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2018 Readers' Choice Performer of the Year - Alycia Debnam-Carey

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The article was written by Aimee Hicks and Ellys Cartin. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

Alycia Debnam-Carey is the most distinguished performer within this feature. She was the first actress to win when the Performer of the Month feature began in 2016. She is the only actress to have won at least once every year. She has won more than any other performer and she is the only performer to ever win for playing two different characters on two different shows. Now she can add SpoilerTV's 2018 Readers' Choice Performer of the Year title for her portrayal of Alicia Clark on Season Four of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead to the list of her accomplishments. All these accomplishments are a testament to her immense talent and the loyalty she inspires in her fans.

Debnam-Carey has been a constant standout on Fear The Walking Dead in the role of Alicia Clark. The fourth season was marked by numerous changes, ranging from the tone to the cast. Regardless, Debnam-Carey's tenacious, riveting performances continued. She takes Alicia down a path of grief-stricken vengeance to a place of frigid insensibility, breaks Alicia into fragments and knits those pieces back together with agonized courage. She utterly inhabits every second in Alicia's skin. There is no part of Alicia's soul that Debnam-Carey doesn't lay bare, and the result is an unforgettably transfixing body of work that resulted in our readers voting her SpoilerTV's Performer of the Year. What follows is a look back at some of her very best acting moments from each episode in which her character played a significant part.

Debnam-Carey's very first scene in the Season Four premiere What's Your Story? (4x1) is a prime example of her acting. You hear her before you get a good look. Exhausted, jagged breathing mingled with dry sobbing. Her face is nearly level with the road, her left arm splayed outwards to support her body. The other hand is pressed tightly to her body as if she's clutching at some pain in her stomach. Her apparent misery inspires compassion in Al (Maggie Grace), John (Garret Dillahunt), and Morgan (Lennie James). As Al and John approach her, Debnam-Carey looks up for the first time, with her eyes large and scared, and looks around nervously. Her voice is oddly strong when she whispers that there are bad people nearby. A second later, she has jumped up and overpowered the other woman. The childish nervousness is replaced with cold precision. And yet when you see Alicia's face just a few seconds later, she is someone else. Her hand isn't clutching Al's collar so firmly. She just stares at Al, as if she can't quite believe what she herself has just done. Within those few moments, Debnam-Carey not only gives a performance within a performance, but she also exposes the emotional wounds of her character.

Next is Another Day In The Diamond (4x2) in which Debnam-Carey elevates all her scenes with how present she is in the moment. She always has Alicia doing something that contributes to the authenticity. In Another Day in the Diamond, which takes place in an earlier timeline, a trip is made to an abandoned town. Alicia accompanies her mother Madison (Kim Dickens), Luciana (Danay Garcia), and Strand (Colman Domingo) on the foraging excursion. They encounter Naomi (Jenna Elfman) who threatens Madison with a gun. When Alicia enters the scene, she takes charge of the moment, and so does Debnam-Carey. She doesn't flinch in face of this panicked person waving a loaded gun. She keeps her arms lowered and her tone gentle, but her eyes make a quick discerning sweep of the surroundings. When Naomi climbs up to the top of a container, Alicia follows Madison in pursuit. They reach the top. Debnam-Carey creates the tension in the scene by keeping the focus on Alicia. She slowly sets down her gun and never once stops looking Naomi in the eyes. She never breaks hold; her tone never shifts from the same empathetic invitation. After Naomi falls through and Madison goes after her, there's another scene where Alicia goes into the murky soup inside the tank to get her mom out. There's a moment where she creeps up to someone groaning who might be Madison but also might be one of the infected. She very slowly reaches out to touch this person while keeping her other hand clutching her weapon. When she and you see it's Madison, it's almost a reflex that she pulls her to the side instantly and kills the infected that was right behind her. Then she braces her mom around the shoulders to help her walk out. You know that Alicia is a protector and a fighter, just through Debnam-Carey's body language.

