The last time Fear the Walking Dead viewers saw Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) before he briefly appeared on one of Al's (Maggie Grace) tapes in the Season 5 premiere was in the Season 3 finale. He was on the Gonzales Dam in Mexico when Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) blew it up, and his fate was intentionally left uncertain, as outgoing then-showrunner Dave Erickson wanted to leave new showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss room to make their own decisions about what characters to bring back for Season 4. In Episode 2 of Season 5, "The Hurt That Will Happen," we found out where Salazar is now, but not how he got there or what else he's been up to in the year-plus (in show time and in real life) since we last saw him. And it doesn't sound like we're going to hear that part of the story.
"You gotta ask the writers," Blades told TV Guide when asked at the ATX Television Festival if fans would ever find out how Salazar survived the dam explosion. "I hope there will be at some point an episode on that. Because it would be interesting. I would love to know."
But Fear now is more interested in how character relationships have changed over time, not details of how those characters got there. Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) never really explained how he survived the dam explosion, either, but they didn't talk about that when Strand found Salazar's new home in a warehouse in Texas.
Strand has a long, complicated history with the Salvadoran survivor, which, in case you don't remember back to Season 3, includes lying about knowing where Salazar's daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) was in order to manipulate Salazar into taking him where he wanted to go. Once they got there and Strand admitted that he'd lied and had no idea where Ofelia was now, Salazar left Strand to be eaten by walkers. Ofelia got bitten by a walker before she ever saw her father again, but he found her literally moments after she died, arriving just in time to put her down before she reanimated. Salazar and Strand reunited at the dam, and that reunion ended with Strand betraying the people who ran the dam and shooting Salazar in the face when he tried to stop him from stealing the water. Salazar survived, but gave Strand a look of pure hatred, like he would kill him if he ever saw him again.
But Salazar didn't kill him. He let Strand come inside and talk about how he's a changed man who wants to help people, and how in order to help people he needs the plane that's collecting dust in Salazar's warehouse. Salazar, understandably, didn't believe that Strand's intentions were pure, and sent him away empty-handed. But, again, he didn't kill him, which means Salazar has changed, too. And Blades said he's still "feeling out" Salazar's changes from where he left off back in Fear's very different third season.
"The writers always seem to know more than the actors," Blades said. "And when a year has gone by and you come back, the effect of that time on the character, on Salazar, is unknown to me. So I have to deal with what they provide me in the scene. And I have to take that and put it in the context of my backstory, the backstory that I have created, and see how I would explain why I'm doing what I'm doing, or why I'm reacting the way I'm reacting."
The backstory Blades is filling in for himself between the dam and now is more focused on why Salazar is still alive, not how. He lost his wife, he lost his daughter... "Why not just shoot himself and get it over with?", Blades asked himself. And his answer is that Salazar has come to believe that there's a reason he's survived the loss of his family — and being burned in a fire, and struck by lightning, and shot in the face, and being on a dam when it blew up. "He's alive for a purpose, and the purpose must be to help people," Blades said. Independently of Morgan (Lennie James) and the rest, he arrived at the same conclusion: The way to keep living, not just surviving, in the bleak new world is to help others. And what that means for Salazar will play out as the season continues.
But in any case, Blades is glad to be back on Fear the Walking Dead. "And I want to thank the fans, because I think Salazar is alive because of you," he said. "Thank you."
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Reporting by Sadie Gennis.