You can only hope and pray that you can breathe through each day and get through, one day at a time. I think that’s Grace’s biggest challenge now, and we’ll see how that impacts her relationship with Morgan and her future. I feel like she has lost all sense of purpose, in losing that child and not only what that represented to her, but to the community. For Grace, I think this is her toughest challenge yet.
Fear the Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC