Fear the Walking Dead: Why does Rubén Blades keep going missing as Daniel Salazar?

Fear the Walking Dead‘s Daniel Salazar is many things. Intelligent. Cautious. Determined. Formidable. But most of all, he’s elusive.

He’s proven a hit with fans and critics since making his debut in the show’s second ever episode: Vanity Fair called Daniel “one of the most fascinating characters” on Fear, “expertly played by Rubén Blades”, while Nerdist established as early as 2015 that Blades was “quickly becoming the series MVP”.

Why, then, do actor and character go missing from the show for long periods of time? It’s happened before and we’re currently in the middle of another Daniel-less period: he’s yet to appear in the show’s soft reboot of a fourth season and, according to Garret Dillahunt (who plays John Dorie) hadn’t filmed on Fear as of April 2018.

Pre-apocalypse, Daniel was a highly trained killer for the Salvadoran government and later a barber haunted by the sins of his past. (Those sins, by the way, included the torture and murder of hundreds.)

His grip on reality became less and less firm, to the extent that Daniel began hallucinating his late wife Griselda and, in a deranged state, he eventually set fire to a wine cellar while still inside (in Fear‘s 2016 mid-season finale, ‘Shiva’).

Daniel was thought to have perished in the blaze, prompting Rubén Blades’ first prolonged absence from Fear – he was subsequently off screen for 13 months, missing 10 episodes total. At the time of this first hiatus, there was no clear indication as to whether Blades would return to the show at all.

But return he did. Daniel was revealed to be alive, and in a slightly more stable frame of mind, in episode 3×03, ‘TEOTWAWKI’ – barely clinging to life, he was rescued from the devastated streets of Tijuana by Efraín Morales (Jesse Borrego) and brought to the Gonzalez Dam, one of the key settings of Fear‘s third season.

He disappeared for a second time, though, after the events of that year’s finale: ‘Sleigh Ride’ left Daniel, having already been shot in a skirmish with Strand (Colman Domingo), teetering precariously on the bridge of the dam as it collapsed.

With Fear taking a significant leap forward in time for its fourth season so that the spin-off would now line up with its parent series The Walking Dead (and allow the character of Morgan (Lennie James) to cross over from one to the other), Daniel’s fate after the events of the dam is yet to be addressed.

Like last time, though, fans of the character can breathe easy. Fear‘s new co-showrunner Andrew Chambliss has confirmed that Daniel “is alive and out there” – if he can shrug off an inferno in a wine cellar, he can survive a little thing like a dam collapsing on top of him – and has insisted that the character will “definitely” resurface at some stage, even if he has “no inkling” as to when exactly that might be.

Which brings us, again, to the big question: why? Why is Fear the Walking Dead repeatedly sidelining one of its most complex and compelling characters?

The truth is, it’s not down to the writers, but rather Blades, who – you might not know – is not merely an actor but also a musician with a discography five decades long, establishing him as something of an icon in his native Panama.

Yes, Daniel Salazar plays salsa.

He’s played on literally dozens of albums since putting out his debut De Panama a New York in 1970, has won several Grammys and even ran to be elected as President of Panama(!) in 1994. Such is his popularity that, while his campaign was unsuccessful, he came in third with 18% of the vote – not bad for a salsa singer going up against two seasoned politicians.

It’s the demands of his other career – touring and recording new music – that have necessitated Blades’ long absences from Fear the Walking Dead. “Rubén’s just off winning Grammys,” confirmed Garret Dillahunt in the aforementioned interview explaining the star’s absence.

The good news for Blades, and the bad news for Fear fans, is that he’s still in very high demand as a musician, which means that if and when Daniel Salazar does return to the show, he’ll almost certainly disappear again soon after.

On the upside, you can purchase Blades’ latest record Salsa Big Band at all good retailers now.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC in the US and on Mondays at 9pm on AMC on BT TV in the UK.

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