Good Out Here (4x3) takes us to the present timeline where Debnam-Carey presents a radically different Alicia. She has a perpetual scowl half the time and the other half she keeps her face as flat and cold as ice. This version of her character isn't just keeping everything behind a wall, she's wrapped herself in layers of walls. Alicia's sense of fairness is still there, as you see when she doesn't back out of a deal her group made to get Al's van back on the road. But her voice is so laced with anger and annoyance it's grating. She stands rigidly, often bringing her arms and legs as close and tight to her body as she can. Then her brother Nick (Frank Dillane) is shot by Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), a girl they took in to their stadium community in the past, in retaliation for him killing a friend of hers. Alicia's first response when she and Luciana see Nick on the ground is to run after Charlie. She loses sight of her and turns around slowly to look back at her brother. Debnam-Carey keeps her there for a full two seconds. She just stares. Then she rushes over crouching beside him. At first, Debnam-Carey allows Alicia to be tough. Her voice is strong and authoritative. She puts a hand to his head. Her voice starts to break until she is protesting, her words slurring into pleading cries. Yet, through every second, Debnam-Carey keeps Alicia's hand on Nick's head. She starts telling him it's okay, and he dies. She stares down at him with pure horror before the anguished screams come pouring out, as she places her hands on either side of his face. The weight of this death rests solely on Debnam-Carey's performance, which is utterly and completely heart-rending.

A trip to the water park in the past timeline in Buried (4x4), comes with a bonus feature that is not a poolside cabana. Alicia and Naomi search for supplies in a park full of the infected. To reach a tower that may contain provisions, they go through a veritable obstacle course. The first step requires a slow walk through a pool full of unwelcome waders. Debnam-Carey moves at a snail's pace but with her arms carefully positioned for balance, as if walking an underwater tightrope. When the waders notice the women, they have to scramble out of the water and onto a slide. The scene requires her to not only frantically use her core to propel herself out of the water, but also to grab onto the slide with her inner forearms to get a strong enough grip to not slide right back into the water. A physical feat, but Debnam-Carey pulls it off with a balanced amount of terror and urgency in her facial expressions. At the top of the slide, the women are surprised by an infected. They fall down another slide and are carried towards a mass of the infected trying to get up that slide. Using her forearms again and her stomach, Debnam-Carey inches across the slimy surface to reach a sharp piece of metal that made the trip with them. She grabs the cylinder (that Alicia will later sharpen into her signature weapon) and leaps to her feet in order to swing it at an infected that nearly had hold of Naomi. The force of the blow sends her backward and down. Debnam-Carey forcefully uses every square inch of her body in this tense action sequence.

At the end of Just In Case (4x6), Alicia and company finally find themselves meeting up again with the Vultures, the group that up to this point viewers know is responsible somehow for the destruction of the stadium community. With the specific details of what happened withheld, it is again up to Debnam-Carey to establish the history through Alicia's actions and emotions. Morgan reveals he warned the Vultures to stay away. Her body language is angry, in how she rushes to kick away Morgan's stick, but her face holds a shadow of relief. Then the Vultures do pull up and very briefly there's regret. She lowers her arms and gun slightly. This scene is one twig snap away from bedlam, but something unforgettable happens, Melvin, leader of the Vultures says he's sorry about Nick. And there's a half beat of forgiveness that Debnam-Carey wears. She lets her face rest, dropping her eyebrows, and you know Alicia is recognizing that her brother died because the last thing he did was kill Melvin's brother. For a moment, Debnam-Carey creates an alternate universe where this mutual loss gives everyone a different path. Instead, she sneers that she isn't sorry about his brother. When Naomi drives up, revealing herself to be a member of the Vultures and to be the woman John has been searching for the betrayal that Alicia is imagining is written all over her face. Debnam-Carey turns on a dime as Alicia shoots at Naomi, and, when the bullet hits John instead, she stands there shaking.

