When AMC announced a spin-off of The Walking Dead, I have to admit, I was both curious and resistant. I mean, part of what makes The Walking Dead so good (now that they’ve gotten into their groove) is the source material that it’s based upon. The TV series has pretty much surpassed the comic, in my opinion, but it was the comic that provided the bones upon which Kirkman and company built the most popular scripted-series on television. They had most of the characters, most of the situations, most of the major plot points, all worked out in advance. With a new series, set in the opening moments of the zombie apocalypse — everything Rick Grimes slept through — we are working with a clean slate; new characters, a new setting, and a new approach to the world we’ve come to know with the original series. Theoretically, The Walking Dead is a show that could be spun out exactly like the various incarnations of CSI have spawned, with a new cast in a new city confronting the same-old-same-old. So I applaud the creators for at least giving us something different from what we’ve gotten used to with regular franchise television. At the same time, what we’re getting could be bog-standard Zombie Movie 101. So, as someone who has immersed himself in zombie films (see here), I decided to approach this new series as something other than a normal TV series or mini-leading-to-an-ongoing-series experience. This first season is 6 episodes (with a second season already approved), so I’m going to look at this kind of like the UK one-and-done mini-series, Dead Set, and see if what they’re putting together here stands on its own as a massive (maybe the most massive?) zombie film. Granted, there won’t be a set ending. But this first season should tell a complete story about the beginnings of the zombie apocalypse; and as such, there are certain elements it has to touch upon, and certain plot points it has to incorporate. Since we’re not going for comedy here (which is often the fallback for creators who can’t really handle the gravity of the material they’re working with), we have to have a solid grounding in reality and a cast of characters that, even if they’re not likeable, are intriguing. We have to become invested in their struggles before those struggles involve making head-shots. For Fear the Walking Dead we have a showrunner, Dave Erickson, with a history of gritty, grounded work (Sons of Anarchy, Low Winter Sun), and the original creator, Robert Kirkman scripting this extended length, 90 minute pilot. We have a cast that includes Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, and Rubén Blades, so right out of the gate we have a solid core (although, to be honest, Blades isn’t in the pilot). But more importantly, we have a group of characters that are interesting; not only interesting, but real. The show opens with drug-addict son, Nick (Frank Dillane) waking up in an abandoned church that he and other junkies use as a “haven” of sorts, to find that his friend has died and turned into a flesh-eating zombie. Fleeing from the carnage, as one would do, he ends up in traffic, hit by a car, and in a hospital, where his family show up to discover that he was brought in raving about blood, death, and chaos. But it’s okay. He’s all better now. It’s never a bad idea to have the first characters we interact with be untrustworthy. That little bit of uncertainty is part of the storytelling process. It allows the other characters — the normals — to dismiss the impending horror as delusion, as hallucination. It also allows us the opening to have more tormented and flawed central characters. And Nick is flawed as fuck. The rest of the episode might be a little slow for some viewers, but the slow burn is effective and allows for enough time to not only craft multi-dimensional characters, but to let those characters breathe and open up the world they live in. We’re given glimpses into the everyday lives of the characters, as well as a somewhat disturbing glimpse at the 1984-state under which modern schools currently operate. Not only are metal detectors a commonplace, the principal (a very Obama-esque Scott Lawerence) is able to listen in on any classroom he chooses, at will, just by flipping a switch. High School in the modern world is a pseudo-totalitarian state, it seems. This underlying paranoia and fear creates a running subtext for the impending catastrophe (not to mention the family dynamics at work before the show even begins). This is especially effective given that instead of the singular focus of The Walking Dead’s original premiere (Rick’s awakening and rediscovery of the world), we are casting a wide net so far as narrative perspectives go. Questions of trust are already an issue and are only going to grow as the world begins to fall apart around our cast of characters. According to Erickson this first season will cover about 3 weeks of time, and they’re establishing the Rick was in a coma for 4 to 5 weeks, so when the season ends we’re still going to be at least a couple of weeks from the start of The Walking Dead. Given the state of the world when Rick woke up, those people complaining about not enough zombie action shouldn’t have long to wait. Of course, the Walking Dead timeline isn’t set in stone, with Dr. Jenner at the end of season one saying that zombies began appearing here and there up to 6 and a half months earlier and it was day 63 since the virus went worldwide. Regardless, society collapsed quickly and Fear the Walking Dead is going to give us a front-row seat. The good news there is that, at least in the pilot, the creative team has learned the lessons of Walking Dead and is implementing them already. We’re not getting a lot of over-writing – although there are a couple of rough spots as characters get established – and the director, Adam Davidson, does a good job of getting out of the actors’ ways and letting them do their jobs. There were a couple of jump scares that didn’t really work at the time, but when taken as an opening salvo in a larger single work, should serve as foreshadowing or straight set-ups for future scares (I’m looking at you Mr. Principal). All in all, this was a solid, if predictable, piece of filmmaking. The family dynamics are borderline cliché, but do a great job setting up future conflicts, especially given the prospect of separation that will be raised as the world comes tumbling down. The lack of zombie action in the pilot shouldn’t be any kind of deal-breaker, since the whole purpose of this series is to see how the world falls apart. We have to establish the world before we destroy it, after all. That’s how storytelling works. Fear the Walking Dead 1.01 "Pilot"Paul's Rating4.0Overall ScoreReader Rating: (0 Votes)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Fear the Walking Dead 1.03 "The Dog" - Psycho Drive-In September 17, 2015 […] episode 2 because I found myself saying all the exact same things that I’d said with my review of episode 1 — in a good way. Episode 3, however, brings something new to the Fear the Walking Dead […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.