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TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead 1.1 Pilot
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Fear The Walking Dead Frank Dillane as Nick AMC

Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot
Directed by Adam Davidson
Written by Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson
Starring Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Lorenzo James Henrie, Elizabeth Rodriguez
Air Date: Sunday, August 23, 2015, 9pm

It’s been nearly two years since AMC announced their plans for a prequel spin-off to their wildly successful drama, The Walking Dead, which follows a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse in Georgia. While The Walking Dead is based on the popular comic book series by Robert Kirkman, the new series, titled Fear the Walking Dead, is an original story. As with TWD, Kirkman is also involved with Fear and co-wrote the pilot episode, which aired tonight.

Fear the Walking Dead takes place in Los Angeles, CA, during the early days of the zombie virus outbreak before the general public knew what was going on. The time frame of the events shown in LA coincide with the off-screen hospitalization of Deputy Rick Grimes just before he awakens from his coma in the series premiere of The Walking Dead, when most people had already been turned into flesh-eating undead “Walkers.”

In Fear, we are introduced to all-new characters and this first episode gives us plenty to follow. There’s Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), a high school guidance counselor, and her two children, daughter Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam Carey), a classic overachiever, and son Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), a drug addict who’s failed out of college. Madison is engaged to English teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), who’s son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) resents him for leaving his mother, Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Shocker – none of the kids are supportive of Madison and Travis’ new live-in situation; matter of fact, they’re downright bratty and hostile, and Chris even refuses to see his father for his weekend visitation.

Fear The Walking Dead Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Madison (Kim Dickens) Photo by Justin Lubin /AMC

The series premiere opens with an overhead shot of Nick that is reminiscent of Rick’s awakening from a coma in the hospital at the start of TWD. But the two scenarios are significantly different: Rick’s hospitalization came about after he was shot in the line of duty, while Chris is an addict who chooses to spend his time getting high and passing out in drug dens, which is where we see him in the opening. After Chris wakes in a haze at an abandoned graffitied church, the young man hears a noise and then screaming in the distance. He calls out to “Gloria” and then goes off to investigate only to come across something horrific — first dead bodies all around, then Gloria with icy glowing blue eyes, blood running down her chin and neck as she chows down on someone. In horror, Nick flees the scene into the crowded streets of LA, where he’s promptly hit by a car.

At the hospital, Nick lies to the police about what happened, claiming he was just walking against the light when he was hit, but witnesses to the accident had reported his rantings about blood and flesh. Surprisingly, Nick eventually confides in Travis about what he saw, and understandably, Travis says it must have been hallucinations from the drugs. What makes no sense here is that the police did not go investigate the area, although I guess they wouldn’t bother going to the junkie church if they figured it’s just a bunch of whacked-out druggies there. Meanwhile, Travis wants to help, so he goes to the church that night armed only with a flashlight — because that’s safe — and I guess he didn’t find anything gruesome enough to go to the police with, although there was someone there screaming not to kill him. But that’s ok, just go home and sleep it off, Travis, even though you know something bad went down there.

Back at Madison’s school, we learn that there’s a lot of people out because of a new “flu” that’s going around. That’s our first clue that something is going down, but of course, these people haven’t a clue of what’s to come. Then Madison catches one of her students, the downtrodden dweeb Tobias, carrying a knife (a paring knife, that is), which he apparently needs for protection. With some coaxing, he tells Madison that “we’re safer in numbers” and that “no one’s going to college, no one’s going anywhere” because he’s following reports in five states that there’s some kind of virus that’s spreading and killing people. (Although – if it’s a virus that’s spreading, how are they safer in numbers?) The friendly guidance counselor dismisses the worried boy, like she does with everyone else.

Madison, apparently, lives in a fantasy world where her son is going to get clean, and nothing unusual occurred at the church because it’s just a drug den where “bad things happen,” and that there’s no deadly virus because of course the authorities would have told everyone about it by now. She also remains eerily claim whenever confronted with any type of crisis or issues. (Is she heavily medicated? She must be.) Please do not put this woman in charge of anything.

