Karen David Talks Grace’s Time on Fear the Walking Dead (Exclusive)

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead season 8 episode 5.] Grace was living on borrowed time — and that time ran out on Sunday’s “More Time Than You Know” episode of Fear the Walking Dead. Since season 5, former power plant worker Grace (Karen David) feared she was terminally ill with radiation poisoning from killing walkers contaminated by the Texas nuclear plant meltdown. Seven years and one nuclear-zombie apocalypse later, Grace revealed to her partner Morgan Jones (Lennie James) that she was sick: “The radiation’s caught up with me. I’m paying the price for chasing the dead.”

“You once told me that no matter what was coming, I had to live. So that’s what we’re going to do,” Grace told Morgan, helping him put his zombified family to rest at King County. Not wanting to waste any more time after being separated by PADRE for the past seven years, Grace would spend however much time she had left with Morgan and their daughter Mo (Zoey Merchant).

But when a walker bit Grace on the side, accelerating her ticking clock from months to a day, Morgan and Mo raced against time to get the fever-stricken Grace to June (Jenna Elfman) and receive radiotherapy treatments to stop the infection from spreading. As June tended to the zombie-bitten Finch (Gavin Warren), it became clear that the radiation treatment didn’t work. The radiation only managed to stave off the infection for a brief time. And Grace’s time was running out.

In the end, the attempt to save her mother’s life wasted what little time Grace had left with Morgan and Mo. “You gave us more time, Mo,” Grace said in her dying moments, recalling how she and Morgan made a suicide pact as nuclear warheads detonated seven years earlier. “When your father and I were thinking of ending things, we came so close to doing it. Do you know why we didn’t? Because we heard you crying. You gave us a reason to live.” Grace’s time on Fear the Walking Dead ended with the words: “You gave us more time than you know.”

Below, Karen David talks to ComicBook about her time on Fear the Walking Dead, Grace’s death, and why she’s exiting the show with no regrets — only “bittersweet heartache” for Grace.

COMICBOOK: How are you feeling?

KAREN DAVID: Bittersweet, you know, coming to the end of this journey.

I’m sad to see Grace go, but I felt this was such a great showcase for you and your character. I think [showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg] made Grace suffer so much these past few seasons because you’re so good at playing those dramatic beats and tearing hearts out.

KAREN DAVID: [Laughs] They really put me through it! Because maybe they know that I love to cry, you know?

Let’s start off with the story of when and how you found out about Grace’s fate in this episode.

KAREN DAVID: Well, we always have sort of a debrief at the start of filming a new season, and at the end of filming a season. And at the end of each season, I always knew that Grace was on a ticking time bomb, so to speak, right from day one, because of the nature of her storylines. We all knew that from day one when we met Grace that she had been exposed to copious amounts of radiation. So it was just a matter of when.

But at the end of each season, I would say to Ian and Andrew, and I’m like, “And then Grace dies?” And they’d be like, “Nope. Why are you saying that? No, not yet. Not yet. We still have many more stories to tell for Grace.” And that made me really happy, because I really do feel, as an actor, you never know how long you are given to tell the story. And for me to have had four seasons with Grace, I have been able to do things I’ve never done before as an actor. And I really feel that I got to do a lot with Grace. As painful and poignant a journey that she’s had, it’s been an absolute thrill for me.

But nothing really, truly prepares you for the final, final moments, until you actually see it. And for me, even though Ian and Andrew told me that this final season that would be happening for Grace, I always thought that it would be her succumbing to her radiation. I never thought it would be through a walker bite. So that really threw me off. I was not expecting that at all. And I just thought, well, it certainly raises the stakes even more, as opposed to her just succumbing to her radiation, that now, she really is on borrowed time.

And yet, so devastated. I felt naturally devastated for Grace. And I was telling my mom when we were talking about it, about my journey playing Grace, is that Grace has had such — it’s like you said — she’s had a very, very painful, traumatic journey. I mean, all the characters have. And it just made me, especially in the final episode, if there were any brief seconds of levity that I could grab for Grace, that became very, very important for me.

Because, albeit on one hand, I could count the amount of times where she’s had moments of lightness and joy, from the shopping mall episode back in season five and her and Morgan are on a carousel, and talking about candy beansies, cooking Pad Thai for the gang, it’s just these moments that I had to hold onto for Grace, to help me as an actor help Grace arrive at a place in her final moments on the show. And her final moments with her family, with her daughter, with the man that she loves, to arrive at this place of peace and acceptance of letting go, knowing that her daughter and her partner, her husband, are going to be okay. They have each other, and they have their love together as a family. And that is something that will never, ever die and will live within them, as they carry on as a family together without her. So it was a big journey for me to arrive, from when they first told me to those final days that I had on set.

Grace’s ending is tragic. She has enough time left to reflect on her life’s regrets as she slowly dies from a walker’s bite. How do you feel about Grace’s time ending this tragically on Fear of the Walking Dead?

KAREN DAVID: If I’m just looking as a bystander, I’m just heartbroken for her. I’m devastated. She was very much trying to create a home at the [repeater] station, and she’s trying to create whatever time she has left, this sense of family. She knew that this was her last chance and opportunity to be a mother, to know and to have this family that her and Morgan have always wanted together. So I was really heartbroken. I was heartbroken about Grace’s journey, all in all. But there are a lot of people in life that have very painful journeys.

For me, it was just really important to question and to ask myself what kind of legacy I wanted to leave for Grace in this expansive and amazing universe that is The Walking Dead. That’s kind of what we all talked about in this final season, the cast. What kind of legacy did we want to leave for our characters and bringing our storylines to a closure? And for me, it was very much for Grace to be this symbol of hope, and strength, and courage.

