“We’re safer in numbers.” — Tobias
There’s a scene early on in the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead that really helps set the tone for what could be the running theme for this first season. We have the awkward high school student Tobias getting caught by his school guidance counselor (Madison Clark played by Kim Dickens) with bringing a knife to school. His reasoning after some prodding from Ms. Clark is that he didn’t bring the knife for protection from the school bully. He never outright says what, but his rambling about viruses, microbes, people dying and that it’s a situation that is spreading even sets Ms. Clark aback. Tobias truly believes that there’s a storm coming and that everything he has been preparing for will fall by the wayside. It’s not just his plans, but everyone’s.
Fear the Walking Dead has the difficult task of satisfying not just the legion of fans that make up the prequel series’ parent show, but also set it separate with it’s own identity from The Walking Dead. This show takes us, the viewers, back to the beginning when zombie apocalypse hadn’t landed on the world’s lap. It’s a look into the days gone bye that were only hinted and talked about in the The Walking Dead. Rick Grimes still in a coma, Glenn’s still delivering pizzas in Atlanta and Herschel still has an empty barn.
We find the world still turning and turning with it’s people oblivious of the storm looming over in the horizon. The worry about a prequel series is that as an audience who has seen five seasons of The Walking Dead we’ve learned how this encroaching world operates. We know that anyone who dies becomes a zombie (or walker, biter, etc) who will attack anyone living and propagate the outbreak. The writers of this new series must now try and convince this audience that the actions of the cast are not born out of stupid horror tropes, but on uneducated decisions during situations that they’re not prepared for.
The series focuses on the lives of what would be considered a typical American family. Two families trying to combine into one with children either resentful or apathetic to their parents’ attempts to create a new family from two broken ones. We witness the opening stages of The Walking Dead zombie apocalypse through their eyes as they go about the normal routine of their lives. Whether it’s going to school as a student or as a guidance counselor or a English teacher. This world we recognize as something we see everyday of our own lives.
The question the pilot begins to raise through some tense moments of dialogue is whether the world is prepared for the apocalypse that’s coming. In this world, as in the world of The Walking Dead, the term zombies and the rules governing them don’t exist. There’s no George A. Romero zombie films or Italian zombie knock-offs to help educated the masses through the years. This world has no analogue for the horror descending on them which should explain why some of their behaviors might seem frustrating to those who have watched horror and zombie films.
Yet, it’s through the characters’ very naivete about the crisis happening around them that looks to be a strength for the show. There’s no Rick Grimes, Shane, Daryl or Michonne to come in guns blazing and blade slicing to save the day. These characters must adapt quickly to this encroaching nightmare world or die. It’s as simple as that: adapt or die.
If tonight’s pilot episode stumbles a bit it’s through some of the backstory sequences that episode was trying to dump wholesale to the audience. The one major criticism that the original series continue to get from fans and detractors alike was how so many characters in the original series have been left underdeveloped. Pilot episode writers Robert Kirkman and David Erickson seem too intent on not making that same mistake with this series premiere, but it did lead to some major expositions that, at times, put the breaks on the episode’s forward momentum. It’s understandable to try and flesh out these characters before the zombie mayhem arrive in full-force, but the adage of showing rather than telling still goes a long way even when the intentions are good.
The zombie mayhem that fans of The Walking Dead have become used to appear quite sparse in this pilot episode. We see what we could call as “Patient Zero” for this series in the episode’s tense-filled first three minutes. We see glimpses of them in parks and from amateur video footage on the net. They’re not as spread out and coming at our cast in horde-like numbers. These people have nothing to fear from the walking dead. Yet, we sense throughout the episode that this outbreak has already started randomly all over the country (most likely around the world) and the very institutions meant to protect the population doesn’t have that very population’s trust. Misinformation and mistrust of institutions make for a dangerous recipe that the student Tobias knows full well.
Fear the Walking Dead has the luxury of having a built-up audience courtesy of the massive success of The Walking Dead. The question looming over the series is whether it will be able to use that head start and distinguish itself from it’s older brother series. We have five episodes left in this shortened first season (just like The Walking Dead) and we shall see if these characters will get tossed into the deep end as the crisis grows and grows. One thing Fear the Walking Dead shouldn’t do is to be deliberate. It’s the one mistake that The Walking Dead made during it’s first two seasons that it’s still trying to fix as we near the start of season 6.
- Tonight’s premiere pilot episode was written by series creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner David Erickson with directing duties handled by Adam Davidson.
- It’s great to see two veteran actors such as Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens as the leads of a major project as Fear the Walking Dead. They’re definitely the anchor and foundation that this show will revolve around.
- We get two shout outs to recent zombie films during the episode.
- First one was the traffic jam when Travis and Maddy were trying to drive home only to have them stuck in traffic with helicopters overhead and police motorcycles driving past dangerously close to Travis’ truck. A scene similar to 2014’s World War Z.
- Second one scene was of the faculty staff and some of the students watching videotaped footage of fire department personnel and police responding to the cause of the traffic jam only to have the supposed dead victim come back to life and bite one of the firemen. The scene looks eerily similar to footage from George A. Romero’s fifth zombie film, Diary of the Dead.
- I do believe that was Lynn Chen from the Buzzfeed videos that was playing the nurse when Nick’s elderly roommate patient went into Code Blue.