It’s not always easy accepting newcomers with open arms. There’s an uncertainty, a fear of the unknown.
As an avid fan of The Walking Dead – the comics, the TV show, the TellTale Games – I approached Fear the Walking Dead with a great sense of unease. Perfectly content with my monthly comic purchase and the stress of a new season every October completely satisfies my Kirkman-centred zombie craving. This new show – the spin off, with no roots in the original material – is something I did not want, but felt a duty to the fandom to watch it.
The Walking Dead is set in a universe where pop-culture zombies did not exist. The Romero films hadn’t been made; Shaun didn’t go round mums, get Liz back, and sort his life out; and no-one was Left 4 Dead. In the comics, “zombies” is uttered only by accident, as pointed out in the occasional letters page where it’s accidentally slipped from the lips of a character. There were no zombies before the first zombie: the one that started it all. And that’s what makes Fear the Walking Dead so very creepy.
In a world where the dead stay dead, in fiction and reality, it’s hard to understand what exactly is going on when you witness people tearing and clawing one another apart, or defying mortal injury. Surely, if you were to witness these things, you must be crazy – an inventive, and dark imagination, delightfully overactive, particularly if, say, you were a heroin addict.
The premier episode of Fear the Walking Dead focuses on precisely that. Nick, a young adult sleeping rough and battling drug addiction, wakes up to find his friend Gloria snacking on another of their camp-mates. Running, afraid, he’s taken to hospital and questioned by the police. Sure, something bad clearly happened in the church they were hiding in, but people don’t just eat other people. The drugs have rotted his brain, right?
The remainder of the episode works to unsettle this notion of normality. It can’t be anything as crazy as Nick proclaims, but something’s clearly not right. We follow Nick’s family in California: his mother, Madison, his sister, Alicia, and his mother’s new partner, Travis. It’s nice to see a zombie outbreak which focuses on a family unit, rather than randy teenagers or helpless victims. There’s a strong unit at play here, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. These people aren’t looking to save themselves, but each other – on levels much deeper than fleeing flesh-eaters.
Barely any walkers make an appearance in this first episode, which plays to the overall strength of the Walking Dead franchise. It’s about the destruction of an old world and the creation of new community; fight or flight; survival of the fittest – and usually the scariest monsters are the ones who are still breathing.
The cinematography is gorgeous, with some truly stunning shots. The grotesque paradox of the blood-stained drug den within a collapsed church was disturbingly wonderful. Like the Walking Dead, everything is deliberate, with the smallest of details serving significance.
Fear the Walking Dead has kicked off on a high note. The pathway leading to the explosive new season of the Walking Dead, it has big shoes to fill, and a vocal audience to appease, but it looks as if Fear the Walking Dead can measure up. Developed and flawed characters we can care about; seeds of Government deception sown, and a morbid foreshadowing as the audience is only too aware of the future that awaits any characters capable enough to survive, this new installment holds plenty of promise. So, maybe it’s okay to accept these newcomers – to follow new stories down the dark rabbit hole of the apocalypse.