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Z Nation’s Cast Tease the Season Finale [INTERVIEW + “Doctor of the Dead” Preview] 

Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.
Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The season 1 finale is here. I, along with a few other journalists, had the pleasure of speaking with Kellita Smith, Keith Allan, Pisay Pao, Nat Zang and executive producer Craig Engler yesterday. By now you know anyone having anything to do with the show is extremely tight-lipped about spoilers. But we did get some great intel on the cast’s favorite moments from the season, what to expect in the finale and a few juicy tidbits about season 2.

What can you tease about the finale?
Craig Engler: “I was hoping I wouldn’t get that question ’cause it’s so hard. So the finale is awesome. I think it will go in a direction that no one is anticipating. I feel comfortable saying that. I think one of the hallmarks of Z Nation is that people are constantly telling us, ‘Oh. I wasn’t expecting that.’ I think you’re gonna say, ‘I wasn’t expecting that’ times ten when you see the finale.”

Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.
Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.

Anyone else want to jump in?
Keith Allan: “I would say Murphy has reached his boiling point in this episode.” [Laughs].
Craig: “It’s not gonna be the same for anyone after this episode.”

What lessons have you learned from this season that you can take into season 2?
Craig: “What we’ve learned is that people really like what we’re doing. We have definitely taken a different path than any show that’s similar to us. What we’ve heard from viewers is that [they] like the unpredictable natures of the show. [They] like the crazy stuff and really like the dramatic stuff. We kind of know where we’re going in season 2. Karl [Schaefer] and I have had a conversation or two about that. We want to continue what we’re doing, but times five. We’ll see how many more zombie animals we can get in there, different kinds of interesting zombies, you’ll see some crazy character storylines and you’ll see some deep storylines.”
Kellita Smith: “I agree.” [Laughs.]
Craig: “What I will say about Kellita is this is a show where the leader is this incredibly strong and wonderful black woman. I don’t think the show and Kelitta get enough credit for that.”
Kellita: “Thank you, Craig.”
Craig: When we killed Harold [Perrineau]’s character, everyone said, ‘Oh, you killed the black guy right off the bat.’ And all I’m thinking is, ‘Just wait until episode six. Not only are we gonna kill a white guy, but then Kellita is gonna take over.’ I think everyone should pay more attention to that and Kellita’s awesome work.”
Kellita: “Thank you. The lesson is just to continue to celebrate this opportunity that we have to play the way we get to play. I’m also working on another show. Writing is so important. Great writing inspires an actor to play. The lesson is to continue to enjoy what is put before me.”
Keith: “One of the things I’m constantly hearing from the fans is they’re really loving the balance we have of the drama and the comedy that we throw into this show. I think that’s what sets our show apart. We’re not afraid to have a laugh at the genre and the zombies and at ourselves, really. Quite frankly, it’s what I look for in my horror. I want to be grossed out, I want to be scared and I want to laugh at the same time. I think that’s one of the things we are really doing right with the show.”

Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.
Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.

Will Citizen Z ever get out of the base and meet the cast?
Craig: “That would be such a total and utter spoiler one way or the other. Let’s say many things have been discussed and will be discussed around Citizen Z. I’m not at liberty to divulge more.”
Keith: “Z does not play well with others. There’s a reason he’s in the arctic. Let’s just say that.”

Keith, are you similar to your character in any way?
Keith: “Yes, there certainly are similarities. I’m not quite such a dick in real life. [Everyone laughs.] Certainly there are aspects of me that are in Murphy. I do have a very snarky quality to me. It’s all about amplifying that aspects when you’re playing a character like that.”
Kellita: “The thing about Murphy is the breath that Keith breathes into him is absolutely brilliant.”
Keith: “Thank you.”
Pisay Pao: “You know what’s interesting? Keith is the leader of our group off set, I find. He plans things for us. There’s definitely that sweetheart in him.”
Kellita: “Unlike Murphy.”
Pisay: “Exactly.”

