AMC’s The Walking Dead has become a ratings juggernaut since its debut in 2010; the companion series Fear the Walking Dead seeks to capitalize on that popularity and aims to tell the story of the Walker apocalypse from a different angle in the process. It certainly succeeds on that second goal and time will tell if it can achieve the first, but viewers are going to have to be very, very patient with its shambling, barely sentient pace. Also, it’s inevitable that Fear will be compared to its spiritual predecessor, so let’s take a moment to look back to where it all began.
In case you haven’t watched a second of The Walking Dead, it’s probably best to stop reading now since I’ll occasionally reference the original series. When it premiered in the fall of 2010, “Days Gone Bye” had viewers hooked in less than five minutes, before the opening credits even rolled. It managed to do this by introducing the hero protagonist Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as a law enforcement officer (ie. an authority figure) amidst a post-apocalyptic wasteland devoid of the normalcies of civilization … and then promptly had him shoot a little undead girl in the forehead. Roll credits. Viewers aren’t going anywhere.
Fear the Walking Dead creators Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson obviously kept this in mind when crafting the show’s opening, which would serve as its introduction to an audience who was already familiar with a world overrun by Walkers. The world of Fear is a very different place, and the first person we meet is a very different character from Rick. Meet Nick (Frank Dillane), the wayward son of the dysfunctional Clark family who’s on exactly the opposite side of the law from Deputy Grimes. It’s through his hazy eyes and not-so-trustworthy recollection that we see our first Walker in the pre-apocalypse world of Los Angeles. It’s less of an instant attention-grabbing scene and much more of a nod to The Walking Dead fans to reassure them that, yes, there will be run-ins with Walkers in this show.
That being said, with the exception of the opening scene, it takes a long, long time for anyone else to cross paths with the undead on screen. Instead, we spend the majority of our viewing time getting to the know the Clark family, and by extension, the Manawa family. Much like the patchwork familial relationships in The Walking Dead, this series features a dysfunctional family unit that’s anything but nuclear. Madison (Kim Dickens) is the mother of the derelict Frank and the high-achieving Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and is dating Travis (Cliff Curtis), who shares custody of his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) with his ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Got that straight? If not, don’t worry; you’ll spend a lot of time getting to know them.
And that’s not a bad thing. The aim of this series is to follow a modern-day, ordinary family – think guidance counselors and teachers, not law enforcement and military veterans – as they attempt to understand, come to grips with, and then survive the undead scourge. What’s more interesting than a rehash of the original series’ conceit is the subtext that’s present in this spin-off. Without giving away any major plot points, it’s surprisingly anti-authority. It explores the “powers that be” on multiple levels – parents, teachers, news reporters, and police – and shows how perilous it can be to put your trust in the wrong people. There’s a lot of crossover between the show and events in real life: leaked security camera footage, questionable instances of police brutality, and designer drugs granting unexpected side effects to those who take them; all of these are tied into the central question of just how reliable authority figures really are. Certain characters, like Madison for example, see them as White Knights with the people’s best interests in mind; her paranoid student Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos), however, is not so trustworthy, and tries to bring “Mrs. C.” around to his way of thinking. As you might have guessed, Tobias had the right idea all along.
Fans of The Walking Dead will likely be interested in checking out this show, but I’m worried that the action-packed pacing of the original will taint their expectations for Fear. It’s a slow-burn series, even with a 90-minute premiere, but the cast and pedigree could make sticking through the six-episode first season worthwhile. In addition to staying patient, try not to let your frustration with some character decisions get the best of you. I’ll address my own frustrations in the form of some advice for you, dear reader, should you suffer the unfortunate occurrence of a Walker apocalypse:
Should you happen upon dead bodies, murder scenes, or unexplained deaths, definitely at least make an attempt to call the authorities.
- If the world starts going to shit – riots, power outages, dropped phone calls, neighbors attacking each other – get your people together and get somewhere safe; speed is of the essence.
- When packing supplies, make sure to stock up on bottled water and never turn down free canned and packaged food.
If you keep all this in mind, you might not only survive an actual zombie apocalypse, but you’ll feel less emotionally attached when one of the characters on Fear the Walking Dead makes a poor decision that endangers everyone around them. Here’s hoping the rest of Season 1 ends up being compelling enough to keep the second-season renewal from being a poor decision as well.
Fear the Walking Dead premieres August 23rd on AMC.