As someone who was far from being The Walking Dead‘s biggest fan (I hated pretty much everything after season 2), I had completely written off Fear the Walking Dead. Yet despite what the name suggests, Fear the Walking Dead is far from a lazy cash-in on the bigger show’s success. There are few kinks to work out, but it feels remarkably different from The Walking Dead. The spin-off is less about the big action scenes and in-the-moment frights, and more about the anticipatory horror as we witness the beginning of the apocalypse through the lens of one (mostly) likable family.
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As the series premiere begins, Nick Clarke wakes up in a shirt too small to be his in a church too creepy to be in regular and intended use. He’s looking for someone named Gloria, but she is preoccupied with being a zombie. Well, we know she’s a zombie; to Nick, she’s just a crazy person eating a dead boy’s face. Hence, why he is next seen speeding out of the church and into a street, straight into the path of a car. The citizens of the busy LA street surround Nick as he lies bleeding on the pavement. The world of Fear the Walking Dead is one much different and much more populated than The Walking Dead.
Nick’s mother, Madison, is trying to wrangle her younger kid, Alicia, for school when she gets a call that Nick is in the hospital. Madison, Alicia and Madison’s live-in boyfriend, Travis Manawa, go to see Nick in the hospital and we’re “treated” to Nick speaking for the first time. Apparently, Gloria’s biggest flaw was not doing us all a favor and eating Nick’s face as well because he’s kind of unbearably annoying. He’s a drug addict, but he’s also an aggravating drug addict. Alicia is quite over her brother’s antics, but Madison is concerned. As a result, a fight quickly breaks out among the adults and Alicia.
Two Bratty Sons for the Price of One
Travis gets a call and goes outside to take it. It’s his ex-wife, Liza, calling about taking their son Christopher for the weekend. Chris is equally as bratty as Nick but doesn’t have the excuse of being high on drugs. Chris tells Travis that he doesn’t want to come stay with him or his new family. Frustrated, Travis tells Liza to keep Chris for the weekend. I’d tell her to keep him forever.
First Hints of Trouble
Travis offers to stay with Nick, so Madison goes to work and takes Alicia to school. Luckily, the destination is the same, as Madison is the guidance counselor at the high school, and quite quickly we see Madison is just as good at her job as Kim Dickens is. When Madison discovers that a student has brought a knife into school, Madison takes him to her office. The student opens up about the news stories of people attacking one another and he thinks that soon no place will be safe. Madison tells him that’s crazy talk, and if something was seriously wrong, the government would tell people. So, obviously, this whole zombie apocalypse is going to end well for Madison.
At the hospital, Nick wakes up from his drug-induced nap and tells Travis about what he saw at the church. Sober Nick thankfully is much more tolerable than Druggie Nick. Nick is worried about what he saw at the church because if it’s real, then something is serious wrong with the world. If Nick imagined it, then there is something seriously wrong with him.
So in a fit of uninspired idiocy, Travis goes to investigate the church alone, an area that at best is filled with unstable heroin addicts and at worst is filled with hoards of undead flesh eaters. Travis doesn’t find any zombies, but he does find ominous blood stains and raving drug addicts — or, at least, one raving drug addict.
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The Calm Before the Storm
The next morning, Travis tells Madison about the gruesome evidence. She stubbornly, if sensibly, sees a completely normal non-zombie reason behind all the blood and violence; she thinks it’s just standard drug violence. The one Manawa and three Clarks then go through their days in a sequence of scenes that I’m going to call “Fear the Walking Dead attempts to make us care about these schmucks before the crap hits the fan.”
Since The Walking Dead has always struggled to make its characters feel like fully realized people, Fear the Walking Dead does surprisingly well in fleshing out its character. It’s pretty simple stuff. Alicia hangs out with her boyfriend, Travis teaches his English class and Madison walks the halls doing stuff (and being her perfect Kim Dickens self). Still, it’s nice to see people just existing in The Walking Dead universe and not fending off the undead.
Nick’s existence is a little less peaceful. He has a new roommate in his hospital room who sounds suspiciously like a walker. Nick is apprehensive, and that fear only grows when the roommate begins to code. The doctors rush in and try to revive him, but they are unsuccessful. They wheel the new walker out of the room. In the confusion, Nick makes his escape, grabbing his newly-deceased roommate’s clothes.
Madison is upset that the hospital has so easily lost her son and asks Travis to take her to the church. The experience is emotional for Madison as she has to see the disgusting and bloody place her son has been living in, but Nick isn’t there. Still searching, Madison visits Nick’s old friend Calvin, but he says he hasn’t heard from him.
Travis and Madison spend all day looking for Nick and they end up on a highway that is backed up. In the distance, there is the faint sound of gunshots. Just when it looks like Fear the Walking Dead is going to deliver the standard zombie action scene that its big brother is so famous for, it swerves, literally. Travis pulls off the highway and speeds away from the action.
At the school the next morning, the teachers are watching news footage of what caused the back-up. There was an accident and one of the victims was of the undead killer variety. When the rescue workers were trying to revive the man, he came back to life and attacked. He was shot multiple times, but only a shot to the head made him stop. This freaks nearly everyone out and school is cancelled halfway through the day. Alicia, who is anxious because she hasn’t heard from her boyfriend, Matt, in a day, is found by Madison. Madison tells her she wants to go home and stay there.
It turns out that Calvin, Nick’s friend from earlier, is a big fat liar and a drug dealer. Nick meets with Calvin at a diner because he is worried that the heroin sold to him was laced with something. Calvin acts concerned about Nick’s worrying, but really, Calvin is just afraid that Nick told the cops something about him. Calvin takes Nick to an alley underneath the bridge, and when Nick sees the gun in Calvin’s hand, he knows what is about to happen. There is a struggle and Calvin is shot in the stomach. Nick runs away from the body, more disturbed than ever before.
Nick calls Travis for help, but to Nick’s great dismay, Travis brings his mother. Nick tells them he killed Calvin and takes the two to where he left Calvin’s body, but Calvin is no longer there. The three get into the car and make their way back to the street. While backing out, they find Calvin in a tunnel, all zombified.
Travis and Madison try to talk to him, but Calvin goes to bite Madison. Nick leaps into action and runs over Calvin several times in Travis’ truck. Calvin is still moving, with several of his bones broken and showing. Madison asks, “What the hell is going on?” We know, Madison: the apocalypse.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm at AMC.
(Image courtesy of AMC)