Fear the Walking Dead further differentiated itself from its same-universe-series The Walking Dead at Comic-Con. Choosing to focus on the family drama, and regular-looking infected walkers pre-apocalypse, an unconventional (and pulsing) trailer debuted during their San Diego convention panel. And afterward we had the chance to talk with members of the cast and creative crew to see if we could flesh out any more details.
Our table included stars Kim Dickens (Gone Girl), Cliff Curtis (Three Kings), Ruben Blades (Safe House), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Orange Is the New Black), and Mercedes Mason (Anger Management); as well as co-creator Dave Erickson, and producers Greg Nicotero and David Alpert. Below is everything that they revealed about timelines, story structures, locations, and who is who.
- “When we came [to Comic-Con] with The Walking Dead everyone had their specific expectation of characters from the book, and the actor being right for the role,” Alpert said. “And they knew what was coming. But nobody knows what this story is. And I’m trying to take mental snapshots to compare now with next year: when people come and have very strong opinions and attachments to what we’ve created.”
- Curtis noted Fear will have the familiar Walking Dead tension of following people who are forced together in communities. “We have to cooperate with people that we don’t know and that adds tension because we may not agree on the same
thing,” he said.
However, Dickens noted that the biggest difference between the show will be the “evolution to the understanding of the [infection]. The way the information comes out, and the way our responses to it are different. Some try to rationalize it, some are paranoid, or in denial. It varies.”
- Dickens also said that as this is pre-apocalypse “these characters can’t come back and relate to the other characters exactly what they have seen because it’s so complex what they witness—and unlike The Walking Dead—they’ve never witnessed it before.”
- Alpert said that the flow of information (and misinformation) is something that they’ll play around with extensively. “The flow of misinformation in the modern age during natural disasters is fascinating. Look at what happened in New Orleans following Katrina and you see wrong stories baiting paranoia—[like giving] the sense that giant gangs are marauding the Superdome. How does that get out there?”
Alpert added, “The linear flow of information is more like a 50s-style science fiction, so the idea in Fear is that you get some information that is right, but as stuff starts happening, people’s social media accounts start to blow up and you’re not going to know what is real, what is a stunt. Maybe even you’ll ask, ‘Are they trying to market something?’ So watching the way people absorb information and get wrong information is going to be an essential element of what we explore.”
- Erickson mentioned that he and co-creator Robert Kirkman, realized while working on The Walking Dead that they missed a lot of interesting opportunities by beginning their story within a post-apocalyptic period. “Especially the first 24-48 hours of the apocalypse,” Erickson notes. “Seeing people turn. Everyone still looks human, and so your character instinct is not going to be, ‘That’s a zombie, I have to kill it’—it’s going to be, ‘That’s my neighbor, that’s my friend, that’s my colleague who I talked with yesterday and something is wrong with them, and I want to help them.’ It becomes a process of discovery and then when these characters actually have to inflict violence on someone the context will be shattering. They’re swimming in a lot of confusion, a lot of anxiety, which, for us (as writers) is really fun.”
Mason added, “There won’t be decaying Walkers, it’ll be someone you just recently had coffee with who is now clawing at your face. It’s terrifying.”
- The central story happens around two families coming together—headed by Travis (Curtis) and Madison (Dickens)—he’s divorced and she’s a widow. Her son, Nick (Frank Dillane) has a drug addiction, and her daughter (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is struggling with ongoing familial fractures; meanwhile Travis’ son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) does not want to live under the same roof. “The goal is to take these converging familial elements,” Erickson said, “which are specific yet universal and then exacerbate them with an oncoming apocalypse.”Rodriguez added that there is another aspect to the family: Travis’ ex-wife (who she plays). “Travis wants to get his new family, his son, and his son’s mother’s family to safety.”
- Erickson did add that not every character will be clueless. “Nick gets insight into this world sooner, as they are on the forefront of becoming the prophets of the apocalypse, and then everyone has to catch up to his knowledge.”
- Erickson said that they are strictly adhering to Kirkman’s idea that Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) series-opening awakening from a coma—in the original Dead—was a five-week slumber. “If you actually track season one, you’ll see that it maybe covers three weeks,” Erickson said. “So the nice thing for us was that [Fear] was structured in such a way that there is still a whole season-long process of discovery to be had. Which allows us to go into season two—I’m not saying when we would talk to Rick in Atlanta after he woke up from his coma—but I think somewhere in the body of Season 2 that event would happen on camera.”
Curtis said that his character might have the most to learn—in order to survive. “I’m an English teacher in a high school, anything outside of dealing with my students or my family, I sort of pass it on to the committee or on to the principal who brings it to the board. I don’t deal with intensity. I’m an optimist,” he continued, being sure to point out the bad-ass-ness of Dickens: “I believe in the goodness of humanity and think logically and take time to make sure I have a good clear picture before I act. I’m an idealist, but in this world that luxury could become a question mark as to whether I’ll be able to survive, or adapt, whereas Maddy, Kim (Dickens)’ character, is much more alpha, pragmatic, and quick to adapt because she has a lioness quality to her. She hasn’t conquered all the information because she knows there’s a threat and she’ll deal with it, head on.”
- Blades and Mason emphasized the Latino influence on the narrative, creating not just blended families who band together for survival, but also dual narratives. “The Latinos in Fear the Walking Dead have already had this displaced narrative in their origin story,” Blades said. “They’ve already uprooted. And now they are facing it again, but within a new conflict of catastrophe and cultures. This show asks how would we behave everything was being redefined all the time? And that’s also a question that immigrants face on different scales, day-to-day.”
Mason is also excited that the East LA setting will be different than what you usually see on TV. “This will feature working class families, not gangs, which is the only East LA on TV. LA is a place of immigrants, it’s a place of rebirth and reinvention. It’s more than the glitz and glamor everyone thinks of.”
- However, it won’t all be so serious. If you’ve seen the promo poster and watched a few of the teasers, you’re aware that there is a bit more humor in this show. “It’s a lot easier to have those moments of levity before people start eating each other,” Alpert said. “Once that happens it’s a little harder, but I hope we’ll be able to maintain that sort of humorous naturalism in season 2.”Dickens believes they can maintain some humor because it’s rooted in family dynamics. “We talk over each other and bicker, shut each other down, and I hope that’s very recognizable to an audience. When I did Treme and talked with all the people who lived through Hurricane Katrina, they said they never lost their sense of humor. It’s a support system to humanity to find lighter moments in a crisis.”
- Nicotero, who has worked on The Walking Dead since 2010 as a producer, and special effects maestro cum director, said he hasn’t directed any of Fear‘s episodes because he’s been shooting the newest season of The Walking Dead. But he mentioned that season two of Fear will start in November or December, and then he will get the chance to direct Fear in AMC’s effort “to have a zombie TV show on 52 weeks of the year.”
Fear the Walking Dead will debut on August 23, on AMC.
A companion series to “The Walking Dead,” the #1 show on television among adults 18-49, “Fear the Walking Dead” takes us back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse – a time when the world was changing rapidly for reasons unknown, before anyone understood exactly what was happening, when life as everyone knew it was upended and altered in ways no one could have ever imagined. “Fear the Walking Dead” is executive produced by Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, Greg Nicotero, David Alpert and showrunner David Erickson and produced by AMC Studios. The series, set in Los Angeles, stars Kim Dickens as Madison, Cliff Curtis as Travis, Frank Dillane as Nick, Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia, Elizabeth Rodriguez as Liza, Ruben Blades as Daniel, Mercedes Mason as Ofelia and Lorenzo James Henrie as Chris.