The 90-minute premiere of Fear the Walking Dead on AMC places more emphasis on atmosphere and suspense rather than gore and action. As compared to the memorable opening moments of The Walking Dead, this show begins with a few variations. At the beginning of the parent series, Sheriff Rick Grimes had woken up in an abandoned hospital after getting injured in a violent shootout. In the premiere of the new show, Nick Clark, a 19-year-old junkie played by Frank Dillane woke up in an abandoned Los Angeles Church. While trying to flee from a hungry zombie, he is hit by a car and rushed to the hospital immediately.
As this show is a prequel to the Walking Dead, the zombies we see here aren’t as desiccated as those seen on the Walking Dead and are considerably fresher. Elsewhere in the city, we meet Madison Clark, a high-school guidance counselor played by Kim Dickens and her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), the English teacher. She also has a teenage daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), who seems perpetually grouchy. Also known as Maddie, Madison is alerted about Nick’s car accident via an emergency phone call. The character of Carl on The Walking Dead is highly disliked amongst viewers because of their attitude and they are going to have to deal with a lot more annoying teens on this prequel.
The smug attitude we see from Alicia has us rooting for her to become zombie food and it gets even worse when we meet Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), Travis’s bitter son a little later. He is referred to as Mr. Unpleasant by Travis’s ex-wife and it is definitely a profound understatement. Anyway, Nick is questioned at the hospital by police officers as he was raving about viscera and blood when he was picked up. Before he can tell them what he had seen at the church, Maddie storms in and tells them to leave immediately unless they are charging her son. When it comes to her son, it seems that Maddie is tough as nails.
At school later on, Maddie has an ominous conversation with a troubled student who hints that there is something strange going on in the country. Unfortunately, this is just one of the frustrating aspects of the new show. Why doesn’t the student be upfront and tell Maddie exactly what he saw? Why use mysterious mumbo-jumbo and cryptic clues? Too many characters put other people in jeopardy on Fear the Walking Dead just because they decide to withhold essential information from each other.
Sure, this is an excellent way to add drama to the storyline, but it isn’t exactly a good way to kick off the series as it incites millions of viewers to scream at their TV sets, ‘Just tell her already!’ Meanwhile, Nick tells Travis that something horrible happened at the Church and of course, the teacher decides to become an investigator. While he is supposed to be intelligent, he somehow sets out alone at night. Should you really investigate in the dark? But then, we see a beautifully directed suspense sequence that sets this show apart from The Walking Dead.
The lighting has a cinematic and moody quality and the pacing and sound recalls the same gothic L.A. church setting of the horror classic ‘Prince of Darkness’ of John Carpenter. The whole scene builds to a perfectly orchestrated scare when Travis comes across a terrified junkie in the shadows. If some more moments like these are added, the show could rise higher than just being a mundane and somewhat domestic drama.
Travis and Maddie go looking for Nick when he escapes from the hospital. They meet one of Nick’s old friends, Calvin, during their search. There is a hint that Calvin also had drug issues in the past, but has cleaned up his act since then. He offers to make some calls to find out Nick’s whereabouts. It doesn’t take long for things around the city to start falling apart. Police choppers are constantly hovering overhead. We see missing-person posters everywhere. Alicia’s boyfriend doesn’t show up to a date mysterious. She texts him that he better have a good excuse for standing her up such as being dead. This probably means that he really does.
Current headlines show that a graphic video depicting a police shooting goes viral online. The assailant is staggering around like a sleep-walker with blood dripping. While watching it, Alicia is fearful and finds it difficult to accept the video is real, but her friend says that it is the new real as the police open fire. Due to the video, the Los Angeles school district decides to dismiss classes early, even though it seems a tad rash as officer-involved shootings are fairly common. While society continues to crumble, Calvin and Nick meet up in a coffee shop.
It is revealed that Calvin is the drug supplier of Nick and some other junkies and now he is worried as Nick has talked to the cops. Promising to get him some dope, Calvin takes Nick to a deserted area of the L.A river, a perfect location for killing someone. They former friends struggle to gain control of a gun and Calvin ends up getting shot. The episode draws to a close when Travis, Maddie and Nick witness the bullet-ridden cop of Calvin rise from the dead. After the generic and fairly typical drama that took up most of the episode, this final and bloody image brings the plot to a satisfying close for fans and viewers of the original series.
As the apocalypse has now begun, let’s hope that Fear the Walking Dead will replace the annoying teenagers with some non-cliched and better characters that we can root for. If not, at least they can add a lot more zombies to make things interesting. The show has some new blood and a large setting and it can take advantage of these elements to portray an exciting and creative story that keeps us on the edges of our seats.