Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday’s midseason premiere of Fear the Walking Dead titled “The Door.”
The world of The Walking Dead is a cruel one, and perhaps has never been crueler than on Sunday’s “The Door” episode of Fear the Walking Dead. Disillusioned after allowing a woman in Lawton to be killed for a murder she did not commit, and then being unable to persuade his wife June (Jenna Elfman) to run away with him, John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) retreated back to his cabin to take his own life.
However, John’s final act kept being interrupted by approaching zombies entering his eye line due to a missing cabin door. Before he could finish the job, he ran into an injured Morgan and Dakota (Zoe Margaret Colletti), and while Morgan’s (Lennie James) attempts to convince John to join him and the others at the dam for their impending fight against Virginia (Colby Minifie) appeared to be unsuccessful in swaying the trick-shot specialist, a wild card was then introduced when Dorie realized that Dakota was the one who had killed Cameron (Noah Khyle) back at Lawton, necessitating the cover-up execution that sent John spiraling.
As Dakota pulled a gun on Dorie, the former lawman finally found his purpose to keep on living in helping Ginny’s sister find her way back on the right path — but that purpose was extinguished when Dakota pulled the trigger and then pushed John off the bridge to the water below. A submerged Dorie fell to the bottom, where a picture of a young John and his father gave him the strength to fight back up to the surface. But it wasn’t enough. By the time June found his body washed up on shore by the cabin, it was a zombified John Dorie that greeted her, forcing June to kill him a second time.
It was an emotional send-off for a fan favorite, but before viewers can stage a revolt at the producers for killing off such a popular character, the man who plays the fallen hero reveals that he approached the franchise powers-that-be back in season 5 about plotting an exit strategy to be written off the show. Below, Garret Dillahunt speaks to EW about John Dorie’s final chapter, why he loved his time on the show but was ready to move on, what his last days on set were like, and how he enjoyed playing a zombie. (Also make sure to check out our episode Q&A with showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg.)
Garret Dillahunt on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So for how long has this untimely demise of John Dorie been in the works?
GARRET DILLAHUNT: I don’t remember exactly when, but it’s something we’d been talking about since season 5. And then we had a lot of conversations between 5 and 6 about how John would exit. And they came up with this great idea — great, and tragic, and wonderful, and believable in this world for how to get him off the show. And, at the same time, propel the story forward.
You say you were talking about it back during season 5. I remember during season 4 when Frank Dillane wanted to move on and leave the show, so they worked that into the story. Other times, it’s a creative story decision that ends someone’s tenure. So what was the backstory in terms of you and your character leaving the show?
Well, I don’t think it’s a secret or anything. It’s a little bit of both of those things. I loved my time on this show and will always cherish it. I get a little antsy after a while, and I’m not a kid anymore, and I have some things I wanted to do. And I’m just fortunate it worked out.
I can’t imagine what goes into logistically planning these series. There are so many moving parts, there are so many people involved. It’s a feat of almost engineering for these showrunners, and [Walking Dead chief content officer Scott M. Gimple], and the writers to navigate all the obstacles in general, putting a TV show on, let alone the needs of their actors. I just feel very fortunate that they were willing to hear it, and consider it, and then come up with a great idea that made everybody happy.
A lot of people die in the world of The Walking Dead, but not all of them get the zombie treatment. You did. What was filming that scene like?
We’d filmed most of 608 pre-pandemic. It was the episode we were shooting when we were shut down. We were just two days short of finishing it. And what we owed was that portion, the crawling out of the river and June lovingly putting John out of his misery, and preserving her memory of him. So we shot that in October, I think. Somewhere around there, late fall, after they opened things up a little bit. So it’s been more than a year that we’ve had to sit on this secret. So I’m going to be quite relieved when the thing airs, and then I can move on, and everyone else can move on too, and enjoy the back half of season 6 and onward with this great cast and group of people.
What was it like playing a zombie?
I didn’t have to do much because he literally probably just turned seconds before washing up on that bank. So he’s a brand new one. And I think they do something CGI with the eyes. And since I was crawling out of a river, I didn’t have to have any contacts in. And so and it was really [director Michael Satrazemis], just coaching from the side, just saying, “Newborn calf. Lamb learning to walk. Reach for her.”
And I don’t think I realized that we were going to shoot that bit in super slow mo, because I kept thinking like, “Man, this seems to be taking forever. I think I would have gotten to her by now.” But they wanted to lengthen that, those last moments between John and June. And it almost seems tender. You’re like, “Is there a little bit of John left in there for a second? Is he fighting it for a little bit harder? Is that a caress on her leg? Or is he trying to grab her and eat her?” So I thought it was pretty effective. And it’s a real skill being a walker, which I do not possess. So I was glad I didn’t have to actually walk. I just got to slip around in the mud for a few minutes and then they put me out of my misery.
Garret Dillahunt and Jenna Elfman on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’
And it all comes full circle. John saved Morgan in a way when we first met both characters, and now Morgan is trying to save John at the very end, and almost does, but not quite. What was it like coming in and going out with Lennie James?
