AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead is a lot better than one would expect for a spin-off that took the original title and added a one four-letter word to the beginning to create its own title. It’s a far cry from The Walking Dead: LA Edition that many fans feared the spin-off would become. Fear the Walking Dead is not perfect and there is at least one character that is in desperate need of an attitude adjustment/killing off. Bottom line though, Fear the Walking Dead is enjoyable and different companion to The Walking Dead. For old fans and newcomers there are more than enough reasons to check out Fear the Walking Dead but here are the top five.
1. Kim Dickens
I’ve been in love with Kim Dickens as an actress since I first saw her on Friday Night Lights as Matt Saracen’s mom. She’s been a bit of a prolific character actress in the subsequent years. She’s popped up in supporting roles in many a TV show and movie, most recently as the head cop in Gone Girl. Fear the Walking Dead though had the good common sense to place in the starring spotlight as she is the female lead if not THE lead of the show.
Dickens breathes a lot of life into a character that in other hands could be frustratingly boring and naive. Her character, Madison Clarke, doesn’t believe the apocalypse is upon her for the majority of the pilot and it’s an opinion that only gradually begins to change in the final moments. It is a hard spot for a character to be in on a prequel because the audience that zombies are real and they are about to destroy the world. It doesn’t matter that Madison is completely rational and logical in her belief. She could come off as a complete idiot but Dickens doesn’t play her that way. There’s just an innate intelligence and savviness to her character that is a very welcome from The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes. Rick has always been more scrappy fighter than a careful intellectual and Madison is very much the latter.
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Andrew Lincoln has done some very good work on The Walking Dead but I’ve long grown tired of Rick’s gravely whispers and dramatic speeches. It’s certainly possible that once the apocalypse hits Madison will become just as monotonous as Rick but for now I’m much more interested in her character and her journey then I’ve been in Rick’s for quite some time. She feels like a very different person than Rick (pre- or post- apocalypse) and that’s refreshing for a spin-off. Fear the Walking Dead is not a simple copy-and-paste follow-up.
2. The Family Dynamic
Family is an obvious theme that runs through The Walking Dead but those bonds are formed through spilled blood and battle. The family on The Walking Dead also just kind of exists out of convenience. With the exception of a few important relationships the survivors of The Walking Dead don’t really seem to like one another, they just survive together. So far all the major characters on Fear the Walking Dead are connected through one large blended family. As such there seems to be a much more tangible connection between them in one episode.
There is that instant connection for the audience about what these people mean to each other. Fear the Walking Dead doesn’t break the mold by any means. These are pretty standard family archetypes (moody teenager, caring step-dad, bratty pre-teen, etc.) but there is comfort in that familiarity. Especially since there is the obvious promise of the dynamic being challenged by this new dangerous status quo.
3. More Diversity
The Walking Dead has been heavily criticized in the past saying that they have a problem keeping minority characters alive. It seems to be an unwritten rule that only one African-American character can exist in the group at a time. Fear the Walking Dead feels very much like a reaction to that criticism. Cliff Curtis’ character (the male lead) Travis Manawa is Maori, his ex-wife is Latina and the two also have son. There also looks to be more members of Travis’ family introduced by season’s end and other characters of diverse backgrounds. That is if the IMdb account for Fear the Walking Dead is accurate and we have no reason to believe it’s not true. That’s just the main cast. There are a number of extra and featured extras that are from a number of different ethnicities.
Fear the Walking Dead is not immune to controversy though. There has already been a bit of a stir around the pilot considering two African-American characters, Calvin and Matt. One was discovered to be a secret drug dealer and was killed off by episode’s end. The other is missing and probably presumed dead. For obvious reasons neither of these are ideal.
Fear the Walking Dead isn’t suddenly some bastion of racial diversity and balance but it’s not as if the aforementioned Calvin and Matt are the only persons of color on the show. It’s a real problem that they appear to be the first characters of note who’ve been killed off but Fear the Walking Dead will be an undoubtedly bloody and deadly ordeal. The point is that Fear the Walking Dead is making an effort to have a more diverse cast and for that they should be applauded. It makes the threat feel more global and makes the zombies feel less inherently racist because they aren’t targeting people who are from apart of a minority. White privilege should not continue to exist in the end of the world.
4. The Prequel of It All
While some fans might see this as a negative I actually think Fear the Walking Dead being a prequel is the show’s greatest asset. I understand Robert Kirkman’s original intention behind the comic and TV series. He wanted to explore the idea of what happens after the horror movie credits roll. How do people survive when the worlds already been destroyed? It’s an interesting idea and one that has obviously connected with people but there is also something inherently off-putting about that idea.
The audience is immediately thrown into a world that is so unlike their own and that’s hard to connect with on a lot of levels. Without the constant use of flashbacks we never got a good sense of what people were like before the apocalypse on The Walking Dead. Rick isn’t the only character to go through a journey but he is the only character that we followed from the very beginning of his transformation.
Fear the Walking Dead is different. We will literally see the world become destroyed. We will know what these people were like before the zombie doom hit and how it changed them because it will be shown on screen. This is much more valuable in a visual media than just starting the story as people have already begun to change. There is promise for the transformations to be much more satisfying on Fear the Walking Dead. I can’t say the characters are immediately likable or their personalities are all attractive but there is this overbearing sense that the change in the world will change them.
This sense dramatic irony is very effective on Fear the Walking Dead. The audience knows what is coming for these characters and it is a different type of horror than we’re used to with zombies. It’s anticipatory and filled with dread. It’s not quite as intense as the dramatic walker battles that you’d expect having watched multiple seasons of The Walking Dead but it still works. The coming cataclysm is looming in the background getting closer with every second instead of being right around the corner.
5. The New Setting
I always find urban and metropolitan areas to be more interesting settings for a horror movie than rural areas. Maybe it’s because I feel uncomfortable in the cramped quarters of a city but it feels like an area riper for zombie destruction than anywhere else. Fear the Walking Dead being set in LA does nothing but excite me in a terribly dreadful way. There is a knowledge watching events unfold and seeing the teeming mass of people that this will end terribly and quickly. When the zombie apocalypse hits it will hit hard and it will so hard for anything or anyone to stop it.
On The Walking Dead the walkers are pursuing the survivors and inevitably they’ll need to flee their refugee but the survivors are also in the rural south. There’s drama in walker attack and the subsequent escape with the uncertain of the open elements but the key word there is open. The survivors of The Walking Dead have a great expanse of land to flee into and the survivors on Fear the Walking Dead won’t have that luxury. The idea that the characters of Fear the Walking Dead will eventually need to run but might not have somewhere to run to is that great dreadful horror that is vital to horror movie or TV show. It’s kind of thrill that is morbid and dark but it is also the lifeblood of horror and it’s ingrained from the very start in Fear the Walking Dead.
But what do you think? Are you interesting in watching Fear the Walking Dead? Did you already check it out and we’re unimpressed? Or have you reach maximum zombie fatigue and nothing or nowhere is going to change your mind about it?
Fear the Walking Dead airs at 9pm on AMC
(images courtesy of AMC)