After months of rumors, speculation and casting announcements, the official prequel series to AMC’s The Walking Dead is at last here; and while it doesn’t have the same effect as its parent series, Fear the Walking Dead proves enough to satisfy the appetite of every fan of this universe as it takes us back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.
Though the pilot serves mostly to introduce the show’s characters and its central human drama, it does give viewers a a good old flesh-eating sequence in its introduction and another walker at the end. We open inside a cathedral where Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), a drug addicted teenager and one of the show’s main characters, is just waking up from a massive hangover. When he gets up, he sees something which causes him to question his sanity.
As he watches a deformed human feeding on the flesh of one of his junkie friends, a familiar sight for anyone who watches TWD, his heart races. Yet as he runs from the scene, he finds himself not in a post-apocalyptic city or by himself in the woods with a swarm of walkers on his trail, but in a fully functioning Los Angeles. Still reeling from what he just witnessed, Nick fails to notice the car behind him in the middle of traffic.
We then meet Nick’s family as they get a call that he’s been taken to the hospital. There’s his Mom Madison, a high school guidance counselor played by Kim Dickens from last year’s Gone Girl; her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), an English teacher who works at the same school as Madison; and Nick’s sister and Madison’s daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a high-achieving student on her way to Berkeley but who often sneaks away with her boyfriend.
All this obviously sets up for some melodrama in the early part of the episode, as Nick and Alicia both resent Travis. Likewise, Travis has to practically beg for his son to spend a weekend with him.
Not long after Nick talks about what he saw at the cathedral, one of Madison’s troubled students shows up to school with a knife and tells her that the world’s about to end. Midway through the episode, Nick escapes from the hospital and a mysterious police shooting video goes viral. It features a man getting shot multiple times but getting back up until he’s shot in the head. Thus it becomes the catalyst for widespread fear across the nation. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but you get an idea of the series’ tone and purpose, as well as its connection to TWD.
In some ways, Fear the Walking Dead feels like a better executed version of World War Z, as it is closer in tone and style to the novel than the action-driven film adaptation. With most zombie stories opening in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s interesting seeing how it all goes down. I also like that like its parent series the characters are just average citizens with everyday problems.
The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman joined forces with Dave Erickson (Low Winter Sun) to bring this series to fruition, and the team proves effective. Yes the human drama here might be a bit melodramatic for some viewers, but if you made it through season two of TWD then you have nothing to worry about.
Character and acting wise, Dickens brings the most commanding screen presence with her strong-willed attitude as a single mother determined to restore her broken family. Nevertheless, Nick’s repeated offenses and failed attempts at rehab takes a toll on her perseverance. Next to her, Dillane also stands out in this episode as someone who’s both self-destructive and whose actions affect others as well. It makes sense that Kirkman would make an outsider a central character, as his other most famous comic book next to TWD is another horror series called Outcast.
The pilot is mostly standard exposition and is not quite enough to rival the characters and relentless zombie violence in TWD. Nevertheless, Fear is off to a solid start and will hopefully build in momentum as it progresses. With a season two already green lit, I look forward to what Kirkman and company have planned for this series.