AMC The Walking Dead Companion Series Kim Dickens Cliff Curtis Cobalt Fear The Walking Dead

While The Walking Dead is not about the how and whys of the zombie outbreak, choosing instead to focus on the survivors and their constantly threatened lives and humanity, Fear seeks to show us the early stages of the pandemic and how people were reacting to it — or, I should say, ignoring it. This new setting is not the overgrown desolate backwoods of Georgia; this is the bustling streets of LA. Strangely, it doesn’t seem like many people are too concerned about the “flu” that’s laying people up; instead, they are oblivious to the changes slowly happening around them. Now, I live in a big city myself, so I know people tend to keep to themselves and focus on what’s happening in their immediate situations, but just look at how everyone reacted to the recent ebola scare — people aren’t that oblivious. And while yes this is supposed to take place before the events of TWD, which now is nearly a decade ago, it looks and feels very much like present day, especially with everyone on their cell phones and texting. It’s doubtful these zombie encounters would have slipped through social media channels, remaining solely in the underground forums where only Tobias can read about it. We live in a time when NO ONE keeps quiet and even the smallest issues are debated ad nauseam on social media sites like Facebook. There would at least be a few “Thanks Obama” memes about the situation.

Fear tries to frighten us by using an ominous score when coming up behind someone, and then showing Travis and Madison in a traffic jam. A traffic jam in LA — oh no!!! That never happens! Ok, there were also police helicopters, but have you been to LA? I’m from NYC, and we have traffic jams and police helicopters overhead all the time and no one suspects a zombie virus is the reason.

Fear The Walking Dead

Also, in the 90-minute premiere, you get an hour of Madison’s denials and Nick walking around like a cross between Heath Ledger’s Joke in The Dark Knight and Johnny Depp’s touched, eccentric character in Benny & Joon. Surprisingly, it’s Frank Dillane’s Nick that is the most interesting character and most likable — next to father figure Travis. When we first see him, he’s channeling The Crow with his straggly black hair and open-chested white shirt. He’s basically sexy drug addict guy. Post-hospital as he wanders around LA scared out of his mind sporting the baggy bland duds of his coding hospital roommate, he still manages to keep the audience captivated. The British actor has come a long way here from his early days on the big screen as a young teenaged Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. His character will be the one to watch as Fear continues. By the last half-hour, a viral video sends the city into a panic, which again, makes no sense. Why the panic all of a sudden? Why are they evacuating schools before the night before the police had to shoot a man who was attacking them and everyone thinks the video is fake anyhow?

What we have in this debut is much like we did with The Walking Dead‘s premiere: Quiet. A quiet that we will never have again. A quiet that we will long for in subsequent episodes.

What Fear has going for it is the rabidity of the fans of TWD who want more. The new series gives them that, but is it enough? Will we be seeing just more of the same old same old? There’s episodes of TWD that have dragged on and not divulged enough to keep the audience satisfied, so the last thing the fans need is another slow-churning drama where the audience knows what’s going on and is just waiting for the characters to catch up. We’re only getting six episodes in this inaugural season, so the showrunners have to make it count.

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  1. “By the last half-hour, a viral video sends the city into a panic, which again, makes no sense. Why the panic all of a sudden? Why are they evacuating schools before the night before the police had to shoot a man who was attacking them and everyone thinks the video is fake anyhow?”

    I caught a late replay of the premiere, so maybe I missed a couple of things (I was sleepy) but my assumption that the viral video was not the only thing that sent LA into a panic. I interpreted the viral video as just the tipping point in the hysteria. Nick woke up in the church, observed several dead bodies and caught Gloria chowing down before fleeing for his life but when Travis returned to investigate the church, all of the dead bodies had already “gone”. It’s unclear if they got up on their own but my hunch is that the Walking Dead are already roaming LA at that point. Thinking back to Tobias (the kid who was stopped with the knife), he’d been following this in various circles and served as an indication that the outbreak was already trending in other places well before the video of the police officers went viral. If I’m not mistaking, I don’t remember them evacuating schools before the video went viral either. Wasn’t everyone already watching the video in school before it’s closed early and evacuated? The Teacher threatened to take the girls phones away after they watched it and just before everyone started leaving.
    Surely if Nick saw what he did, then others had too but may’ve been discounted as “crazy” to the casual listener. Travis didn’t believe Nick until he saw what happened with Kalvin and even then, I don’t know what he believe’s 100% in what’s happening. The information that Tobias seems privy too also comes across as a little bit “conspiracy theorist” in nature, which is also pretty easily to discount as Madison does after the knife incident. While the government may have a better idea of what’s going on and may want to keep things covered up, I really think the video was the tipping point as far as the public goes. Remember, the police shooting of the accident victim (in the video) happened at night but we don’t know if it was the night before evactuations or even several nights before. By then, it’s possible that enough first hand encounters have happened or enough stories have been told that the seeds of mass hysteria have been planted and merely seeing the video confirms enough of it to throw everyone into a panic. If the government had an idea of what’s coming, it’s probably too late to quell it anymore.

