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Karen David Interview On Grace Dying

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There may still be seven more episodes before Fear the Walking Dead reaches its series finale, but as of Season 8, Episode 5 “More Time Than You Know”, one main cast member won’t be making it to the final episode. Spoilers past this point, but that’s a series wrap on Karen David‘s Grace Mukherjee, who died after getting bit by a walker in the previous episode.

“It’s something I knew right from day one,” David told Decider when asked about the surprising midseason exit. “When I joined the show, I knew the trajectory of where Grace’s storyline was going. We all did, in a way, right from the get-go.”

Most of this week’s episode is spent with Morgan (Lennie James) and Mo (Zoey Merchant) trying to get help for Grace — something that shouldn’t be possible given she’s been bitten on the side. (In the world of Walking Dead, if you amputate around a bite quickly there’s a chance the infection won’t spread; it’s hard to chip off most of someone’s ribcage.) To do that, they rush her to June’s (Jenna Elfman) experimental lab, where she’s seen positive results by using radiation on Sherri (Christine Evangelista) and Dwight’s (Austin Amelio) son Finch (Gavin Warren).

Only problem? Grace is already dying of radiation poisoning, which she contracted by working near a malfunctioning nuclear power plant back during her introduction in Season 5. Secondary problem? The treatment isn’t working anyway, as Finch is revealed to be getting worse over the course of the episode. So instead of getting a second (third? fourth?) chance at living, Grace not only has to say goodbye remotely to Morgan, the love of her life, as he runs around in the woods looking for help; but also turns into one of the undead and attacks Mo, her adoptive daughter.

To hear how David prepared for the exit, saying goodbye to Morgan and Mo, and what it was like playing a zombie, read on.

Decider: First of all, I’m so bummed to be doing an exit interview with you. What was it like when you got the call that Grace would be killed off of the show?

Karen David: It’s something I knew right from day one. When I joined the show, I knew the trajectory of where Grace’s storyline was going. We all did, in a way, right from the get-go. We knew that she was exposed to copious amounts of radiation. And there was a point in question where, when she lost her baby, the baby did absorb most of the radiation. And that really bought her time.

It was important for Ian [Goldberg] and Andrew [Chambliss] and Scott [M. Gimple] and I to play out the authenticity of what really did happen in incidents like Chernobyl, where a lot of people did pass. They were exposed to copious amounts of radiation, and everyone’s journey was different… Some people passed quickly, and some of them, seven years later, come up. And so that was the case for Grace. So I kind of always knew it. And after each season, after finishing filming each season, they would tell me a rough sketch of what the next season would look like. And I would always end it with, “and Grace is going to die?” And they’d be like, “Nope, not today!” And I’m like, “Okay!”

And I’m really glad that I had the time that I did. With four seasons, it’s just the perfect amount of time to bond with the character, to do things with the character, and certainly the things that I did with Grace I’ve never done before as an actor,  which is why I joined the show in the first place. Because it was a thrilling new adventure, doing something very different than what I did before, especially genre-wise. So I am just really grateful to have had these four seasons to bond and be so invested deeply with Grace, and I had some amazing storylines. And my whole thing was what was so important for me was to give Grace, the proper send-off, and to lay her to rest.

I’ve never done that before, playing a character long enough where I have to lay them to rest. So this was all the feels and all the emotions for me as a character, as Grace, and as me, Karen, playing Grace. It’s so hard to let go and it’s so hard to say goodbye, but I think my greatest comfort is that she’s now at peace. She’s arrived at a place where she truly trusts and knows that Morgan and Mo are together and will be okay, no matter what. You know, and it was a chance for her to savor those moments and having the opportunity of being a mother, finally, and having the family that she always wanted.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Karen David as Grace, Zoey Merchant as Wren - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Lauren "Lo" Smith/AMC
Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC

Like you said, it’s a beautiful sendoff. I was curious, though, you’re so close to the end of the series at the same time. Was there any frustration in terms of not getting to ride it all the way to the end? Did you at least get to celebrate wrapping with the rest of the cast?

Oh, absolutely. We all knew that it was the final season. So for all of us, it was so deeply important that each of our characters got the closure that they needed and what legacy we wanted to leave for our characters. Certainly, for me, I did a video diary coming towards my final days, and the finality of it became very real when I come into — I had to do a change, and it was literally changing into another set of trousers that had more blood on it. And it became very, very real. And just the shock of it. When I came in, I did a video diary because it just felt so wrong. I was like, “Oh my gosh, like this really is, this is it now.” And it just made me think of the legacy that I wanted to leave for Grace in this vast, expansive universe that we know as Walking Dead. That was so deeply important to me.