In No One's Gone (4x8) Alicia, Luciana, and Strand kill all the Vultures. They pursue Naomi and Morgan who fled with John and Al and Charlie. The latter group has returned to the stadium seeking medical supplies to save John's life. Upon arrival, Alicia blows the door off the armored van with a flamethrower and engages in a vicious fight with Al. The fight pauses when she sees some familiar ramen packages on the ground. Familiar to her but not to viewers. There's no doubt of that in the way that Debnam-Carey snatches one up and shakes it furiously in Al's face, breathlessly demanding to know where she got it. Debnam-Carey creates a feeling of time standing still as Alicia hears that Al traded similar ramen packages for an interview. Each word feels like an effort, and she doesn't move until her eyes slowly shift to the side. She digs through the case of interview tapes with frantic desperate hope in her eyes. And her voice catches, deepens suddenly when she finds a familiar name. Alicia watches her mother talk on tape about how Alicia, as a child, was determined to nurse a bird back to health and how Alicia still has that same spark inside of her, despite everything. As Alicia watches this, Debnam-Carey shudders, and her hands shake where she's holding the camera. She has Alicia look away to compose herself, squeezing the tape case tightly in her hand even as she squeezes back tears. She's still quivering from head to foot in the next scene when Alicia holds a gun to Naomi, as she is determined to avenge the perceived death of her mother's dream. Debnam-Carey gradually crumbles, showing Alicia's resolve slipping away, she speaks bitterly, but her voice is husky and wavering. When Morgan steps up to place his chest against the barrel of her gun, her shoulder drops just a bit so that she's not pointing the gun as much as resting it. The second time she asks if he would die for Naomi it's not a question anymore. It's a plea. Debnam-Carey's eyes strain, and you can see the effort to keep her eyelids open, to not blink and let tears fall. Those tears build up anyway. She takes longer to form each word and reflexively shakes her head. She swallows several lumps. Her arms slowly drop, her head bows forward, and she quietly weeps. The next scene with Alicia looking out the window of the van Debnam-Carey has wiped away the hostility and fear that have marked Alicia in the present timeline. There's stillness in the set of jaw and the look in her eyes. Debnam-Carey creates a feeling that is at once haunted and peaceful.

Sometime after the last encounter at the stadium, Alicia has begun to heal, permitting Debnam-Carey to shift into a different side of her personality. People Like Us, (4x9) has Alicia finding messages from a person asking for help and persuades Morgan to help her track them down. She's buoyant with hope, walking in long, springy strides. When they approach the person's location, Debnam-Carey turns around, with a quick, eager swing of her head. She grins, letting you feel the energy that Alicia is getting from being on this rescue mission. Morgan and Alicia reach the person's hiding spot and eventually can get in. Debnam-Carey enters first, and she just stops in her tracks, sorrow, and disappointment in her face. There's a flare of anger, visible through a quick face scrunch and a sudden forward lunge. She holds back the person she came to rescue now turned into an infected. She shouts out a protest full of rage, and then her voice drops to a whisper as Alicia tells the person they were supposed to be alive. Afterward, Alicia talks herself through everything that's going through her head, how she could have come earlier and how she has things to make up for. Debnam-Carey coats each word with sadness, and her gaze turns inward. You can see Alicia disappearing into her own head, reaching for pieces and trying to put them together. The scene leaves you with an ache in your own heart, as Debnam-Carey translates Alicia's hollow state so poignantly.

Alicia’s emotional struggle between redemption and revenge comes to full light in Close Your Eyes (4x10). It ultimately felt more like a mini-movie than an episode of a television series. Debnam-Carey and Alexa Nisenson were the only two series regulars in this episode. It was a defining episode for Alicia as she had to figure out how to deal with being locked in a confined area with her brother's murderer. This entire episode was a tour-de-force for Debnam-Carey as she took Alicia through a rollercoaster of emotions. Everything culminated in the flooded basement when Alicia quite literally held Charlie's life in her hands. Alicia spent the entire episode just trying to co-exist with Charlie. She became an unwilling guardian to the orphaned Charlie who murdered her brother. Yet, time and again she looked after Charlie. It was a true testament to her character that some part of her still cared despite everything. Debnam-Carey's acting was so subtle that everything seemed more heightened.