I love that this show is about the group, but that we get great episodes or scenes that focus on each character. What were your favorite moments from the season?
Nat Zang: “My favorite moment for my character is in episode 10. We’re at the nuclear reactor and I have to, once again, kill another father figure. But I didn’t kill him.”
Craig: “You wanted to.”
Nat: “Wanted to, but couldn’t.”
Pisay: “I have two favorite moments. The first was episode 4 or 5 — and this is my favorite moment for us as a group — it’s when we think Doc is a zombie and we end up shooting him and he ends up being alive. I think it’s the first scene where you see us standing around and smiling and being excited that one of our group members is still alive. My second would be episode 13, which I can’t talk about.”
Keith: “Well, I have a lot of favorite moments, but one thing I’m really loving is the moments between Kellita and I. We have such a love/hate relationship, mostly hate. As the show progresses we have a found respect for each other. I think those moments are very telling about characters who have been through a lot and seen a lot. We’re getting to the point where we’re cutting each other some slack and digging deeper and finding an emotional commonality with each other. I’m loving that and working with Kelitta and seeing the work that’s coming up on the screen.”
Kellita: “Like Keith, I have a few moments. The moments we get to find that come off the page is what [this ensemble] is about. It’s about being able to play and connect. I have an individuated connection with each character. It’s being able to connect in ways that hopefully is resonating on screen and, hands down, all of the action I get to do.”
Pisay: “She looks good doing it too.”
Craig: “One of my favorite character moments, just to echo Keith and Kellita, is in episode 10 when Keith is gonna take off in the plane and they might not ever see each other again. They have this really great little moment I really love between their characters. I wouldn’t say it’s warm and fuzzy, but it was great moment. In terms of Mack and Addy. They find that they’re in this survival community and they live happily ever after and they find the cure for the plague. [Dramatic pause.] That’s not what happens. I can’t say a word about Mack and Addy. I can’t say anything.”

It sounds like they’re in the finale, though. That’s what I’m going to assume you mean.
Craig: Oooh. [Everyone laughs.] I wish you could see how joyously I’m doing this. In person, I’d come across as, ‘He’s really enjoying not telling us.’ I literally don’t want to say anything.”
Kellita: “Don’t say. Keep the suspense.”

Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.
Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.

Do you guys have a mental wish list for your characters for for season 2 in general?
Keith: “I would love to have some flashback moments to Murphy’s life before the apocalypse, aside from my Nexium commercial.”
Craig: “That is one of my favorite parts of watching the show live – waiting for the commercial. Everyone’s like, ‘Is that Murphy? That’s him pre-Z.'”
Keith: “I would really love to find out about Murphy’s backstory and what he lost in the apocalypse. I think it’s really telling about what makes these characters who they are today when we find out what they’ve suffered and what they’ve lost in the past. Like everyone else, Murphy’s lost everything. I think it’s fascinating to find out where he came from because I don’t think you start out being an asshole. I think it’s an acquired set of circumstances. I think that’s fascinating for myself and for the audience to find out. Where was this guy before it all went to hell.”
Kellita: “First of all, I need a new outfit. [Laughs.] I’m pleasantly surprised with this role, which is why I went in for the audition — to have a balance of the leadership and the sensitivity. I love my character.”
Pisay: “Keith stole my answer! I would love to do a flashback on Cassandra’s life, even though we did her backstory in terms of where she was before she met the group. I love flashbacks in general. They add so much depth to a character’s story. It’s a great way to keep the audience in suspense too, moving backwards as a way of moving forwards.”
Nat: “I’m excited to see where Murphy’s going. As we saw in the last episode, he’s starting to get these powers. And also, in general where the story goes from here. It’s really exciting. For 10K, he’s growing up in this apocalypse. It’s really interesting to see how he forms into a person, living in this crazy world. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to bring to this character. Even though the world is so messed up, [he’s] going through the same stuff regular kids go through.”
Craig: “He’s just a regular kid in the the apocalypse.”
Keith: “You don’t think 10K should get laid?”
Pisay: “I didn’t want to say that, but I totally agree with Keith.”
Keith: “Come on. It’s the apocalypse.”
Craig: “I will say something about season 2, which Karl and I have had some discussions about. There are two particularly cool things that I’m hoping we can do. I have no idea yet if we’ll be able to do them. There’s a super interesting, short-term character I’d love to see if we can get in there. That’s all I can give you.”

Kellita, where would you like to see where your character go in season 2?
Kellita: “Great question. We should ask Craig.” [Laughs.]
Craig: “A lot of this is up for discussion. Karl is the showrunner and I have to run everything by [him], but I have some plans for Roberta.”
Kellita: “Here’s what I will say: this whole journey has been a surprise. We didn’t get to [see] the scripts ahead of time. I trust whatever direction they go in. Whatever they give me, I welcome it and I will play with it.”

