Last night marked not only the first airing of the Fear the Walking Dead spin-off series but also the first time I’ve ever watched a Walking Dead episode the night it aired. And that’s only because I watched The Walking Dead pilot a couple of years after it aired (I haven’t watched any other episodes). Yes, I’m a huge Walking Dead fan (the comic) who feels no need to see the TV show because I know the major plot points. The TV show will be different, of course, but not enough to make me interested especially when the books keep coming out and are amazing. In this sense it’s the anti-Game of Thrones.
But a spin-off interests me because it’s a new story, one I can’t know anything about, but still based in a universe I deeply respect. So what did this zombie literature fan and Walking Dead admirer think of the new spin-off? Jump after the break to find out. [MINOR FEAR THE WALKING DEAD PILOT SPOILERS BEYOND]
My reaction to this pilot is tempered by two main themes:
- I love The Walking Dead because of its intent. When Kirkman set out to write The Walking Dead it was because zombie movies are a couple of hours and maybe get a few sequels. That’s enough for intense chase scenes or survival thrillers, maybe even a quest to find a cure. But Kirkman wanted to create a story where the zombie apocalypse fundamentally changes the entire world and he wanted to be able to show that change and how it impacted people in the long term. He did so through a cast of characters that, he said in issue #1, should be unrecognizable to readers in a couple of years because they’ve had to change so much. That was the intent and he nailed it.
- I hate prequels. Hate them with a burning passion. Mostly because it takes away so much dramatic tension when you know a character ultimately lives or dies. And your best storytelling moments will simply be connecting pieces to set up for a future story that people already know. I think a decent prequel is so much the exception that it doesn’t justify the genre.
Given those two points, I still had an open mind watching the Fear pilot and ultimately will keep watching it. Here’s why:
- Moving to LA makes this more of a sidequel than a prequel. Yes, the story is taking place during the zombie outbreak and that’s before the start of the main series, but given the unique cast and location it still maintains full dramatic tension. We have no idea who here will live or die. We don’t even know what civilization looks like on the West Coast during the time of The Walking Dead. They could be better or worse off than Rick and crew by the time they catch up to the main series’ timeline. LA could have a network of survival camps or could fall into the ocean by then–plenty of places to go.
- Fear the Walking Dead has just as fresh a view on zombie stories as the original. The Walking Dead wanted to tell the long story of how people change in the wake of a zombie outbreak. Fear is telling the story of how that outbreak occurred. That’s actually a barely told story. In zombie movies the outbreak typically occurs before the movie starts and we get a title card explaining as such. Or there are hints of an outbreak and then suddenly everyone has it. There has never been a slow, drawn-out, more realistic story of the spreading of a zombie outbreak. And that has a lot of potentially interesting angles. The short trailer at the end of the pilot revealing what will take place in the first season covered many plot points or stories that the pilot didn’t even touch. It could be fascinating but it will certainly be different.
- The biggest negative is easy to overlook. The pilot expects you to have watched The Walking Dead. Some of the angles and the visual cues lead you to believe that someone is a zombie and then there’s a sudden action so you discover they aren’t. That only works within the context of expecting zombies–a fair enough assumption for a spin-off series, but also really annoying to someone like me who didn’t watch the main series. I get it, I’m not the target audience, more like the second ring around the bullseye. So it’s an easy flaw (to me) that can be overlooked.
- I really liked the Nick character. The drug addict who has no idea if the zombie attack he witnessed was real or a hallucination was a fantastic angle for the first episode. When he takes his mom and step-father to the place where he shot Calvin only to find an abandoned car and no corpse, his collapse was the best moment of acting in the pilot. You could feel his struggle with addiction and perception in that one moment capping his aimless shuffle through the streets of LA. And when the zombie-Calvin finally appears, it makes perfect sense that Nick is the only one who can react. In some sense, he’s more relieved than horrified. I’m not looking forward to the eventual episodes dealing with his withdrawal symptoms, but I like this character arc a lot so far.
What did you think of the pilot?