So it’s something we all knew, and to play to the integrity of the storylines, it is how it should have ended. I mean, obviously, I would have loved in my heart of all hearts, what we originally thought and what I thought was that… We all knew that Grace was on borrowed time. So at some point she was going to go, but in my mind, I thought, well, we leave it up to the ether. Where I would stay on longer with Morgan and Mo, and it would be implied that at some point she would go. But saying that, I made my husband’s dream come true by turning into a zombie. He’s always wanted that for me. I’ve never seen someone so excited. He’s always wanted me to either play an AI robot, or zombie. So at least I got the zombie bit right. And he was very excited about that.

There’s such a difference in the physicality, obviously, you’re playing a zombie… But also between Grace, who is so earnest, and focusing so clearly on people, and hopeful, and loving, and then you switch to one of the most aggressive zombies I think we’ve seen in a very long time. So I’d love to hear you talk about those differences in physicality and how you played that.

I was really, really nervous about the zombie, embracing my inner zombie, because obviously, I don’t know what that’s like. And it was very painful as well, because knowing that this isn’t Grace, this isn’t Grace the mother, and she’s attacking a daughter, just adds more of the gravity to that scene. And I remember my stunt double PeiPei [Alena Yuan], she sent me some videos when she was showing me playback of how I was doing. Because I want to make sure that I was as authentic as I could be in that physicality, as you said. And it just kind of broke my heart, which is a good thing, because I knew I was doing something right. And PeiPei had guided me really well, along with our incredible stunts team, James [Armstrong], and Jack [Tamplin]. It just broke my heart, because I didn’t recognize that person and I didn’t see Grace at all. It was someone, something else. And that’s how I knew that I pulled it off.

I was very nervous about that. I have a newfound respect– I’ve always had so much respect for our extras, our walkers, and our stunts team, that’s always been there. But now knowing especially what it’s like to go through hours in the chair of going through this transformation. And I didn’t even have prosthetics, you know, some of them do, so they spend longer in the chair. To be in that heat and to be doing those walker sounds, it really takes a toll on your voice. And I just had just newfound respect because it can’t be comfortable. Because I certainly wasn’t. And all that blood they put my mouth I was so like “ugghh.” … I just couldn’t even look at myself, because it was, I actually looked scary. But, as an actor, of course, it was thrilling and fun, because it’s uncharted territory where I’ve never been and never played that kind of physicality. So it was kind of the little kid coming out of me wanting to play a walker. And well, hopefully I pulled it off.

fear the walking dead karen david season 8
Photo: AMC

I did want to ask you about the goodbye between Morgan and Grace, because ultimately, as she’s dying, she really only gets to do that over a walkie-talkie. Which as a fan of the couple is so hard to watch. What was it like playing that scene? And did you have Lennie James in an earpiece at all? Are you just responding to a blank walkie-talkie?

No. So that walkie scene, for both of us, we shot on different days. But it was so important for both of us to be there for each other. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I know Lennie wouldn’t either. But that’s just who Lennie is, he’s so incredibly giving and so generous and kind and loving. I really didn’t have to act in this final episode in the sense that I felt the weight of every moment, of every beat, of every scene, every line, of every tear. I felt everything. Because I knew that these were my final moments.

I just owe so much to having such a beautiful, loving, kind, giving soul that is all Lennie James. It’s been such an honor to be a scene partner for these past five years. And he’s definitely, along with the rest of the cast and crew, made me a better actor for sure and have made me, hopefully, a better human being too. I’ve learned so much from them. It was really hard.

Moments when  Morgan and Grace were in the canoe, and he pulls up to shore and says, “I’ll see you soon.” I said to Lennie between takes, I was like, “It’s our final moment on camera together.” And it’s every moment you kind of know that, that as each day passed, you just knew like, “Oh, God, it’s becoming very real. It’s becoming very final.” You become a TV family. You go through so much together. We certainly did, especially during that tumultuous pandemic. Hats off to AMC, and our crew, for being able to protect us and keep us safe during a pandemic, and allowing us to tell these stories and do what we love to do. It just brought us all closer together.

We’ve been through a lot. And all of that kind of just resonated in every line that I said in that final episode. So yeah, just thinking about it gets me choked up a bit. Because this time, as an actor, if you’re lucky to go from set to set… The time that you have with each other is locked in these moments, and you’ve got to savor them. But I carry them in my heart now.

Obviously, Grace is dead, very much so, at the end of the episode, but there are a lot of different places the franchise can go. If you had an opportunity to bring her back in some sort of prequel form, is that something you’re interested in? Or do you feel like you’ve played out your time in The Walking Dead universe?

If it was going back to a prequel, like you said, to explore more of the beginnings, that’s something that really excites me. Just to delve into more of her backstory, that’s something that really piqued my interest. As far as, like, what I’ve been able to do, I think my only sadness is that, in my mind, I’m a sucker for a happy ending… So I was just really sad that in some ways, in my mind, I would have loved to see her and Morgan and Mo have more time together as a family. But I’m grateful that she had the opportunity to be a mother and to have this, whatever time she had left was to have this family time and no regrets. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for the love of Morgan and Mo, and knowing that is what I took away to lay her to rest.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.



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