Photo Credit: Asylum Ent.

Murphy seems to have control over zombies and now humans to some degree. What is he evolving into and what can you tell us about anything else he’ll be able to do?
Craig: “He’s evolving into something. What it is, I can’t say. Karl and I have had some very interesting discussions about the endgame for Murphy, which I think would be amazing. But that’s hopefully very far down the road.”
Keith: “Thank you.”
Craig: “And by that, I mean five minutes. [Laughs.] Murphy’s this great character. We haven’t seen his character before in the world of zombies. Murphy’s character has a lot of evolving to do and we’re trying to do some interesting stuff in season 2 that hasn’t been seen before in the world of zombies.”

How do you deal with the deaths of characters as you go along in the season?
Keith: “You’ve got to be prepared for anything. They set that tone early on, killing off Harold in the first episode. They want to keep the audience guessing, which means they keep the actors guessing.”
Craig: “Harold knew his role was a single episode. Other people knew, but we didn’t tell anyone beyond that. Tom [Everett Scott] knew he’d be there for a limited engagement. That was planned. All of the deaths or departures on the show have to be meaningful. We’re never going to kill anyone for no reason. They’re thought of as big dramatic moments, but it has to build and tell the story of our world. One of the stories of our world is no one is ever safe. I think we demonstrate that with Tom’s character. It doesn’t always happen the way you think it will happen.

One of the great things about Addy deciding to stay with the Sisters of Mercy is people make different decisions in life. All of our characters are not as invested in this mission as you might think and then her past comes into play and she basically makes this decision that this might not be the best thing for the world, but this is the best thing for me, this is what I need to do and there are other people that can continue this. That leads to Mack making his decision. So, all of these decisions should come out of the characters and the drama that are inherent in the show, not just random decisions to off people. In particular, when Addy left the show we had lots of discussions in the writer’s room about what happens to groups over time. Everyone has that one friend that drifted out of the group. They found a different path. We wanted that reflected in the show. You could lose somebody without them necessarily having to die.

If they die, there has to be a reason. Tom’s character dies for a real reason, it is to save Murphy. That is it. Harold’s character dies because sometimes even the best people and the smartest people in the world make mistakes. And when you make a mistake in the zombie apocalypse, bad things happen. Sometimes we know, sometimes we don’t. Everything is thought out, it’s not just gratuitous.”

If you had a say, how would you want to be killed off the show?
Nat: “I would want it to be the ten thousandth zombie I that I have to kill.”
Craig: “If he died at 9,998 that would be horrible. That would be worse than death.”
Pisay: “If Cassandra goes, I want 10K to be the one to take her out.”

Pisay: “Yeah. Everyone has an opinion about that relationship. Some people think she’s too old for him, some people think there is a romance. Whether there is or not, I think they have a bond. If you’re gonna go out you want the person you feel closest to you to be the one to give you mercy.”
Keith: “I would like it to be an epic battle. I would love it to be an amazing, insurmountable fight scene where Murphy gets to be a badass in the end.”
Nat: “For once.”
Craig: “I would love to be in the writer’s room, the zombie apocalypse really happens and that’s how all the writer’s go. Just kidding, I’d survive. I have my plan in place.”

Any parting comments?
Keith: “I have had a blast working on this show. It’s been a joy to show up on set every day. It’s hard ass work. Don’t get me wrong, we’re busting our ass everyday we’re on those sets. We shoot these episodes in 6 days, which in TV standards is very, very fast. Our crew and cast have really stepped up and met the challenges of doing a show that is this involved to make something that’s a lot of fun and special that I’m really pleased the audience is resonating with.
“I know a lot of people have been expressing to me that they’ve had a lot of anxiety about [the finale]. I get that. There should be some anxiety around it. I’m also equally excited about it as well. I hope a lot of people tune in.”
Craig: “We are so super thankful to the fans, who have embraced the show, talked about the show, told their friends about the show. We are tremendously thankful to the fans out there watching the show, for supporting the show and for telling other people to check out the show. They have just been fantastic.”

Edited for space and content.

Episode description, from Syfy:

Citizen Z redeploys the survivors to Fort Collins, CO to meet with Murphy’s doctor, but at the compound they uncover game-changing details about their mission and the origins of the zombie virus.

The season finale of Z Nation airs tonight at 10/9c on Syfy.


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