I’ve learned so much from playing her. I’ve learned so much from breathing life to her. She’s taught me a lot. And she’s also reminded me a lot of things about the fragility of life and how precious life is, and how life is too short not to do the things that bring you joy and make you happy, and to follow the things that you’re deeply passionate about. And for Grace, it was family. It was family. It was about being a mother in whatever time she had left. And that reminds me, too, as a daughter, with my parents who are seniors, to embrace every moment that I have with them and my family.

But I also am reminded about Grace’s resilience. I don’t think she even knew how strong she was. I don’t think she even realized how courageous she was. But it was through the love, and being seen by someone like Morgan who gave her the ability to love again, not only self-love, but to love another, and to have hope in her heart, and to have faith and belief that she needs to still be here. She has a purpose. And that renewed her sense of wanting to live, of wanting to carry on, of wanting to march forward. And she did. And here we are seven years later in the storyline, and she’s around, until now. I don’t think she would’ve held out that long had she not met someone quite as miraculous as Morgan.

As you mentioned, when we meet Grace in season five, she knows the clock is ticking. She asks the question: “What do you do with the time that you have left?” How do you think Grace answers that question, had she known that she did have another seven years left to live? What do you think she does differently?

KAREN DAVID: I’d like to think that if Grace had another seven years, if she had the gift of time, it would be all about experiences. Besides the fact that our show is set in an apocalyptic backdrop, it forces each of our characters to really focus on what matters most. Because it’s not about material things anymore, it’s about survival. And for her, if given more time, it, without question, would be about the experiences that they have together as a family, and with friends, and about living — living each day to the fullest, doing things together. All of a sudden, everything just has new meaning.

I mean, it did for her, anyway. Things that we take for granted, of breathing, of being able to walk, of being able to see, of being able to do, I don’t know, going, having, planting plants and having a garden. It’s these moments that mean so much more in this apocalyptic backdrop. But also, to someone like Grace, it’s the little things that count. She reminds me that it’s not the material things. The only thing that you truly can take to your deathbed are the memories, are knowing that you are loved, knowing that you loved back, knowing that the time spent with people that mattered most to you, those are the things that matter.

So I’d like to think that that’s exactly what Grace would do, is go live her life with Morgan and Mo, and watch their daughter grow, and become — hopefully, I’m sure — this incredible young woman that Grace and Morgan would’ve hoped her of wanting to be.

On that note: The pain of losing a parent causes Mo to go back to PADRE, and then losing Grace and Mo at the same time causes Morgan to relapse into “Clear” Morgan who says, “I don’t die.” What can you say about what Grace’s death does to Mo and Morgan moving forward?

KAREN DAVID: Well, the loss of any character, the gravity of that is so much. But I think for Morgan and Mo, they know that Grace would want them to move forward in their life with peace. She wants to give them every reassurance that she’s okay. In whatever other realm she is in, she is reunited with her other baby girl, Athena. She’s in this other afterlife, and she’s okay. And that’s really important that they know that, so that they can go and live. She wants them to live, to seize every moment and to live whatever time they have left in this realm, to live and to embrace each moment together as a family.

We talked about Grace’s regrets and the experiences that she’s missing out on. When you look back at your time on the show, as you’re exiting, are there any regrets? Maybe something you or your character wanted to see happen before Grace’s time was up?

KAREN DAVID: You know, I’m really blessed to be able to say this, but I did everything I wanted to do with Grace. I really did. To have four seasons to bond with this character and breathe life into her has been such an honor. And to tell her story has been such an honor.

I guess my only bittersweet heartache is how I would’ve loved her to have had more time with her family, especially them reuniting within the throes of PADRE. I would’ve loved for them to have had more time together. But she embraced with the time that she had.

And she has no regrets. And I have to remind myself that — that Grace has no regrets, because a mother will do anything to protect her family, and especially her child. And Morgan would do the same, both of them. They made a lot of sacrifices at the cost of them being apart, as we know now, from episode one in season eight, seven years being estranged because they had to. They couldn’t let PADRE know how invested they were with this little girl. It was to protect her. Everything was to protect Mo. And that’s exactly what Grace did in the end. And she wouldn’t have changed it any other way. Knowing that her daughter’s safe and that Morgan’s safe, that gives her peace. So I’m at peace with that.

And I’m really happy that I was able to tell this story, these final moments, with our amazing director, Heather Cappiello. [Writers] David Johnson and Calaya Michelle Stallworth, they wrote such a beautiful ending for me. And gosh, did I ever feel every moment, every beat, every pause, every word unspoken, every lump in my throat, every tear that came out. There’s a lot of Karen there, too, because it was a reminder to me that my time is coming to an end in this chapter. But I feel like I’ve graduated from this incredible school, Academy of Walking Dead Universe, and I wear that badge very proudly.

And it takes a village to breathe life into what Grace has become, from where she started to now. And I’m so grateful to our creatives. I’m grateful to our incredible cast. Everyone’s such a loving, supportive, family unit. We have become family for life and friends for life. And to have had a scene partner like Lennie for the past five years has been utter joy, and has totally ruined me for life. But he is family for life. And for that, I’m truly, truly grateful. These gifts that we’re able to take away from this chapter just mean everything to me. The fans have been so amazing, and they have embraced Grace and I right from day one, and I love them. And knowing that they’re on this journey with me for whatever comes next, I’m just so, so, so grateful.

New episodes of Fear the Walking Dead premiere Thursdays on AMC+ and Sundays on AMC. Stay tuned to ComicBook/TWD and follow @CameronBonomolo and @NewsOfTheDead on Twitter for more TWD Universe coverage.