Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1 Episode 1

Aug 24, 2015 | Posted by in TV


Fear the Walking Dead’s pilot episode introduces us to the genesis of a very famous zombie epidemic.  We’re talking of course about the parent show, The Walking Dead: comic-book adaptation, turned global TV sensation.  Enter “The Walking Dead” into amazon.com’s search bar and you can find everything from t-shirts, video games and action figures to dog collars, custom guitars and toilet paper holders.  The unbridled success of The Walking Dead has inevitably led to the creation of the spin-off (prequel) Fear the Walking Dead (got to stay on-brand with the title, wouldn’t want to confuse any potential customers).  Fear is the story of one family’s attempt to survive the initial outbreak, and takes place in Los Angeles, all the way across America from the events of TWD in Georgia.

The family at the heart of the narrative consists of Maddie Clark (Kim Dickens; Gone Girl, Sons of Anarchy), her kids Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and Maddie’s partner Travis (Cliff Curtis; Training Day, Sunshine).  Maddie and Travis are both high-school teachers, Alicia is a good student who can’t wait to leave town for college, and Nick is the black sheep of the family, splitting his time between a drug den and rehab.  The pilot episode shows us little else about these characters than what is outlined here.  It’s understandable that the writers are trying to establish the protagonists, but they’re doing so with fairly broad strokes.


Planes, trains and automobiles? Are you sure this is about zombies?

Maddie is tough on her tearaway son, protective of her daughter and compassionate with her students.  She’s the most well-developed character in this episode; we see her storm into the hospital, ordering the cops out of Nick’s room and taking a hard line with her son.  Later on she softens and cuddles up to comfort him as he sleeps.  In her role as a teacher she looks out for a student caught bringing a knife to school, steering him away from a severe punishment and reasoning with him about his prospects for good grades and college opportunities.  When she visits the scene of Nick’s drug abuse she breaks down under the weight of her perceived failure as a parent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the family are rather one-dimensional.  Travis could be the stepdad from any number of stories – under-appreciated by his stepchildren, but striving to win their favour, whilst unavailable to his own son.  He’s also fills the classic ‘inspirational teacher down-with-the-kids’ role, as we see him connecting with a somnolent student during a class on the struggle between Man and Nature.  “Nature always wins” as Travis puts it, heavy-handedly foreshadowing a pandemic that may be about to thin the human herd.

Alicia has little to do, other than to act as a thematic counterweight to her reprobate brother.  At one point she calls Nick “Merriam-Webster crazy” – dictionaries define straight-A students as never using this horrible technique.  Alicia dreams of leaving her family and town behind for college, and is counting down the days until she can do so.  Her boyfriend’s mysterious disappearance in the latter part of the episode hints that we may see him looking slightly more disheveled somewhere further down the road.

Frank Dillane starts strongly as Nick.  He’s convincing terrified by his horrific discovery at the very beginning of the episode but he begins to tail off from there.  Attempting to convince the cops and his family that what he saw was real and not all in his head, he quickly spirals into a strange neurotic head-space.  Combine this with the clothes he steals from the old man in the next hospital bed and you have a sort of dramatic reading of James Franco’s character from Pineapple Express.

The plot kicks off with Nick waking up from a heroin-induced stupor in abandoned church-come-drug den, only to find one of the junkies chewing on another’s face.  Nick flees into the (seemingly empty) street and is hit by a car.  We as an audience have become familiar with the setting, as a crowd gathers around him, but the rug is pulled out from underneath us, as instead of moaning, clawing undead, Nick is surrounded by concerned citizens.  The camera pulls out to reveal a colourful and vibrant city street, teeming with life.  The contrast to the stark environments and faded colour palette of TWD establishes that until now, all has been well in LA.  It’s a nice little misdirect, a play on our expectations that director Adam Davidson uses on several occasions throughout the episode – the audience’s eye is always drawn to any hint of a shamble or shuffle from shadowy figures in the background.


Shambling out of the darkness – one of the first victims of the outbreak

The rest of the narrative unfolds as Nick is taken to hospital, raving about what he saw at the church.  Of course, no one believes him until footage of an incident involving a zombie-like attack on some cops hits the internet.  The dissemination of information in this manner feels very up to the minute, as most of our front line news these days comes from amateur video shot on mobile phones.  If there were a zombie outbreak, you can be sure kids in schools would be sharing it over the internet.  Meanwhile, Nick escapes from the hospital and seeks help from his dealer, Cal.  If you’ve ever seen any show or film in which a character leaves hospital surreptitiously, you’ve seen this sequence before.  Health warnings are issued and the school session ends early.  Travis and Maddie find the horrific evidence at the church and go looking for Nick.   They find him cowering under an overpass, where he tells them that he has killed Cal as they struggled over a gun.  Returning to the scene, Cal’s body is nowhere to be found, but as Maddie, Travis and Nick begin to drive off, their path through a tunnel is blocked by a figure, menacingly illuminated in red by their taillights.  It’s Cal, and once Maddie and Travis realise that he’s not interested in negotiation, Nick rams him with the truck.  The episode comes to a close as the three watch Cal’s growling, undead corpse turn his head to look back at them though cold, glassy eyes.

The nature of the beginning of the outbreak – a link to a bad batch of heroin – is a rather blatant attempt at a ‘drugs are bad’ morality tale.  The Walking Dead thrives on the concept of human connection in an inhuman world.  Fear doesn’t have the luxury of that setting (yet), and might be grasping for a ‘message’ in a show that’s basically about undead people eating non-undead people.

The pacing of the episode was also a little on the slow side.  There wasn’t a lot of zombie action, which is understandable, as we’re only witnessing the very start of the outbreak, however moving things along at a slightly quicker clip would not have gone amiss.  It did seem as though Cal turned pretty quickly, so multiple deaths in quick succession could lead to more serious problems and the potential for more action.

Fear has already been commissioned for two seasons, the first of which will span six episodes.  How this all connects to TWD is still unclear.  Furthermore, once the zombie outbreak hits, what will differentiate Fear from TWD?  At some point the ratio of humans to zombies will have to tip the apocalyptic scales and we’ll find ourselves in a very similar situation to that of the original series.  This is the problem facing Fear – how do you compete with the best in the business?

  • 6.5/10
    Pilot - 6.5/10


Fear the Walking Dead attempts to tell the tale of what came before Rick and the gang. We’re introduced to our protagonists, most of whom are fairly underdeveloped at this point. Maddie has shown the most promise so far – there’s definite room for improvement.

The outbreak appears to link back to a bad batch of drugs, which sends a clear message to any kids watching.

The episode plodded along at a slow pace. There’s hope though, if a few more zombies get loose, there could be mayhem.

By now, everyone is surely familiar with The Walking Dead, which allows for some nice use of misdirection and playing with audience expectation from the director. The colour palette is also a refreshing change from the washed-out appearance of TWD.

Fear has a lot to live up to, and runs the risk of being a pale imitation of its parent show. It needs to work out how to occupy the same world and similar themes without appearing more of a common cold than full-blown epidemic.

User Review
0 (0 votes)