Then in the basement subtle went out with the water, literally, and Alicia's own fear was on the surface. Alicia was trying to not show that she was afraid, yet Debnam-Carey's eyes said it all. Alicia and Charlie were in a perilous situation that they may not survive, and Debnam-Carey's acting ensured that was front and center. In a moment of primal fear, not wanting to become one of the walking dead herself, Charlie begged Alicia to kill her. One would think a child begging an adult to kill them would be the most poignant part of a scene like this, but in this case, it was the way Debnam-Carey portrayed Alicia's own fear and hesitation at the request that really stood out in this scene. But Alicia's fear was really on display as she pulled the gun from the water and pressed it to Charlie's head. Debnam-Carey took some deep breaths as she tried to prepare Alicia for what she was about to have to do. Then Alicia started to remember her family and as she did Debnam-Carey's controlled facial expression began to slip. Her steady hand grew shaky as did her breaths. Her eyes filled with emotion and her chin quivered and then the dam burst. Alicia crumbled unable to fulfill the wish of her young charge. Debnam-Carey's acting was so profoundly emotional that is was impossible to not feel Alicia's emotions flooding through the screen. This moment was so important because Charlie was set to become a pivotal part of Alicia's journey for the rest of the season and Debnam-Carey had to show that a new beginning had started for these characters. She needed to make the audience believe that Alicia could find it in her heart to forgive Charlie and more than that, to care about her wellbeing. By the end of the episode that is exactly what she had done. The arc was in the writing, but the profound emotional impact of the story all came directly from her. This is the episode that earned Debnam-Carey the title of Readers' Choice Performer of August. (A more in-depth look at her performance in this episode can be read in her winner article from August. )

MM 54 (4x14) continued telling Alicia and Charlie's journey to find the others. It was another poignant episode for Debnam-Carey as Alicia was at a turning point. She wanted to reconnect with the others, but after finding the burned out rig they had been traveling in she seemed to feel at a loss. Debnam-Carey took a knee and pressed her forehead into her hand. The look on her face allowed the audience to feel Alicia's despair as the fierce survivor looked to be on the brink of tears. The long deep breath and clenched shut eyes seemed like Alicia's desperate attempt to not give in and cry. Not a word was spoken at that moment, yet it was so very clear what Alicia was going through. Debnam-Carey knows how to take the quietest moments and make them convey as much, if not more, than any dialogue rich scene.

She did that a lot throughout this episode. After the scene at the burned rig, Alicia turns gears and there is this look of firm determination on her face. Debnam-Carey, through her actions, let the audience know that Alicia was a woman on a mission, one that wasn't necessarily clear until she spelled it out for Charlie. She was determined to take Charlie to see the beach for the first time in her life. It was a nice throwback to Close Your Eyes when Charlie confessed that she had never been to a beach. The gesture showed that Alicia had been paying attention. When Alicia confesses where they are going it is powerfully clear that Alicia was a woman on the brink. She had lost so much and been through so much that all she wanted was to do this one nice thing for someone else. More than wanted to do this, she needed to do this. There was a nervous determined energy in Debnam-Carey's performance in contrast to her quiet still moment earlier. All of it led up to the very ending where Alicia was sort of able to deliver on her promise to Charlie as they found a flooded area that came off looking a lot like a post-apocalyptic beach. As soon as Charlie pointed that out, there was this beautiful calm that Debnam-Carey embodied into Alicia. She was clearly still on guard, but the performance delivered allowed Alicia's relief to be seen. She needed this moment perhaps even more than Charlie did. Then at the very end, after Charlie finds John's hat and they see, as will be revealed in the following episode, John and Strand across the flooded road, there is this instant smile and chuckle that she emits. In an instant Debnam-Carey's eyes light with instantaneous joy and relief and she relaxes her body. For the first time in an exceptionally long time, things are looking up for Alicia. This was an episode about acting within the subtleness of the journey and Debnam-Carey did that phenomenally. Her performance was reserved and quiet yet determined all of which made Alicia's story in this episode really pop. It also showed that she works as well in the quiet moments as she does in the high-intensity ones. That skill came in handy not only throughout the season but was fully utilized in the following episode.

