Spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched Fear the Walking Dead's "The Key."
For many TV shows out there, separating lead characters for more anthologized storytelling would be a complete disaster. Somehow, though, Fear the Walking Dead has managed to boost the quality of its output by giving Season 6 a more open-world approach to singled-out character narratives. As it turns out, star Garret Dillahunt was more than grateful to sit out the first three episodes, as it allowed him to spend time with his father during the latter's final few months before death, leading to a tribute or two in John's episode.
Just as John Dorie had a strong relationship with his father in the character's backstory, Garret Dillahunt also had a core bond with his own dad. Which meant he was all the more grateful for the showrunners and producers for allowing him a proper chance to step away from the production. Here's how he put it to ComicBook.com:
My father had got quite ill, and I had asked... I'm not saying I'm the reason for the more spotlight-y episodes, but I asked if I could start as late as possible because I needed to spend time with my father, and his last days there. . . . To their credit, and something that I'll never really be able to repay or express my gratitude for is, they held off as long as they could, which was plenty of time, it turned out, for me to spend these last few months with my father.
Given that Season 6 is geared specifically to telling limited-character stories in each episode – with Lennie James' still-surviving Morgan often serving as a narrative through-line – it provided Garret Dillahunt enough of an extended break to stay close to his father up until the end. Beyond that, even, the experience bled into his first episode back, with John Dorie sharing stories about his own father.
In fact, Dillahunt explained that his conversations with Fear the Walking Dead's creative team about his personal issues helped the writers when crafting John's story within "The Key." In his words:
We talked a lot about that stuff. And, I thought it was important that we work in a lot of Dorie and his father to this episode. My point is, there was a lot of communication about this story before. And so I think it just kept getting refined and refined until we both had something that we all were really proud of. And yeah, so I'm really grateful to them for this episode, and sort of dedicated this one to my pop.
Now, Garret Dillahunt gets to look back on his performance in Episode 4 as a semi-tribute to his presumably proud father. While it's obviously unfortunate to learn that part of John Dorie's story was influenced by something so heartbreaking as a parent's death, "The Key" is one of the most satisfying beginning-to-end Fear the Walking Dead episodes of any season so far, thanks in large part to Dillahunt's measured excellence. (Give this man a spinoff!)
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET, followed by new episodes from the debut season of The Walking Dead: World Beyond. While waiting for new episodes that dive back into Dwight and Sherry's story, check out this theory about Virginia's connection to Maggie, and head to our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule to see what shows are coming soon.