Oh, it was great. That the good news is I’m not actually dead. I get to remain friends with these people forever. And I feel like I will. Lennie’s one of my best friends now, and I look forward to cultivating that relationship. He’s a real good dude. It’s a tricky thing to try to reinvigorate a show, or make such sweeping changes as they did. I can’t think of a better group of people I would have liked to have been in that foxhole with while we made that effort. And I just think it’s a really talented group.
If the Walking Dead universe has a legacy, I think it’s going to be about their skill and talent at assembling groups of people. I can’t find an a–hole in the bunch. I really like everybody behind and in front of the camera. And as far as this cast goes, I just feel like they could do anything. We could start a company with this group of actors and put on all styles, all manner of performances. And that’s what excited me about joining the show in the first place. I hoped we’d be able to do all kinds of things and I’ll miss everybody, that’s for sure.
John’s plan is to kill himself. At the end though, after discovering Dakota killed Cameron, and she pulls a gun on him, he says helping her may be his reason to live and keep going. Of course, she then shoots him in the chest, but had she not, was he serious? Did he view her as something worth living for, or was he just trying to say something to keep her from shooting him?
No, I think that was intentional. I think that is where his head was at. He didn’t want to be there. He was a pretty healthy person mentally in general. He’s pretty optimistic. He’s got his head on pretty straight, but that whole thing with Janis, and I think something just not feeling right about the whole situation under Virginia and her rule, and maybe he just hated that hat so much. I don’t know. That’s a joke.
But I think he really was at his last tether and felt like he wasn’t really valuable to anybody or didn’t belong in this world. But I think while Morgan’s hammering at him, and reminding him and his unwillingness to just surrender John to that fate, really was affecting to him. And that I think he would have gone on with them back to everybody.
We rearranged those last lines just a little bit right before I’m shot so that the last thing I say is, “That’s not what I want.” I wanted that to be the last thing he says before he then is shot. It’s kind of cruel, but it’s also, dramatically, I think, real interesting. The tragedy of that, of like, “I want to die, I want to die. You know what? I don’t want to die.” And then you get killed from another method. It’s almost like Romeo and Juliet when one takes the poison, and then the other one wakes up, and you’re like, “Oh wait, wait, wait, wait.”
Yeah, and the other layer to that, obviously, is that Dakota set this chain of events in motion. If she had not killed Cameron, then John’s faith in that community at Lawton probably does not get so wrecked. And maybe he’s never even in that suicidal place.
Yeah, that’s true. I really loved episode 604. It was one of my favorite episodes that I got the honor to do. But he just falls short at every turn in that episode. Everything he tries, he’s just a little late, just a little slow on the uptake. He’s just a little behind, he’s just a little blind. And that really beats him up, that he was unable to protect people. And that’s what he thinks he does. He’s a sheepdog. And he just thought, “I’m just not effective here.” It’s a shame. There are ways around those feelings. You wish he’d talked to June more, you wish he’d opened up. He shouldn’t have run away, but he’s not in the right frame of mind. He’s not thinking straight. And unfortunately, he can’t come back from it.
Garret Dillahunt and Lennie James on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’
What were your last days on set was like when they wrapped Garret Dillahunt on Fear of the Walking Dead?
Even if you want off a show, it’s never easy to leave one. There’s seldom real bad blood or something like that. It’s often just time. And in this case, I like everyone so much, the five months or six months off was weird between it, because even the new projects you felt like you had to keep quiet about, or do on the sly because if anyone found out about them, they’d know, like, “Oh my gosh, well, what about that? What about Fear?” And I love the show and I don’t want to hurt the show. So it was wild to have kept this a secret for so long. I’m shocked that we did. But you also get those five months off to reflect, and we’ve all just been sitting around, trying to survive, and then everyone’s missing work.
And so then you finally get to go back to work, but it’s just for a couple of days where it’ll be the last days of work on this. And then everything was delayed. The moving on has been delayed. The next projects have been delayed. It’s pretty amazing. And it left me in a very… I don’t know what the word is. I was going to say fragile state almost when you come back to do the last ones, because you’re so happy to see everybody again, you’re just like, “Ah.” Not just to be on a set, but like, “All my old friends.” And then you’re gone. And it’s COVID conditions on a set, so you can’t really go hug everybody, or give everybody smooches, and squeezes, and wish them well properly.
So it’s this weird distance goodbye. And they’re in the middle of setting up the next scene. They moved right on from dying John. So I’m thanking everybody. They gave me a real sweet gift, a shadow box of Dorie’s pistols, with John Dorie spelled out in Scrabble letters. I took my original hat. It was fitted to my head, so I took that. And I’ve got some nice souvenirs. And it was beautiful. It was sweet and sad, the bittersweet. And I’m excited for the future. There’s a lot of things I’ll miss on the show. Obviously, a lot I won’t. There’s always a lot you won’t, but I’m real excited for what the future holds, and I’m real happy. And I’m really excited to stay in touch with the fans. I’ll see you on the circuit, and John exists, and Garret’s still alive. John will always exist. And he was a great character. I was honored to play him.
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