In I Lose People… (4x15) Alicia is challenged with trying to reunite the whole extended group after she and Charlie discover Strand and John. The last time anyone saw Alicia or Charlie the two were not on good terms. Much happened since then which allowed Alicia to reconcile her issues with Charlie and come to terms with her new arrangement with her young charge. What this episode allowed Debnam-Carey to do was to show Alicia finally taking a second to reconcile the new dynamic with Charlie by expressing to others that she had forgiven her. It’s more complex than that, however, and Debnam-Carey does very profound work expressing what Alicia is feeling. There is a moment early on where Alicia is talking to Morgan on the walkie talkies and telling him she had taken his advice. She was ultimately talking about Charlie and forgiveness, but it was written to be where the audience had to read a bit between the lines because Alicia was trying to protect Charlie, who was in hearing range, from understanding the true meaning of the conversation. Debnam-Carey’s performance is what made the scene have the impact it did. Alicia was telling Morgan that because of him something good had happened, even if he may not have understood the full impact in that moment, Alicia’s tone told him it was significant. Alicia was trying to give him hope in a hopeless situation and help him the way he had helped her. There was so much indicated in the drops in her voice and the tiny shake to her normally strong tone. As their communication came to an end Debnam-Carey brought Alicia’s voice back to strong and firm as she declared that they were going to find a way to help Morgan and those with him. The heartfelt emotion in Debnam-Carey’s voice spoke volumes. It was one of dozens of examples of her ability to capitalize on the smallest of moments and make them important to the overall story. There was another moment after they rescued Strand and John when Strand indirectly asks how Alicia is regarding Charlie. Even without speaking, Debnam-Carey responds with a slight nod of her head, a soft expression in her downturned eyes that said all was good. She showed through just those subtle actions that Alicia was still processing some underlying feelings in regards to Charlie, but that they were on good terms.

It was interesting to watch Alicia integrate back into the group with Charlie. She was still responsible for Charlie and took that seriously. While they were searching for a boat to rescue Strand and John they were shot at by Martha (Tonya Pinkins). The glass window of the car they were standing by exploded right by Debnam-Carey’s face. It was obviously a controlled situation, but a lot of performers who know something like that is coming give unconscious clues that something is about to happen. She did none of that. As, soon as Alicia needed to jump into action, Debnam-Carey avoided that split-second pause a lot of performers suffer from when transitioning between a quiet moment and an intense sequence. That is a skill she likely perfected throughout the years portraying fierce warrior women. She shifts Alicia into protector mode with natural reflexes. She goes hands on with Nisenson shifting her around as Alicia tried to get Charlie into a position where she could defend them both. She holds her body in a very natural pre-attack mode that only comes from years of on-the-job training. She keeps Alicia tense and ready to strike should she need to defend their position. It was a nice moment to not only see Alicia as protector, but also as guardian to Charlie. It played well into the rest of the episode especially after they make their way back to join up with the rest of the group. This is a new, fiercer Alicia than the worn down frustrated one that had last departed the group. Debnam-Carey carried Alicia in a much more confident and in charge posture. There was an overall change in Alicia as she saw the light at the end of the tunnel of being able to reunite her make shift family. When she was in the center of the zombie fight, she is back in fighting mode and there was this fierce determination in every strike that Debnam-Carey’s Alicia delivered. All around it was clear that Alicia had turned a corner from feeling defeated to being on the cusp of something great. That’s not to say Alicia has returned to who she was before losing her mother and brother, but by the end of this episode it is clear she is almost there, ready to start moving on with her life again. Through Debnam-Carey’s acting it was clear that Alicia came back prepared to be a part of this ragtag family and to defend them. Of course Alicia’s story is more complex than that and the writers didn’t tie anything up, so while showing that Alicia had turned a corner, Debnam-Carey does a beautiful job showing these unspoken moments where Alicia is still clearly battling her own demons. It is powerful acting all around and led perfectly into the end of the season.

