We’ve been covering the Walking Dead spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, for quite some time now, but we still don’t know all that much about the show besides the fact that it takes place prior to the events of the original series and stars Kim Dickens as a guidance counselor, Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam Carey as her kids, and Cliff Curtis as a divorced teacher. However, during a recent interview with THR, Fear the Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson revealed tons of new story details, discussed the possibility of Walking Dead character crossovers and also talked about his long-term plan for the show. Check out the highlights of the conversation below.
Fear the Walking Dead just went into production and is due to air this summer on AMC.
1. The show is really a companion piece, not a prequel.
“We are loosely covering the period of time that [The Walking Dead’s] Rick (Andrew Lincoln) was in his coma in season one. We’re able to watch and experience the things that he missed. It’s more of a parallel story than a prequel; imagine the opening where Rick gets shot and goes in his coma — that day was probably very close to our day one. We’re playing out the idea of what was going on in the country and the world until he woke up, stepped outside and it’s welcome to the apocalypse. That’s why a ‘companion piece’ has been the phrase used at the network. It’s not a prequel in the sense of Better Call Saul, where we’re jumping back six, seven years. It does tie very specifically into the pilot of the original. ‘Prequel’ is not the right word; it’s kind of its own strange, hybrid thing. I wish I had a better word.”
2. The narrative will “loosely track” the four or five weeks that Rick Grimes was in a coma.
“When he wakes up and goes outside, it’s done; the world has come to an end. We’re not going to time out exactly to that point. We have a story device that will still keep our characters — our core family — somewhat ignorant of what’s going on beyond.”
3. Don’t expect to see many familiar LA landmarks – yet.
“Right now, our L.A. skews more East Side. It’s blue collar, it’s closer to downtown. We’re not hitting the landmarks as much. I think there are more opportunities to do so later this season. The goal was to show a very textured, layered, vibrant version of this city. Every time you show a part of a city, it’s that [moment] for of the audience of knowing there’s millions of people here, all of whom are about to face something horrific and many of whom are soon going to die.”
4. Don’t expect to find out what exactly caused the outbreak either.
“I had a couple of early pitches that touched on what you’re referring to and Robert shut me down. For him, it’s never been about what caused it; it’s always been about the impact it has on people.”
5. Family conflicts will drive the main narrative forward, not the zombie outbreak on its own.
“We have this highly dysfunctional, blended family and all the issues that they face and they would have faced if the apocalypse hadn’t struck, those are the problems we’re exploring. The main narrative drive is the conflicts within this family dynamic and how those things are exacerbated by the arrival of the apocalypse.”
6. Here’s a tease of that family drama:
“Travis (Curtis) just moved in with his girlfriend Madison (Dickens) after they got married. She has two children, one of whom has some issues. Travis has a very pissed-off teenager and an ex-wife. You’re talking about two people who, as the story opens, all they want is to bring their family together under one roof and make everyone whole. The irony for us is that the only thing that helps accomplish that is that the world ends.”
“Many of our characters, as we will come to discover, have gone through some very unsavory things — histories that they try to bury. With the onset of the apocalypse, they’re going to have choices to make as to whether they can tap into the darker sides of themselves things that they tried to distance themselves from in order to survive. They also end up going back to the quotidian of it. In a blended family, you’re also dealing with people who have been in marriages and have lost loved ones; have been in marriages and gone through divorce; and they’re going through their own identity shifts when we first meet them within the family drama world of things. Then, as everything becomes more serious, you’re forced to shift, adjust and become the thing that you hated. There are some lovely intersections between some of the thematics on the original show, where at a certain point doing the right thing becomes the absolute wrong thing. We’re going to start with some relationships, specifically the Travis and Madison relationship — which is beautiful and everything seems to be harmonious and they’re truly in love — and we’re going to put them through the ringer over the course of season one.”
7. Season 1 won’t be overrun with walkers.
“All of the issues that we establish, these are the things that in my head will come to fruition in seasons three, four, five and six. It forges an interesting introduction into this world. It’s much more about the ‘shark’ you don’t see in season one. We obviously play some of the tropes — and there are definitely walkers — but it’s people trying to wrap their brain around what the hell is going on and not fully understanding the zombie apocalypse by act one. It’s going through that process of the colleague or the friend you had coffee with the day before is now trying to kill you. And your first thought’s going to be, ‘They’re sick, they’re on something.’ It takes a bit of time for everyone to wrap their brains around what this truly means.”
