I’ve seen some of AMC’s The Walking Dead spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead, and I’m happy to report, it looks good. While at the Television Critics Association press tour, the cast and creators of the new installment in the massively successful zombie franchise screened a few minutes of the third episode and it was…scary. Legitimately scary. Not just the artful gore that TWD has become known for, not just jump scares or “humans are the worst” psychological horror, but genuine tension. A can’t-sit-still-in-your-seat, nerve-wracking, skin-crawling fear that earns the series its title. As someone who checked out of The Walking Dead a long time ago, the companion series officially has my interest.
During their TCA presentation cast members Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Cary, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Lorenzo James Henrie, and Mercedes Mason joined executive producer David Alpert, co-executive producer and director Adam Davidson, and showrrunner David Erickson to tease how The Walking Dead companion series will differ from “the mothership”, the timeline of the first season, and how much crossover to expect between the two. Check out highlights from what they had to say below.
Fear the Walking Dead is designed as more of a slow-burn than The Walking Dead. Erikson said, “We purposely built the show a little more slowly than the original...We will see walkers. There will be a build…We tried to slow burn the story, make it as much about the anxiety and tension and paranoia that goes with this outbreak as much as it is about the actual confrontations with zombies.”
- The zombies are called “The Infected”, not “Walkers”.
- Don’t expect the full-scale apocalypse by the end of Season 1. “You’re going to have to wait till Season 2. I think by the end of Season 1, we definitely know the world has changed. We definitely know that it is the end of the world as we know it, but we aren’t necessarily at the same place we were when Rick woke up in Georgia.” He later clarified the first season takes place over approximately three weeks.
- Are they limited by the fact that the budget will soar once the world is full of walkers? That’s a big nope. “AMC has no problem with that whatsoever,” said Erikson.
- Fear the Walking Dead will not reveal what caused the apocalypse, however Alpert says it it will deal with unanswered questions like “how the apocalypse happened, what does it look like, how did information get out?”
How long can the series maintain the family drama dynamic once the apocalypse fully takes hold? “We structured the season in a way that they’re still somewhat insulated from the greater truth of what’s going on,” said Erikson. Alpert added, “we conceive of the show as a character drama set against a zombie apocalypse as opposed to a show about the zombie apocalypse. So whether it’s The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead, we always want to preserve the character first-and-foremost approach to storytelling.”
- But will the series eventually fall into the same format as The Walking Dead? Maybe somewhere down the line, but according to Erikson, not any time soon, “Are we going to get to a place where we’re looking for the next sanctuary and we’re battling our way into the sanctuary? That’s not something that I anticipate in Season 2. I can’t speak for Season 3 because it hasn’t been ordered yet, and I’m not that far ahead.”
- Even with the focus on the family dynamic, star Kim Dickens says fans can still look forward to a weekly dose of zombie action, “There was a lot of action and it was very exciting because it was a new genre for me. And, yes, we kind of come in through the eyes of this family, this family drama and this dysfunctional, blended family. But there’s so much excitement and action that I would get a little bit disappointed if I just had a dialogue scene some days. I’d be like, oh, I don’t get to run and jump and fight and, you know, scream. So I think it’s a nice mix of both.”
- Actress Mercedes Mason says that family is the key theme of the show, which raises the questions like, “When the world goes to hell, what does family mean? And is it something you’re born into? Is it something you pick? What is morality?”
Mason also described her character Ofelia, the only major player on stage who isn’t part of the central family unit, “She’s very almost youthful and naive and a bit of a daddy’s girl. And when this happens, she has to stand on her own two feet. It’s almost like going through adolescence again. And I think the biggest sort of survival guide is to stop being so innocent, because the nice ones are always the ones who die fast. So she really has to grow a set.”
Frank Dillane thinks his character’s addictive personality will actually help him in the apocalypse. “I think he’s already been living with life and death and all that. Like, if you’re an addict, you only have one concern and one worry, and that’s where am I going to get my next fix from. We all have thousands of worries and paranoias and all this stuff, but Nick only has one concern and that’s life or death. Heroin, the cells in your body die and are born depending on your fix…So you’re constantly living in a state of life and death and being born and dying.”
- What is the ratio of family drama to zombie horror? “I think they’re completely integrated, because we’re experiencing the fall of Los Angeles, the largest city in the United States, through the eyes of this family. So you’re really in the trenches with them and they’re part and parcel together. And I think that’s what makes it exciting, and that’s what also keeps it emotional and grounded. That said, it is a city of 14 million people, so there is going to be plenty of encounterings of the walker type or the infected type”, said director Adam Davidson.
- The first season will explore the government and military response. Said Erikson, “when Rick exits the hospital in the pilot of the original show, you see the presence of the military. You see evidence of MASH units. So it was important that we — we’re never going to tell the story from the perspective of someone at the CDC or someone in the military. It’s not the generals, not the politicians, but we will see a military presence and we will get a sense of how first responders reacted when things started to go sideways and what they did to protect their own families. That’s very much a part of the arc of the season.”
There are currently no plans for The Walking Dead crossovers. Erikson explained that the series are “telling parallel narratives that live within under the same mythological umbrella. I think the instinct for me would be I would love to see those stories conflate at some point, but there’s no plans to do so.” However, Alpert teased that there may be some small references for the eagle-eyed observer, “There might be an easter egg or two. It’s possible.”
- Fear the Walking Dead was one of the first titles they came up with, and the one they ultimately returned to after considering thousands of others. Said Erikson, “obviously it’s a major franchise. There are a legion of fans. So we wanted ‘Walking Dead’ in the title, and what we wanted to avoid was doing ‘The Walking Dead: Los Angeles’.”
- Erickson thinks you’re probably going to end up just calling it Fear. “We’re already referring to it as ‘Fear‘. I think ‘Fear‘ is going to become the shorthand title for the show.”
- They’re having fun playing with the dramatic irony of the premise. They know you know more than the characters, and they’re exploiting that fact for tension. Davidson explained, “I think that the fact that the audience knows more than our characters is part of the fun of telling this story and part of the chip that we had in terms of how we could play with audience tension and expectations. For me, it’s equivalent to when you go see a horror film and everybody knows that the bad guy’s hiding behind the closet and up comes the innocent blonde not knowing he’s there and there’s this great excitement and thrill and titillation to like, no, no, please, don’t go in there.”
- They’re cognizant of creating iconic imagery for the characters through weapons and wardrobe. Said Erickson, ” There’s actually one weapon…that, I think, will stay with us for quite a long while…But the challenging thing is we will get to a place where not immediately your wardrobe options will become limited. So, yes, we’ll pick certain pieces that will start to define who that character is, whether it’s the wings on Daryl’s back or samurai swords.”
Fear the Walking Dead premieres on AMC August 23rd. For more on the show read Dave’s review of the first two episodes.