Last night AMC launched their newest show, and there is already no question that they are counting on it becoming a hit. Thankfully, this just might be television worth watching. Fear The Walking Dead is set in the same universe as The Walking Dead, which airs during the regular TV season. The central difference is that it starts off right at the onset of the zombie virus outbreak. While there is absolutely an argument to be made that Fear the Walking Dead (let’s just take a second here to admire the complete lack of creativity that went into this title, shall we?) is a show that was made just so AMC can safely continue to cash in on their biggest hit, that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting stories to be found with this iteration of Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse.
The ninety-minute pilot episode jumped right in with zombie action, making sure we all knew exactly what we were in for. But if you somehow missed that pre-credit segment, it might have been easy to think you’d landed on the wrong channel and were watching a family drama rather than the beginning of the end of the world. We meet our main characters Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) as they’re bustling through their morning routine before getting the call that Madison’s son Nick (Frank Dillane) is in the hospital, having been hit by a car—which we know happened after he ran out of a zombie-infested drug den. So tensions are high right from the get-go, but it has nothing to do with the impending walker threat. And that will remain the case for most of the pilot as far as the characters are concerned, though there are quite a few hints dropped about what’s to come. This opening story ultimately focuses more on the family drama and building suspense than it does on the bigger picture, but the result ultimately works. Give me a reason to care when these characters die off before having their throats ripped out by the undead.
If you’re willing to hang in there and get to know the story’s central characters before really diving in to the logistics of the zombie outbreak, I suspect that the payoff will be great. When Rick initially woke up in The Walking Dead’s pilot, the world had already gone to hell, so we never got to see how those initial days and weeks of the outbreak unfolded. There’s a lot of potential here, as things will inevitably get progressively worse. The only major hitch in all of this dramatic suspense is that we, the audience, already know so much more than any of the characters. These are zombies, people. Run!
It’s not until the end of episode one that Madison, Travis, and a seriously freaked out Nick get a real taste of what’s coming for them. You have to acknowledge that something is wrong when no matter how many times you shoot or run over the charismatic, suburban drug dealer, the guy just won’t die. And that’s right where the first episode leaves off, with that sudden realization of “well, this might be a problem.” Next week, we’ll get to see what they do about it, though I’m more interested in seeing how the government and society as a whole deals with all of this. In the meantime, I’ve got to admit that it’s been fun going back to freshly dead-zombies, rather than the massively decayed ones we’re seeing in these later seasons of the original show. Yes, guts and tendons and missing limbs are fun, but there is something infinitely creepy about the undead when they still look just like the people they used to be.
After one episode, I’m more than willing to declare myself cautiously optimistic that FTWD will not only add an extra level of depth to the Walking Dead universe, but also make for an entertaining show for the remaining five weeks of the debut season.