On a special episode of Talking Dead that aired right before the premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, host Chris Hardwick commented that long-time The Walking Dead fans will appreciate the companion program. One reason is because the show offers a glimpse of the world they missed during the time Rick Grimes was in a coma after being shot on the job. Viewers know this universe and understand the consequences of the undead apocalypse, but they’ve yet to see the origins of the show. And since Fear the Walking Dead premiered as the most-watched cable TV show pilot of all time, it’s a safe bet to say zombie fans are responding well to this new glimpse into a familiar world.
When The Walking Dead premiered in the Fall of 2010, creators assumed that their target audience already had a decent-sized knowledge bank for how a zombie apocalypse could feasibly start due to popular mainstream horror films like Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later. They plopped viewers right into the nightmare without over-explaining it. This was a fair assessment that still holds today, but as The Walking Dead enters its sixth season this Fall and builds up a more complicated and detailed world of disease and death, loyal viewers will inevitably start asking questions. Enter Fear the Walking Dead.
Though the shows are set in the same universe, there are some fundamental differences that make this companion show a new experience. Instead of in Georgia, complete with the gray concrete and lush green wildlife we’re accustomed to on its parent show, Fear the Walking Dead takes place in sunny Los Angeles, filling the screen with transition shots of palm trees. The streets bustle with the non-dead and our main characters deal with stepparenting, high-schoolers with knives, and post-graduation anxiety more often than blood and guts. While we only received about fifteen minutes of normalcy with Rick, Shane, and Lori in The Walking Dead, we’re given a deeper glimpse into the everyday lives of these new characters.
Kim Dickens takes the lead as Madison Clark, a single mother of two kids–exasperated high-school senior Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) who fills the screen with sighing, eye-rolling, and an undeniable mischievous charm, and bad seed Nick (Frank Dillane) who spends his mom’s money on heroin and eventually ends up in the hospital after “hallucinating” his acquaintance eating someone’s face. Admittedly, the family drama involving Nick’s failing sobriety, Alicia’s artist boyfriend (Maestro Harrell), and Madison’s new live-in boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) can’t compare with disintegrating zombies coming out of a well or a hoard of walkers pulling a horse apart with their bare hands, but it certainly sets a foundation for why we should care about them.
The Walking Dead has never used pre-apocalypse flashbacks as a storytelling technique, but Fear the Walking Dead essentially is a flashback – one that blinks into reality in the final moments of the pilot when we can feel the terror begin as Madison and Travis roll to a stop on a backed highway and startle at the sound of gunshots ahead of them. From the pilot episode, we can only assume it’ll get even better and more gruesome in the coming episodes, which will air every Sunday on AMC through cable TV. At this point, fans know what is coming, and they wait with bated breath to watch these new characters go through the inevitable horror.