“Fear The Walking Dead has enough going for it that it can stand separate and distinct from its parent.”
A little over a decade ago when Robert Kirkman’s black and white comic book quietly appeared on the scene there weren’t many people who could have predicted the huge impact it would have on pop culture, chief among them Kirkman himself who killed off a major character at the end of the first six issue arc because he was unsure how long the book would run.
Thanks to the success of the comic, though, that major character subsequently found themselves enjoying a much extended run in the hugely popular AMC television series and the general public hasn’t been able to get enough of The Walking Dead ever since. As a result there have been two video game adaptations – one the superb Telltale Games episodic game that has run for two seasons so far, the other the not so great Survival Instinct – and a slew of novels, and now we have the natural evolution of any successful television show, the spin-off.
In both the comic book and the original series, we meet Rick Grimes just before the outbreak takes place, he gets shot and then wakes from a coma several weeks later to find that the world has completely changed. With the exception of a few brief flashbacks this period of time has never been address in either medium, and so with the first season of Fear The Walking Dead taking place in these few weeks, fans are finally going to see what the end of world looked like as it happened.
Opening in a derelict church, we find nineteen year old Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) waking from a drug induced stupor to find himself apparently alone, his companion having disappeared. Teasing the audience as to whether we’re already into the apocalypse or not, Fear The Walking Dead effectively sets out its stall within the first few minutes, ratcheting up the tension as the camera crawls slowly and claustrophobically through the church as Clark searches for her.
Of course we have one major advantage over the characters in Fear The Walking Dead in that we already know where this is heading, and so when he finally comes across her, kneeling in a pool of blood over another of their junkie companions, doing what zombies do best, it isn’t a surprise, but it’s still shocking thanks to Greg Nicotero’s spectacularly stomach churning prosthetics.
Understandably spooked by his discovery, Clark flees the church, running out into the sunny streets of Los Angeles where he’s hit by a car and then surrounded by a group of people. Living, breathing people.
There has been criticism that Fear The Walking Dead isn’t action packed enough, and that it moves too slowly, but the very fact that we, the audience, know what’s beginning to go down means that giving us a shot of undead gratification early on, and then eschewing the walkers for most of the episode until the last ten minutes, is actually a smart move. It gives us time to get to know the main characters and the opportunity to see if we want to care about them or not.
Much like its parent series, Fear The Walking Dead is at its heart a drama, and we’re given a reasonably convincing dysfunctional family as our primary focus. Frank and his sister Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) are adjusting to a new way of life now that their widowed mother, high school guidance counsellor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) has taken her relationship with teacher, and colleague, Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) to the next level by having him move in with her family.
We’re also introduced to Manawa’s ex-wife Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and his estranged son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), though they don’t appear much in this first episode, and most interestingly to high school student Tobias (Lincoln A Castellanos) who seems to know much more about what is going on than everybody else.
As with any new drama, the sheer number of characters being introduced is slightly overwhelming, and there are at least three more regular cast to arrive in the second episode, but for those willing to invest the time and effort to understand them, Fear The Walking Dead feels like it will pay major dividends once the you know what hits the air circulation device.
Robert Kirkman has confirmed that Fear is set in the same universe as The Walking Dead, and so those who are invested in both series will be able to keep their eyes peeled for connections and for answers to questions that may not have been addressed in the parent show. For example, those with an analytical mind will be able to pinpoint the date that the apocalypse began to within a few months.
Even viewers with a passive interest, though, will find a satisfying sustained level of tension running throughout the episode and indeed the show as a whole, as the world struggles to understand what we already know. Even Nick struggles to comprehend what he has seen initially, unsure whether it was all the result of a bad batch of drugs, or whether he’s actually gone insane, because in the world as we join it, there appears to be no knowledge of zombies in popular culture.
As it should, Fear The Walking Dead feels like a very different kind of show to its parent, and though it won’t be for everybody it’s a fascinating alternative view of Kirkman’s post-apocalyptic world. Whether there will be much, if any, crossover between characters on the two shows remains to be seen, but judging from the first episode, Fear The Walking Dead has enough going for it that it can stand separate and distinct from its parent.