“Nature always wins.”
These words, spoken by Cliff Curtis’ Travis Manawa, in the character’s lone scene as a proper English teacher, definitely feel like they were added to the script to serve as a central coda for Fear the Walking Dead, but they’re impressively appropriate. And that’s whether we’re talking about the nature of the zombie plague at the core of this slow-burning drama, the human nature behind people’s riot-driven reactions to the plague, or even just the palm trees seen in the L.A. cityscape establishing shots. Life is oh so temporary, and the world will outlive us all.
As a spinoff to the ridiculously successful AMC series The Walking Dead, the companion spinoff Fear the Walking Dead will draw immediate and obvious comparisons, and some will try to point out that this show moves slower than its predecessor. That’s when I point out at least a dozen instances where it feels like The Walking Dead was standing still, but I’d prefer to just avoid the side-by-side and appreciate everything that this new series delivers, from its character connections to its “present-day” approach.
Madison Clark is a high school guidance counselor with a relatively tumultuous family life, and Kim Dickens plays her as if the counselor guise never goes away. Her son Nick (Frank Dillane) has a serious drug problem and her daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) just wants an avenue steered away from her home life, preferably with her boyfriend Matt (Maestro Harrell). Curtis’ Travis recently moved in with Madison, and although her kids haven’t completely taken to him, nothing gets families together like a major catastrophe.
Nick is something of an anchor on the first two episodes that were screened for press, as you might have guessed by the opening scene currently available for viewing. His latest drug binge puts him front and center with someone biting faces off, and his trouble dealing with it slowly trickles out to everyone else as they start to witness the world crumbling down around them. Suffice to say, his life is worse than most other people for a while.
It’s not long before we meet Travis’ ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and their son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), the latter of whom bears witness the show’s first large-scale conflict, which takes not only the L.A. riots as source material, but also a solid sprinkling of police brutality. They end up finding refuge with barber Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) and his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spindola) and daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), and although this family isn’t given much time for character development, it’s Rubén Blades!
Because this show takes place so early in the apocalypse that Rick Grimes eventually wakes up in, it works for me on a different level from The Walking Dead in that the central threat is the same, but the minute-to-minute threats are completely different. In the flagship series, almost every person a character sees that isn’t part of the core survivors almost necessarily is a walker, but in Fear the Walking Dead, shadowed bodies can either be monsters or just normal people, and there are far more victims in this world that we’re used to. That level of uncertainty adds a texture to the suspense that just isn’t there for most TV dramas and thrillers.
Knowing that Fear the Walking Dead is already set up for a Season 2 is encouraging, as it makes me think this series could be headed in several different directions, with creators Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson likely wanting to avoid overlapping with The Walking Dead on themes and how they tackle surviving in a world ripped apart by death and destruction. I have faith that we’ll get to see more personal stories that a more ragtag group wouldn’t allow. Plus, the glorious L.A. setting will probably squash conversations about why the show doesn’t deal with weather.
Fear the Walking Dead will premiere on AMC this Sunday, August 23, at 9 p.m. ET.