    One of the things that intrigued me most about this episode was what happened in the reservoir with Nick and Calvin. Calvin was clearly shot in the chest but what isn’t clear is what happened afterwards. Was Calvin actually dead from the bullet wound or was he alive enough that one of the Dead got him before he succumbed? Historically, we’ve seen living people get bitten and turn into a zombie but never someone who was already dead, and so I’m inclined to think that Nick didn’t kill Calvin as he thinks he did. On the other hand, when Nick returns to the car to show Calvin’s body to his family, there isn’t much blood on the ground (or at least I didn’t see it) and when Calvin attacks them behind the truck, he doesn’t appear to have been attacked at all. Is it possible that, in the early stages of this outbreak, that some people already carry the disease (as carriers) until they’re dead, and then they turn and pass the infection on to other victims by biting them? We’ve only seen the Dead after they’ve turned but this one might pose the question of how people turn if they’ve not been attacked by the Dead. I like the Dead aspect, the hysteria, the attempts to control the outbreaks but I’d also love to find out more about the infection itself as the series progresses!

    Comment by PAUL — August 24, 2015 @ 11:38 am

  2. The way that it is explained in the comic, and I imagine so on the series although I do not watch much of it, is that the “flu” has affected everyone. That is, everyone has contracted an infection which will, upon death, transform then into a zombie. The death incurred from a zombie’s bite is not the “zombie flu”, but instead rather like a dog’s toxic bite. This is to say, a dog’s bite is deadly not because of some “dog” infection but the cocktail of bacteria that incubate naturally in the dog’s mouth.

    So in the Walking Dead fiction, a zombie’s bite transmits bacteria, and from those you die, and then you become a zombie from a “flu” that you already had. (You’d think everyone would just alcohol wash out their zombie bites, and go on merrily, but their science is fuzzy.) Hope that helps.

    Comment by Dawson Zornes — August 24, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

  3. That totally helps! I’ve not invested in the Walking Dead comics so your explanation helps fill in the blanks, thank you for that. I worked in a comic book store through the late 90’s and used to be an avid reader/collector. When I started flirting with comics again a few years ago, I was shocked to see that many were regularly in the $3-$4 range now and never jumped back in. That used to be the price of an extra-size annual or special edition and only happened once a year or so! Anyway, I missed out on the Walking Dead comics and unless I missed it early on in the TV show, I imagine sometime during the CDC arc, I don’t think the characters know that everyone already has the infection. Or maybe they know and it just doesn’t matter as much as “not dying” might matter to them. Still, since Fear the Walking Dead is the prequel of sorts, I’d like to see more about the disease. That part intrigues me as much as they zombies do.

    Comment by PAUL — August 25, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

  4. Yes, Rick and crew know that everyone is infected and will turn once they die. That was why it was so horrible the way Andrea died.

    Comment by ptjackson — August 25, 2015 @ 4:05 pm

  5. That’s pretty neat. Being a comic nerd is definitely in vogue these days!

    I never got much into comics, but what hooked me on the The Walking Dead was as I was stocking its compendiums when I was a retail employee. I peeked open some pages (perhaps too many), and decided I needed to buy the first compendium. A couple days later, and I bought the second. The only other comics I’ve purchased were a couple Captain America compendiums, and the new Miss Marvel, which is very good.

    The show seems okay, just overdrawn. That’s a common issue in TV, however. The only thing that strikes me as overtly awful about the show is how they handle their character exits—the only way a main character can die is by miraculous stupidity, it seems. The show doesn’t do everything poorly, of course; Michonne is handled well, and Daryl was a great new addition.

    If you still have your comic genes, the compendiums are worth the bucks. The Governor and the cannibal story arcs are particularly memorable.

    Comment by Dawson Zornes — August 26, 2015 @ 12:13 am

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