Then in, …I Lose Myself (4x16) the season finale, Debnam-Carey brought Alicia's season-long emotional arc to a conclusion. All season Alicia was a bit adrift even when she was with the group. Without her mother and brother, she came across as feeling a bit lost. The last half of the season saw Alicia start to come to terms with everything that had happened to her family and forge new familial bonds. When Alicia and Charlie returned to the group the energy Alicia conveyed was more determined than before. She knew her place within the group again and through Charlie, she found a purpose in looking after someone. Sure, it is complicated and messy given that it was Charlie that cost Alicia so much, but that is where the emotional power of this story lies. Debnam-Carey is very smart in her acting and she constantly played to the complexity of this relationship. It isn't black and white and it's clear that this dynamic only works because both are willing to live in the grey area where they have just accepted that they each fill some hole that was consuming the other. By this point in the season, it was obvious the characters genuinely cared for one another, which Debnam-Carey strongly played to during the sequences where they were all suffering from being poisoned. Her performance went from having Alicia steely shoot down one of the infected to having her become more subdued as Alicia begins to fall ill from the poison. There is this moment where Charlie is lying her head in Alicia's lap and despite Alicia being equally as sick, she was very gentle with Charlie. The way Debnam-Carey had Alicia tend to the ill young girl spoke volumes to how far they had come. There was a gentleness to her touch and a look of concern in her eyes. Later, after the group fails to get an antidote, both Alicia and Charlie are lying on the ground looking over at each other. Debnam-Carey looks over at Nisenson with this deep look of sadness. When she speaks of a second chance it was clear that Alicia saw Charlie as her second chance. The scene was staged to make sure that wasn't in question in the least, but the way Debnam-Carey connected so intensely with Nisenson made it clear what the second chance was that she was hoping for. Alicia lost her brother to Charlie's misguided hands, but they came out the emotion of it and in the process gained a little sister. Not to say Alicia is trying to replace her brother, that isn’t possible, but Charlie at least plugs the hole his loss caused. It was a rather poignant way to bring this season-long arc of conflict and resolution to a conclusion.

Once they were all recovering Debnam-Carey had a lovely moment with Domingo as their characters are drinking beer to recover from the anti-freeze poisoning. Domingo's Strand talks about how he thought he'd never have someone to drink with again, something he shared with Madison. She turns to him and without speaking a single word she looks at him with this intense look of acknowledgment and a small smile. Once again, another example of how Debnam-Carey really excels in these quiet moments. Very few performers can do as much with silence as she can. To add onto this moment the episode ended with the group arriving at their destination, the Denim factory. Alicia speaks up to declare that they must make this new setup about the people like her mom did. It was a quick statement, but in the way, Debnam-Carey delivered the line with firmness and a glint in her eye it showed that Alicia was finally ready to pick up her mom's mantle. Everything from season start to season end, for Alicia, was about preparing her to take on her mom's legacy. Everything led up to that moment and every nuanced, subtle, emotional, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and breathtaking performance delivered by Debnam-Carey made this conclusion to the arc feel earned and right.

This season was one big emotional journey for Alicia Clark. The writers put her through some intense situations and debilitating loss. She had to come to terms with the person who took everything from her and learn how to forgive in a situation that would normally be unforgivable. She lost people and gained new people in her life. Through all this, Alycia Debnam-Carey delivered one powerful performance after another. From the quiet moments to the fiercely intense she was right there on point delivering with the highest level of proficiency and care. Despite harsh filming environments in water tanks and desolate hot treacherous exteriors, nothing slipped between the cracks and every performance was precisely delivered.

When Debnam-Carey portrayed Lexa on CW's The 100 she was catapulted into the lexicon of fan culture. Through her honest and raw portrayal of Lexa, she earned herself a faithful following of fans and made a very strong name for herself within the industry. Her heartbreaking departure from The 100 led to a call for change regarding how LGBT characters are treated by writers. Even unintentionally she was part of a powerful shift within the industry that will forever be a part of her illustrious legacy. One would think it would be hard to make a new character on a new show stand out after the last one had become so iconic. Yet, that is exactly what she has done. She took Alicia Clark and over the course of four seasons made her into a character as iconic and brave as the one who launched her television career.

Season Four saw a major shift for Fear the Walking Dead as original members of the cast, Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane, departed leaving Debnam-Carey's Alicia as the last remaining member of the Clark family represented on the series. The deaths of both her mom and brother impacted Alicia throughout the season. The death of the latter would ultimately lead her to find a new purpose as she became embroiled in a complicated dynamic with his young murderer. Throughout every complex shift, the character went through in this season, Debnam-Carey delivered a noteworthy performance. Season Four was one of the strongest yet for Debnam-Carey and her performances were certainly more than worthy of Readers' Choice Performer of the Year.

This article couldn't cover every single brilliant moment of acting from this season, so please use the comments to discuss the moments this article didn't cover and reminisce about the ones that were covered.

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