Last week, I treated myself to the DVD of season 1 of Fear The Walking Dead. Featuring a new cast and a new setting, it promised to be a very different kettle of fish showing the first few days and weeks of the outbreak. Some of the acting crew were familiar to me. Cliff Curtis who appeared in Sunshine and Scott Lawrence of various Star Wars video game voice credits, Timecop and a few other genre titles.
How Does This Differ from Rick’s Story?
The original The Walking Dead, about to start its seventh season in October, really starts as Rick Grimes wakes from his coma after being shot in the line of duty (he is a cop). By the time he comes around, the worst of the breakdown of society has already happened. But in Fear The Walking Dead, the Los Angeles set spin-off, we watch the world unravel before our eyes through a family of four and the people they encounter; people who are about to find themselves thrown into the sh*t.
How Does It Start?
The story starts with Nick waking up in an abandoned church following a drug-induced high. In the church, he sees a zombie feasting on one of his druggie friends and makes a run for it. He gets out of the church and is promptly hit by a car. At the hospital, nobody takes his protests about zombies seriously, thinking that the combination of drugs and the collision has addled his brain. He eventually gets out of hospital and thinks that maybe his friend Cal has sold him some bad drugs.
Nobody believes Nick, least of all his mum and step-dad, until other strange things start to happen. Elsewhere, riot police and then the military are called in while some people look on bemused and others keep pointing out that shit is about to get real. They try to go about their normal lives as much as they can.
How Does It Develop?
Slowly but in a different way from the original The Walking Dead. Barely anything happens as far as zombies are concerned in that first episode, a stark contrast to Rick Grimes’ first outing. The second is also much slower burning. We see news reports and – amusingly – Alicia and her teenage friends watch a zombie attack on their phones and are convinced that it looks fake. Only when school ends early do they think something is amiss. All the while, news reports from elsewhere keep coming through of America descending into civil disorder and warfare on the streets.
I really liked the end of episode two and the opening to episode three. It’s clever in its simplicity. The family take shelter in a barber’s shop. Ep3 opens with rioters burning buildings and stealing things. All the while they are oblivious to the zombies on the ground munching away on their numbers. This is the apocalypse happening where few notice and those that see it pretend nothing will change. We even have an amusing and clever little touch of householders putting out the recycling and rubbish bins for collection. This is the small town America equivalent of going to the Winchester for a pint and waiting for all this to blow over.
It’s a Story of Survival
The main show has become slow-burning in its own way. For the most part the characters have become larger than life, and so have the situations. This brings the story straight back down to the nitty-gritty. We have lengthy scenes inside a darkened house while two groups decide what to do next – do we continue to team up or go our separate ways? What if one of us gets sick? What if one of us becomes a zombie? There is a distinct lack of most things that makes The Walking Dead so great, yet it is – in itself – a fascinating and solid show.
The final minutes of episode three also implies that things are back to normal. The army move in, kill the local zombies and clean up the neighbourhood. They take statements and everything seems fine. Looking ominously out at the street, one of the characters shakes his head and declares “it’s already too late“.
The four main characters of the family are Madison, a high school counsellor. She is mother to two teenagers – the level-headed daughter Alicia and the drug-addicted Nick. Madison’s partner Travis is estranged from his ex-wife and share parental responsibilities of their son. Travis is neither the father of Alicia nor of Nick. We don’t know anything about their real father at present.
Also along for the ride is Travis’ ex-wife and their son who can’t quite get over that his parents are no longer together. He resents both parents and resents that his dad has a new girlfriend. For his part, Travis is the doting father, despite his son’s perception of him and attitudes towards him.
Early on we also meet the family from El-Salvador (the barber and his family). This group persists together through most of the season with a few additions that are clearly being set up for season 2 and beyond. There is friction, but nothing out of the ordinary. There are emotional struggles and family conflict that would be manageable if it wasn’t for the flesh eating zombies outside the gates.
Is This Worth Watching?
Yes, and you don’t need to have seen The Walking Dead to see it. This is the same event but in a different part of the USA featuring new characters. Nothing else links these two series. How it differs is that we see the zombie apocalypse unravel here. The parent series has a cast of characters that are larger than life who have become larger than life through the month that Rick is in his coma.
Here, they are people not sure what is going on. They have not had to develop survival skills and the mixed messages they get from the authorities. They want to live a normal life, but can’t reconcile what they see going on outside with the gated community inside which they now live. If anything, it is a personal and intimate look at how one family is trying to adapt to the end of the world as they know it. It is (at this point at least) a more human story than The Walking Dead.