Fear the Walking Dead 1×01 ‘Pilot’: Beginning of the end

Fear the Walking Dead 1x01 Cover

The intrigue behind having a The Walking Dead spinoff comes not simply from its central gimmick that this particular show enters the Walking Dead world at the beginning of the apocalypse.  That entry point is certainly fascinating, as it offers a new lens with which to view the very small world that The Walking Dead inhabits.  But it’s also the fact that this new show, Fear the Walking Dead, is free from the constraints of the comic books.  It doesn’t have to deal with gimmicky characters like The Governor, like Eugene Porter, like the inevitability of Negan, like Michonne (even though she is one of the better comic characters).

Fear the Walking Dead 1x01-1

Source: AMC

It doesn’t have to deal with plot points that don’t work either.  Take the fourth season of The Walking Dead.  The first half of that season was damaged by the need to loop back around to a major scene from the comic books, which resulted in re-introducing a character that wasn’t necessary anymore and killing the momentum of the narrative.  The same is true of the show’s fifth season finale.  There were a couple major plot points involving Rick executing another man that were forced into the episode’s final moments, and it made for an ending that didn’t seem to fit, that had no resolution.  While the comic books provide a structure to The Walking Dead, they also create the expectation that the structure has to be adhered to.  And that make it difficult to really be creative.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x01-2

Source: AMC

I’m not trying to say that Fear the Walking Dead is audaciously creative.  It is a spinoff, after all, and a spinoff that covers a lot of the same ideas as its parent show.  But the new angle, at the very least, offers a promising future as a series.  The pilot episode starts off acting much like a family drama, and that focus comes from the new angle, the lack of widespread zombie presence.  The show centers around Madison Clark, a high school guidance counselor, and her fiancé Travis, an English teacher at the same school.  Each of them have families that struggle from internal issues.  Madison has a highly intelligent daughter Alicia who is a little aimless and a son Nick who suffers form a heroin addiction.  Travis has an ex-wife Liza and an angry son Chris.  None of the family dramatics are all that interesting, as they’re all given a very cursory glance and aren’t elaborated upon to a point that would give them depth.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x01-3

Source: AMC

The biggest issue of the episode comes from its somewhat dull plotting.  It moves at a very slow pace, focusing on Nick’s addiction more than anything else because of its connection to the church where all of the zombies are.  This becomes an issue when Frank Dillane’s acting doesn’t really hold up to the weight that the show puts on his story.  His run away from the church was nothing short of ridiculous, and his more frantic scenes never seem to land because Nick’s reactions aren’t based off of any real character depth.  We don’t know anything about him aside from him being an addict and a college dropout, so his descent into madness isn’t as intimate and sad as it should be.  It also doesn’t help that nobody seems to know anything about zombies.  Everybody’s reaction to the zombies is more bizarre than anything else, where they seem more confused than horrified.  The ending scene is particularly bad, as the main characters express an odd confusion when they try to murder a zombie and are unsuccessful.  Hopefully, as the series goes on and Los Angeles descends into madness, the reaction changes to something a little more believable, but right now the characters don’t seem to be reacting to the zombies in a way that feels right.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x01-4

Source: AMC

By far, the most invigorating element of the episode comes from the knowledge that the apocalypse is indeed on its way, as well as the slow unraveling of Los Angeles.  The Walking Dead works best when it focuses intently on adaption to surroundings, to people contending with a shifting status quo.  Fear the Walking Dead can take off once it sheds the growing pains and becomes a show about a family adapting to a life built on fear and violence.  As the status quo begins to shift more and more into unknown territory, the show will perform best when it examines the characters’ ability to shed morals and beliefs in order to survive.  The show already, in a couple classroom scenes, points to the same theme of chaos and nature over humanity, and it will help the show immeasurably to start examining these themes as soon as possible.  This first season already seems to be setup for the 15-episode second season that has been greenlit, and it would make sense that the first season is primarily to work through the awkward first stages of the show.

Fear the Walking Dead looks to be a promising show once it takes off and gets into full swing into the details of the apocalypse.  The first season is off to a somewhat bumpy start, but the concept is still strong and the characters’ groundwork is laid out in a way that will surely make subsequent episodes smoother.  It’ll especially become better once the series is down to 43 minute episodes instead of this oversized 63 minute premiere.  But it has to get to that point, where it shakes off the bumpy start, and it has to get there soon.

What did you think of the premiere?  Did it live up to your expectations?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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