It may be a spin-off of AMC’s wildly popular series “The Walking Dead,” one that shares the same creator (Robert Kirkman), but “Fear the Walking Dead” depicts a very different world. The prequel to the original is set in Los Angeles, the polar opposite of rural Georgia, and the new series explores what happens to a city before the zombies and the apocalypse take their toll.
For over a year, the production of “Fear the Walking Dead” was shrouded in secrecy. Now that the show’s August 23 premiere is approaching, the cast and producers are sharing enough information to whet viewers’ appetites. Here are 10 things you can expect from “Fear the Walking Dead.”
1) It’s “The Brady Bunch”…with zombies
“Fear the Walking Dead” is, at its heart, a family drama. “It takes the idea of a blended family and then injects the apocalypse into it,” says Executive Producer Dave Erickson. The main characters include guidance counselor and single mother Madison (Kim Dickens), her drug-addicted son Nick (Frank Dillane), her overachieving daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), and his idealistic son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie).
“What happens with the show is that you start off with a very normal situation… two broken families,” says Curtis. “My character’s a fixer trying to bring both his families together and build a new family…the antidote to the failings of his last marriage. And the apocalypse pushes us together.”
Adds Dickens, “There’s all kinds of dynamics to play there, which has been really fun for us to sink our teeth into and pay real honor to those difficult relationships.”
2) It’s (before) the end of the world as we know it
The “Walking Dead” timeline takes place while Rick Grimes is in a coma, and the show chronicles the rapid disintegration of American civilization. Yet “Fear the Walking Dead” is a prequel that starts with life before all that. Erickson describes the dawning of a dystopia: “You see this texture and fabric of Los Angeles and you see the freeways that are jam-packed and the hillsides that are stacked with houses, and you know as an audience member that all of these people are going to die very, very soon.”
That’s where the “fear” in the title comes from. “It created a way to have dread, anxiety and paranoia without necessarily having a huge ensemble of zombies quite yet,” adds Erickson. Or as Curtis puts it: “When the infrastructure falls and everything falls apart, it gets very scary very quickly.”
3) The Walkers have fresher flesh…
The Walkers of “Fear the Walking Dead” look and act more human than the rotting creatures of the mothership. “They’re fresher, for lack of a better word,” explains Erickson. The characters have to deal with the horror of watching people they know become monsters. “It’s someone you care about, and suddenly they’re trying to rip someone’s throat out.”
4) The audience knows more than the characters
Fans of “The Walking Dead” know a few things: how to kill zombies, the virus is incurable, and there is no way to stop the apocalypse from destroying most of humanity. But the characters on “Fear the Walking Dead” have no idea what is happening. “People think that it will eventually go away,” explains Debnam-Carey. “The government will come in. It will be fixed.”
Erickson hopes that the characters’ naïveté will create dramatic tension. “What we want to do is have the audience leaning in for that very reason… They desperately want the characters to say, ‘Oh, they’re zombies. I get it. You shoot them in the head and that’s how you survive and now you’re good.’ I liked the idea of delaying that as long as we possibly could up to and including the point where the audience just wants to smack them.” The characters that are unwilling to grasp what’s going on are the characters who may become liabilities for everyone else.
5) Two characters are prophets of the apocalypse
While everyone is in the dark about what’s actually happening, two characters have an unusual amount of insight into the situation. One is the first person to see a Walker. “He’s something of a prophet of the apocalypse,” explains Erickson. But he has an addiction that makes other people skeptical of his claims.” The other is one of Madison’s students. She tries to tell him everything’s going to be okay, but he’s got “this sort of earthy sense to him that sort of prophesizes him,” says Dickens.
6) No one has a clue how to fight zombies
While Rick Grimes’ law enforcement background is instrumental in “The Walking Dead,” the world of “Fear” is filled with educators, barbers and teenagers — not a zombie-hunting skill among them. And Travis is not a violent man, Curtis explains, when everyone wants a bad ass. Still, some characters will rise to the occasion. “You get to see this warrior come out of [one of the female characters]. It’s not like all of a sudden she’s an expert warrior, but you get to see the primal instinct come out in her.”
7) People will have moral qualms
The characters on “The Walking Dead” know that they have to kill or be killed. But on “Fear the Walking Dead,” they still have the morality of the pre-zombie world. One of the central characters will take out a Walker within the first two episodes and will have to grapple with guilt, as Walkers are still thought of as human beings. “[That character's] going to suffer for it,” said Erickson. “It was important that physically, it’s difficult to kill them. It takes a toll and then there’s trauma to it… Do they share what they’ve done or do they hide it because they’re ashamed?”
8) The show is set in a realistic Los Angeles
The series is set in Los Angeles, but there’s no sign of the glamorous version of the city featured on most TV shows. “We ended up centralizing our family’s home in the El Sereno neighborhood,” explains Erickson. “It’s quintessentially Los Angeles. But what we never wanted to do is see the Hollywood sign or the Griffith Park observatory. It’s very much an East Side L.A. versus a Westside L.A..” They wanted to keep the blue collar backdrop of the original show, Erickson explains, while also showing a community with a wide range of people. “El Sereno is incredibly rich and incredibly diverse, and I think it actually predates the city.”
9) The cast will multiply
The show initially focuses on a single family, but its scope will expand. Another family, the Salazars, will play a key role. “The complexity of what’s going on just amplifies. For me it’s a matter of remaining true to who our characters are, because if we just stayed with Kim and I, our choices would be pretty limited as a high school teacher and high school counselor. We need other characters that will extend the range of the show. “
10) There is an endpoint for the series
“Fear the Walking Dead” has already been renewed for a second season. The first season takes place over about three weeks, and at the end of it, the characters will still not know the scope of the apocalypse. “The discovery process and the education process will extend into season two,” Erickson reveals. “Then there’s a new world to explore at that point.” Though he hopes the show will run for many seasons, he’s already figured out how it will end. “One of the specific stories and one of the specific relationships that I have in my head right now, when that one comes to a head, I think the show will be done. “
- Sara Bibel