8. An early Fear the Walking Dead pilot script mentioned Dr. Candace Jenner (Test Subject 19). Erickson didn’t completely deny the possibility of incorporating Candace and/or Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich), but he did note that Robert Kirkman doesn’t want to use the CDC/FEMA perspective.
“I won’t say that we would never go there, but as it was scripted originally, that was really a means to writing some connective tissue for the fans. Robert very poignantly said that he likes to avoid the CDC perspective, the FEMA perspective, at least moving forward. It’s something I agree with; we’ll never tell the story from the perspective of the bureaucrats, politicians and generals who are all trying to contain it. It will always be from the ground level looking up. There’s something far more overwhelming and beautiful about your next-door neighbor and people you know trying to understand the apocalypse. It’s really quite daunting.”
9. What about The Walking Dead character crossovers? Again, Erickson couldn’t give a definitive answer and it seems unlikely that we’ll see any familiar faces pop up early on in the show, but it isn’t completely out of the question down the line.
“That, I’d never thought of. Variations of this question have come up before, and there’s no current plan. I think logistically, it would be very difficult. There’s no plan for a crossover. I never considered seeing that in some way, shape or form; that show has been going on for five years since the original outbreak and we’re just in the infancy [of the outbreak]. There are no plans to do so but I do think that’s a world that could be explored at some point. There no plans for them to conflate, but I will say this: We are living under the same mythological umbrella. We are telling, ultimately, two parts of the larger story in this world that Robert has created. From a storytelling standpoint, I like the idea of conflating stories; I like the idea of things coming together. If that were ever to happen, it would not be for seasons to come, and there’s no current plan to do so. But I do think there’s something compelling and interesting about it, too.”
10. What kind of body count can we expect? Erickson insisted, “No one is safe.”
“I don’t want to get too specific in terms of body count because I believe ultimately I would never set up and drop someone just for the purpose of setting up and dropping them. Anybody can be eaten at any time; it can happen to anyone. No one is safe, but I also have some specific arcs in my head that will probably protect certain people. I worked on Sons of Anarchy, and sometimes you have to kill your darlings. When you’re going to kill a major character, you need to have laid the track for it. There are certain deaths that I have in my head that wouldn’t be coming until much later in the show, but until we get up and running and we see how everything is developing, it’s hard to say.”
“Ideally, what I want to do is find a handle for each season that gives it its own theme and its own structure; it’s a novel every season.”
12. Don’t expect a new main villain each season.
“What’s interesting to me is to try to internalize it as much as possible and create more of a Shane (Jon Bernthal)-Rick dynamic. That’s where I find the most interesting problem and I find things more compelling. The pattern that we don’t want to do is arriving at the new safe haven and then depending on the safe haven. It works beautifully in the comic book — and there’s always going to be the survival element — but we have some ideas that are going to give us, in terms of location and structure, an opportunity to do a movie a season. The idea is to make it as specific and to internalize the drama as much as possible. The thing is to avoid is having it feel like a copycat. The last thing it should feel like is The Walking Dead: L.A. or The Walking Dead: Vancouver, or The Walking Dead: Wherever the story might take us. We have ideas for villains but the idea is to fracture from within and build out from that rather than having an external antagonist per season who comes in and shakes things up.”
13. As for the episode count, Erickson thinks that the show is best suited for 13-episode seasons.
“I would imagine the network has a very specific plan. I think 13 is a great number; 15, 16, it’s really a question of having the time to sit down and make sure we’re not burning story to burn story; that we’re able to build something that’s layered and textured and compelling. I think it’s a safe bet that if things go well, they’ll probably want more rather than less, but I’m not sure what that number’s going to be.”
14. Fear the Walking Dead scored a two-season order from AMC, but what’s the long-term plan? Erickson said he’s aiming for five or six seasons.
“About five or six. The more we dig into it, the more we’ll find. The original show is at least another few seasons based on the material that Robert has written for the comic already, and that serves as a guiding light. I like endings, and — I haven’t discussed this with Robert but I think it’s more of a question for us to discuss when we sit down and really start breaking season two — on Sons, Kurt Sutter had a certain number in his head. He knew there was a certain number of seasons that felt right to him. I don’t have a specific set number of seasons in my head right now. I do think that the burden at a certain point, when you cross that 10-year mark … it can be pretty challenging. I’ve got some of mile markers, which don’t take me that long as of yet, but I can’t really say because it’s an AMC question.”