When it was announced that a spin off for zombie mega series THE WALKING DEAD was to come to TV screens, I think it’s fair to say that we as a collective consumer were filled with mixed responses. On one hand for fans of the show more Walking Dead was something exciting to look forward to, on the other hand what could more Walking Dead really contribute to our enjoyment of this particular brand of content?
It turns out our mixed feelings were born into the product itself. That is to say FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is a mixed mag. A bag filled with good and not so good, a bag filled with not great but also nothing bad. But let’s start with the not so good, which is really the best place to start because the pilot improves rather rapidly as it progresses.
The opening of this first instalment of the six episode first season is pretty so so. I found myself rather un-enamoured with events, there was nothing egregiously offensive about proceedings but at the same time there was nothing to make me think ‘yeah, this is something I want, I need this product’.
The pre opening credit scene, the tease if you will, didn’t have the effect that I am sure was intended. We see one of our main characters flee from a walker out into the street, then hit by a car, to have the camera pan out to the hustle and bustle of a fully populated city, no apocalypse, just normal life. This apocalypse/civilisation fakeout fell kind of flat. I get what they were going for but it just didn’t work. Most likely because going into the show we all knew the premise of the series, that this wasn’t set after the fall of society — like it’s parent show — that it was to take place during the worlds demise. This most certainly contrbuted to the iffy start.
Right away one can tell that Fear, like TWD, is a character study, that this is to be a show about the people and the increasingly dire situations they will have to deal with. This works great in the original show, a series populated with interesting and compelling figures, but Fear — at least to start with — fell kind of short in this regard. The characters, I suppose, seem interesting enough but there is nothing new offered here. These are all people seen before, characters cut and pasted from any other series. This was for me (at first) a problem. Knowing what the show needed to be to work, this was an issue, a big one.
If I didn’t know this was a zombie show, if this didn’t have the words ‘Walking Dead’ in the title, if this was just a regular series; I’m not sure I would have kept watching through the first 15 minutes. Maybe I would, it’s hard to say, but there was nothing gripping about these opening moments, these starting scenes. Knowing what was to come in the future definitely kept me in my seat.
Luckily things start to pick up as the episode makes it way along. It without doubt got more interesting and more compelling as the minutes went by. I started to relax into it and the show did to. One of the biggest delights so far has to be Cliff Curtis as Travis. At first he seemed like a million other characters but this it turns out is the whole point. It really is great casting, Curtis is perfect at portraying the every man, the guy you can’t hate, the person you want to root for. It’s going to be interesting to watch his progress in this new world to come, how he evolves or how he doesn’t. Will he follow a similar path to Rick? Will he succeed where Rick failed? Will he fail where Rick prospered? It’s hard to tell at this point but the fact that the opening episode made me think about such things, about how this man might adapt, or how he might not, is a serious achievement.
What I started to respect the most about this opening episode, was the fact that they held off with the apocalypse fully breaking out for as long as they did, often teasing us with its commencement but never going there where it easily could have. Sure, at times this was a little annoying, as let’s face it, we all know why we’re here. However this wasn’t really a problem at all and quickly became the episodes strongest asset. The apocalypse was really everywhere you looked, zombies were around from the first scene and from then on hiding in plain sight, it was just that no one had the time to notice, no serious damage had yet been caused, death was only on the periphery. Every siren that sounded off, the helicopter propellers in the background, it didn’t take much to guess what those were for, what they meant, and again, I appreciate that this was all just ambience. We knew what this all indicated, even if the characters didn’t.
As we progressed through the middle fifteen minutes of the episode, and towards the second half, other characters came into their own more and more. For example Nick, the son of the shows leads, began to take on a quality that at times felt like an odd fit but at the same time brought a unique energy to everything around him. There is something uniquely interesting about him. He’s almost like a zombie himself, the way he shuffles along, the pale skin, the aimlessness of his demeanour. More and more as time went on the episode made a better fist of making you connect with these characters, forcing us to get to know them. This will only serve the show well once we delve deeper into the apocalypse.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this pilot is that in TWD, a single zombie (or even multiple) aren’t that threatening but right now in Fear TWD, one zombie is a big deal, it’s dangerous, it’s an ordeal to defeat. Case in point, the showdown with Nick’s friend. What I liked more than that scene itself was thinking that situations like this very one were most likely happening all over the city, the country, and indeed the world. The planets populace individually finding out about the nightmare that will consume them, becoming their lives or taking it from them.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD — so far anyway — is a little hit and miss. It may have started off poorly, but everything built its way up until, by the end of the episode, it had turned things around considerably. It’s already offering something different than what was previously available and the promise of what’s to come is now even more tantalising. How will these people survive? How will the world’s nightmare change them? Will they come across any familiar faces? How long does it take for society to crumble under these most dire of circumstances? And what does this all look like? We are going to get to find out all of these things and I think (I hope) that it’s going to be pretty compelling viewing. I started off hopeful, I then became hesitant but before the closing credits, I was a believer. I want more of this. I think this could be good.