(WARNING! Spoilers for Season 4, Episode 3 of Fear the Walking Dead inside!)
Well, we didn't see that coming. In a shocking twist, Fear the Walking Dead just killed off one of its OG characters.
Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), son of Madison (Kim Dickens), brother of Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), boyfriend of Luciana (Danay Garcia) and in some ways the show's most important character, got shot in the chest by Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), a girl he'd once cared for but who turned out to be a spy for the Vultures. In the final moments of the hour, the third episode of Season 4, called "Good Out Here," he died while Luciana, Alicia, Strand (Colman Domingo) tried to save him and Morgan (Lennie James), Althea (Maggie Grace) and John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) looked on.
Up until this point, Fear has been the story of the Clark family, and Nick is the first Clark to die on the show. Nick has grown and changed the most as a character throughout the show's run. He started as a selfish drug addict whose living-death nihilism made his personality well-suited for the apocalypse, and grew into a sober, helpful community member. He still had a dark side and was never far from a relapse, but by getting back to his family he found something to live for. He was always the show's most well-rounded and most unpredictable character. His story will still continue in the "before" parts of Season 4, but it will be building to this endpoint.
The death of Fear's protagonist's son comes just a few months after the death of The Walking Dead's protagonist's son, and it's a shocking twist in itself that the spin-off would follow suit so soon after the mothership offed Carl (Chandler Riggs). Carl's death served a similar function on The Walking Dead as a way to mark the end of a story era. On The Walking Dead, it was the end of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) protecting his family at the cost of everything else, and on Fear the Walking Dead it's the end of original showrunner Dave Erickson's "family drama at the end of the world," and more evidence that Fear is quickly rebooting the entire premise of the show. Nick's dead and Madison is missing, possibly dead. There is no Clark family anymore.
The death came at the end of an episode that showed Nick's tender and violent sides. In the past, we saw him leave the baseball diamond for the first time to go with his mother to look for food, and she told him about how she always looks for traces of good still remaining in the world. In this case, it was a field of wild bluebonnets they came upon. He also fought with a Vulture named Ennis (Evan Gamble), who snaked them on scavenge spots, claimed ownership of Charlie (which rankled Nick since he still cared for the little spy) and then insulted Nick's inability to keep crops alive and provide for his family.
In the present, he spent some time with Morgan, and Morgan saw a lot himself in Nick. They were both haunted by loss, and Morgan saw Nick becoming the kind of psychologically broken person he was. Morgan followed Nick when he went after Ennis' blue El Camino, but Nick got surrounded by walkers in a field of bluebonnets and Morgan saved his life. When they caught up to Ennis, Morgan tried to warn Ennis to leave and also tried to talk Nick out of killing him. But he was unsuccessful, and Nick cold-bloodedly murdered Ennis by impaling him on a taxidermy buck head. (There's probably a lot more to the Ennis-Nick story than we were shown; could Ennis and/or The Vultures be responsible for wherever Madison is?) After that, Morgan told Nick why he doesn't kill and gave him the "all life is precious" book that Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) gave him on The Walking Dead. He told Nick it wasn't too late to change. The episode teased the intriguing prospect of Morgan teaching Nick his way, only to snatch it away.
Nick read a little of the book as Morgan went to greet the others when they pulled up in Al's SWAT van. Nick put the book in his back pocket alongside a bluebonnet he had also picked, a fond reminder of his mother. As he considered the flower, there was a gunshot. He looked down and saw his blood on his hand coming from his own abdomen, then looked up and saw Charlie. Charlie, who we assume killed Nick in retaliation for Nick killing Ennis, ran off as Alicia and Luciana arrived. They tried to stop the bleeding, but it was too late. The devastation on his loved ones' faces was heartbreaking.
The episode ended with a cut from Nick's dead body in the gray present to him lying in the field of flowers in the bright past. He died looking at the flowers. (Just like Lizzie in The Walking Dead, actually!)
The death was Frank Dillane's choice, he and showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg confirmed after the episode aired. He just felt like it was time to move on.
Nick's death raises a ton of questions for the show going forward. How will we experience Nick's past timeline knowing what happens to him? What does this mean for Luciana and Alicia? Will Morgan teach non-violence to Luciana instead of Nick, since she's probably the most receptive of the three? What will they do about Charlie? Where's Madison? Is she dead? Will the show continue to be able to pull off this timeline juggling?
We don't have the answers yet. We'll just have to keep watching.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.