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Mild spoilers below for Fear the Walking Dead's midseason finale, "Is Anybody Out There?"
Of all the wild and wacky surprises that Fear the Walking Dead has delivered under the watchful eyes of showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, the biggest blow to the senses was losing Kim Dickens' Madison Clark in Season 4. The character's self-sacrifice was a highly criticized plot point, especially since it didn't seem to be entirely necessary during the episode. Fans that are still mourning her Madison's absence may have reason to celebrate, though.
Fear the Walking Dead introduced a new element in the Season 5 summer finale that could potentially hint at Madison's eventual return, and it's an argument that's bolstered by a reportedly leaked set photo that hit the internet a couple of months ago. Let's discuss.
How Has Fear The Walking Dead Hinted At Madison's Return?
While it would be nice if Alicia had gotten a postcard saying that Madison would be showing up in the near future – not sure who would have delivered that, but still – so such announcements were made. However, Madison's potential return did get revealed via the written word, which is close enough to a postcard, I suppose.
In the midseason finale, as John and Dwight were having trouble making it back to the main group for the big plane takeoff, they came across the tree seen below.
Now, in John's head, the tree message was likely left there by Sherry, despite the fact that she said she wouldn't be leaving Dwight any further notes. That assumption makes enough sense, considering Sherry is the reason they were out there, but the imagery on the tree is what got fans speculating about Kim Dickens' Madison possibly still being out there.
The tree shows a ladder rising up out of flames, and though it could technically represent all kinds of subtextual meaning within this universe, the drawing does have direct ties to Madison's final moments on the show. As viewers no doubt remember, Madison drew a bunch of walkers into the stadium and then set everything on fire, allowing Alicia, Nick and the rest to escape easier. Could she have climbed out of that disaster somehow?
Yes, it would be extremely on the nose if Madison was explaining her unseen escape via tree-based illustrations. Plus, I can't readily see anyone actually painting everything on this tree as is, regardless of if the ladder and flames are meant to be metaphorical or literal. I guess there aren't a ton of ways to get one's message across in this world, though.
I have to wonder if viewers are meant to read anything into only the T and H letters being uppercase. And why that same kind of pattern doesn't continue below.
How Does Fear The Walking Dead's Leaked Set Photo Play Into Madison's Possible Comeback?
Back in May, before anyone had an idea of where Fear the Walking Dead was going with its new plotlines in Season 5, an alleged set picture showed up on Reddit that made a lot more sense only after the midseason finale aired. As readers might have guessed, it's another tree.
Only this time, the tree has far more visible flames painted on the bottom, and the message says, "No One's Gone Until They're Gone," with a white bird painted beneath it. The meaning behind the message itself is something of a clue, but these specific words are the biggest clues of all.
Kim Dickens' final episode of Fear the Walking Dead (so far) was titled "No One's Gone," which could be seen as a spoiler itself if Madison is revealed to still be alive. Her actions in the episode – starting up the stadium community after an inspiring conversation with Maggie Grace's Al, line up accordingly with Morgan & Co.'s central mission this season. (Beyond the whole "stay away from irradiated walkers" thing.)
Clearly, showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg wanted fans to make the connection between the leaded set tree's message and Madison's final episode. Otherwise, a different quote definitely would have been used, since Fear the Walking Dead's characters wouldn't be able to make that same connection.
So is this really a bigger clue about Madison's extended survival, or just the unsubtle artistry of a completely different survivor? Is it possible she managed to live this long without coming into contact with the main group? Did she happen to see Isabelle's helicopter flying around? Perhaps the biggest question of all, though...
Is Madison's Return Even Possible?
Within the context of the ongoing narrative, there's technically little that would stand in the way of Madison coming back into the fold. Assuming explanations would cover the distance traveled and the timeliness of things, no obvious obstacles are around to hinder things.
Well, except for that whole death thing, of course. As it has been noted ever since "No One's Gone" aired, however, the episode does not give viewers an explicit shot of Madison's corpse. And while TV audiences used to be able to take offscreen deaths for granted, that hasn't been the status quo for years now. These days, unless fans see someone getting embalmed and buried within the same single shot, conspiracy theories will fly.
It wouldn't be difficult to explain Madison's survival, either, since her wide potential to escape the stadium was one of the reasons why viewers railed against her assumed death when it happened. It also seems like Alicia would have tried returning to the stadium to confirm that Madison's corpse (or walker) was in there, to get some closure.
When Madison "died," her absence had a big effect on Alicia's personality and her overall behavior, leading her to become the protective and heroic warrior that she is now. (After some darker days, of course.) To bring Madison back now might cheapen some of that character development, but I'm glad that Alicia got to reach her personal Beast Mode in the meantime, so that Madison could recognize just how far her daughter has come.
I'm pumped to see what ends up happening with this, since Kim Dickens is always fantastic. Something I am not looking forward to? Madison's long-awaited return getting soured by Alicia's reveal that she might have radiation poisoning. That would not be the best welcome-wagon announcement in the slightest. Nor would news about Nick's death.
Thankfully, fans will get to learn what happened sooner rather than later, as Fear the Walking Dead is only taking a few weeks off between each half of Season 5. It will return to AMC for the back eight episodes on Sunday, August 11, at 9:00 p.m. ET.