The Walking Dead, whose season five viewership did not dip below 12 million per week, and hit as high as 17.29 million, is such an innovative program that AMC commissioned a spin-off show to compliment it. More specifically, to fill in the gaps of the show’s driving force (other than Michonne’s katana), which is the “virus” dormant in everyone’s brains.
Fear the Walking Dead, which premiered on AMC on August 23, endeavors to illuminate the dark deterioration of expected norms, the steady decline into ruin for society — the same society which renowned characters like Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) inhabit.
The show’s creators, Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson, work with a fairly eclectic cast within the LA scene, which adds a friendly sort of ambiance to the now-seasoned backdrop of Georgia and dispersed gated communities. It’s a different mise-en-scene from Fear the Walking Dead‘s counterpart, but one that is captivating in its own right.
The pilot, which took to the screen following a new episode of Talking Dead, was a slow-burner, with an elongated progression to the “hook,” the moment that captures viewers — Walking Dead fans and new fans alike — but when that moment hit, and the depravity became all the more imminent, there was no questioning the show’s poignancy.
The show is formatted as a six episode first season, but an extended, 15 episode second season will air in 2016. The August 23 episode of Talking Dead also hinted that depending on ratings and fan response, AMC could release an extended version of Talking Dead to analyze and deconstruct The Walking Dead‘s counterpart and in a sense, prequel.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The pilot began with Nick Clark (Frank Dillane, son of Game of Thrones star Stephen Dillane) coming off a high at a church that has become a drug den. Clark hears a loud wail coming from inside the building, and decides to investigate. What he finds, though, is his junkie friend, Gloria, eating the bodies of other ‘occupants’ of the church.
Narrowly escaping Gloria’s clutches (which he questions initially, because she’s sort of an attractive zombie!), Nick flees the church and regroups outside. Sadly enough, he is immediately struck by a car and sent to the hospital. He is totally written off by his mom, Madison Clark (Kim Dickens, Gone Girl), and his stepdad, Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), who fear that Nick has simply slipped into another drug-induced meltdown.
Madison is a guidance counselor at the same high school Manawa works at as an English teacher. The first warning sign of the impending doom is when an apparently bullied student, Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos), brings a steak knife to school to protect himself against a suspected airborne virus going around and keeping students out of school. Madison lets Tobias off the hook, thinking he’s just stressed. However, Travis decides to visit the church where Nick shot up, and discovers blankets of fresh blood on the ground.
Viewers also meet Madison’s daughter, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), an ambitious high school student smitten by her artistic boyfriend, Matt (Maestro Harrell). In the pilot, however, her role is almost background noise.
Nick then convalesces at the hospital, but when his old “roommate” passes away, he manages to snag the dead man’s clothing and escape the hospital. He meets up with his drug dealer, Calvin (Keith Powers), who outwardly tries to counsel Nick back to sanity, but secretly wants to keep his operation on the down low. Calvin drives Nick out beneath an LA overpass, and plans to kill him. Discovering the plot, Nick leaps out of the car and is able to turn the gun against the drug dealer. Seeing the young man dead, Nick runs off.
Back at school, principal Art Costa (Scott Lawrence) becomes skeptical of all the student absences, and this plot line coheres when the teachers get together to watch smartphone videos of the police struggling to subdue and ultimately kill a victim on a LA highway. Madison and Travis find Nick after the (ex?) junkie calls Travis, and Nick is able to convince his parents of the abnormality of everything when they encounter a zombie — a ravenous version of Calvin. After punching the pedal to the floor and tossing Calvin 20-30 feet onto the pavement, the characters learn that these sickly people are quite difficult to kill.
There is plenty to look forward to with this (short) season of Fear the Walking Dead. At last, viewers get a glimpse at what actually sent the world to hell in a hand basket. Although it is set over 2,000 miles away from the epicenter of The Walking Dead, Fear TWD will be an excellent bridge to a land of fuller answers and possibly, new strategies.
What is especially paramount to TWD fans is the chance that they may be able to search for parallels; will there be subtle clues dropped in the LA version that informs our contemporary viewing of season six of the now-Washington D.C. version?
The power of omniscience is also quite appealing, in that fans may actually be a step ahead of our Alexandria characters. They may know more about the illness (?) than the characters we’ve come to love. What does Rick truly know, aside from the secret that CDC doctor Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) whispered to him?
So Fear TWD fans, by episode six, you may actually be able to inform Rick Grimes on a couple of things! Let’s hope this power doesn’t get to our heads, though. For this is the law of the land: Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Carol (Melissa McBride) and company still hold a special place in our hearts.
Fear TWD has to go quite a ways to be on an equal playing field, although the last 20 minutes of the August 23 pilot were quite promising.
Follow Dan Gunderman on Twitter: @dangun127.
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