The back-biting in Los Angeles just got a lot worse. The face-biting, too. But that's to be expected as Fear The Walking Dead begins to reveal the untold story of the undead apocalypse.
The show is a companion series to The Walking Dead, America's most popular television hit, the fifth season of which attracted 17 million viewers. With figures like that, it's no surprise that makers AMC would want a spin-off.
"Fear The Walking Dead is an apocalyptic education," says David Erickson, the showrunner and executive producer. "It's essentially covering the time frame in which Rick Grimes – from the original show, from the comic – is in a coma. In that version, Rick is shot, falls into a coma, wakes up four to five weeks later and the world is over.
“What it gives us the opportunity to do is to show the audience what happens in that window of time.”
The first season of six episodes, which begins tomorrow with a special 90-minute premiere, will trace the collapse of civilisation as seen through the eyes of a dysfunctional family – a teacher, a guidance counsellor, a drug addict and a high-school student – who have no clue what is going on as things turn weird and terrifying in their city of 14 million souls.
“Our characters haven’t gone through Zombie 101,” says Erickson. “We have a group of people who are completely ill-prepared for the onset of the apocalypse.”
Single mother Madison Clark is played by Kim Dickens, an American actress best known for her roles in acclaimed HBO series Deadwood and Treme.
Her son Nick (played by Frank Dillane, who will soon be seen in director Ron Howard's historical drama In the Heart of the Sea) is a college dropout and a drug addict. Her daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey; star of Into the Storm and the CW TV series The 100) is an overachieving high-school student often at odds with her slacker brother.
Hoping to start a new life, Madison moves in with her fiance, Travis Manawa, played by Cliff Curtis, an actor from New Zealand best known for his roles in the films Whale Rider and Blow, and as the star of ABC's short-lived mystery thriller TV series Missing. Travis's rebellious son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) resents his Dad for divorcing his mother.
“They’re a family on the brink of falling apart,” says series producer Dave Alpert. “They’re barely keeping things together as it is now – and we add the apocalypse. “
Rounding out the main cast are: Elizabeth Rodriguez (Orange Is the New Black) as the free-spirited Liza Ortiz, Travis's ex-wife; salsa musician and actor Rubén Blades as Daniel Salazar, an immigrant barber; Mercedes Mason (Chuck) as his protective daughter Ofelia; and Patricia Reyes Spíndola (Bleak Street) as his ultrareligious wife Griselda, who views the undead catastrophe as punishment for the sins of the world.
“I think that the fact that the audience knows more than our characters is part of the fun of telling this story,” says Erickson, “and part of the chip that we had in terms of how we could play with audience tension and expectations.
“For me, it’s equivalent to when you go and see a horror film and everybody knows that the bad guy’s hiding behind the closet and up comes the innocent blonde not knowing he’s there and there’s this great excitement and thrill and titillation to like, ‘no, no, please, don’t go in there’.”
The monsters in this chilling family drama won't be called "walkers", as they are in The Walking Dead – instead, meet the "infected", as those who have the "virus" will become known.
What gives this series a fresh dimension of dread is that many of these newly dead infected look normal.
“These are fresh ‘turns’,” says co-executive producer and make-up effects wizard Greg Nicotero, already well known to fans for his work on the original series. “We’re not constantly surrounded by hundreds of walkers. They don’t have the same decomposed-for-a-year-and-a-half look.”
“The reality is this,” says Erickson. “We’re so early in the apocalypse that when people are infected and walkers turn, they seem, for all intents and purposes, human … So we’re dealing with people who are confronted with their friends, their family, their colleagues – people they have a cup of coffee with the day before – and they have to process: ’Is this person on something? Is this person sick?’
“Their go-to is not: ‘This is a zombie and I have to put this person down.’ It’s to try to wrap their brains around what’s going on.
“What’s interesting to me and, I think, interesting for our [characters], is processing this level of paranoia. This level of tension. This anxiety. What happens if the people we know are no longer the people we know?”
"With Fear the Walking Dead, [the] family is growing even more," says Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic book and co-creator of the original television series, "and I know we're all going to open our hearts – and guts – to give these new additions a warm welcome."
AMC has already ordered a second season of 15 episodes, to be broadcast next year.
The early buzz
"Fear the Walking Dead feels like a worthy extension because it gives another perspective, from Los Angeles, on a global crisis. There are stories beyond Rick Grimes and his fearless, tested band."
"Legitimately scary. Not just the artful gore that The Walking Dead has become known for, not just jump scares or 'humans are the worst' psychological horror, but genuine tension. A can't-sit-still-in-your-seat, nerve-racking, skin-crawling fear that earns the series its title."
New York Daily News
“Nothing serves a horror story like a good build. Or, in the case of LA itself, a slow crumble.”
“The 90-minute premiere … initially feels too much like a snore, narrowly following a single, not-terribly- interesting family, and leaning heavily on musical cues to stoke a sense of suspense.”
"If The Walking Dead is a horror story, Fear the Walking Dead is a mood piece, more artful than the original series."
Spot the differences
Family comes first
Unlike The Walking Dead, which features a battle-weary, ever-changing group of strangers thrown together and struggling to survive, Fear The Walking Dead focuses on the changing dynamic of a dysfunctional family – dad, mum and teenage kids – that finds itself blindsided by the zombie apocalypse.
A city without pity
We leave the forests of rural Georgia behind to explore the densely-populated concrete jungle of Los Angeles, where it doesn’t take much for a spark of infection to ignite a riot of undead slaughter among 14 million Angelinos.
Fresh dead & dying
Don’t expect the oozing, putrescent skeletal “walkers” of The Walking Dead. In this spin-off, the newly “infected” in LA look relatively normal until they are mere inches from your face – and then it’s too late.
Fear the Walking Dead is on at 5.10am and 10pm on Monday, August 24 on AMC