Slowly Seeing It All Fall Apart Again, For The First Time
It's the one question fans of The Walking Dead have never really seen answered: What happened?
Producers of AMC's spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead already have said the new show won't answer why corpses started roaming the land. But they will flesh out another important tale The Walking Dead left unexamined — what it was like when the dead first started rising up to eat the living.
That story begins with junkie Nick Clark, who wakes up from a heroin high to see his friend Gloria crouched over dead bodies in a horrifying situation.
"There was blood ... yeah, and it's all over her mouth," he tells his stepfather from a hospital bed hours later. "Then she came at me. ... she was eating them. She was eating them."
We viewers know she was a zombie — or a "walker" in the world of The Walking Dead, which steadfastly avoids the term zombie, with all its pop culture implications.
We also know something else Nick, his family and his friends in Los Angeles don't know: The world as they know it is about to end — violently.
In Fear the Walking Dead, Nick is the most dysfunctional member of a blended family that includes his mother Madison, sister Alicia, a stepfather and others. Eventually, we sense, they will band together to survive what's coming.
Madison is a guidance counselor at the local high school, where, in one scene, she takes a knife from Tobias, a pudgy outcast who seems to be the only kid who really knows what's going on.
"No one's going to college ... no one's doing anything they think they are," he says, during a talk in Madison's office. "They don't know if it's a virus or a microbe — they don't know, but it's spreading! People are killing..."
"You need to spend less time online," she counters.
Actually, Madison should probably spend a little more time surfing the web. Before long, she learns the hard way that certain glassy-eyed, shambling people have suddenly developed a taste for human flesh.
Fear the Walking Dead takes place far away from the setting of its mothership series, with no current plans for the two shows to cross paths. Where The Walking Dead began in rural Georgia weeks after the zombie apocalypse, Fear the Walking Dead kicks off in Los Angeles just as a mysterious illness appears.
The Walking Dead's first scene featured hero Rick Grimes shooting a zombified child in the head. But Fear the Walking Dead moves much, much slower. Nick isn't even sure if what he saw was a drug-induced hallucination or something worse.
"I don't know if what I saw came from the powder," he says. "And if it didn't come from the powder, then it came out of me. And if it came out of me, then I'm insane."
Fans might go a little crazy too — especially if they're worried this spinoff will, um, cannibalize the Walking Dead's audience. But zombie shows are everywhere on TV, and these two programs couldn't be more different.
Fear the Walking Dead does have an irritating habit of building tension by withholding information normal people would share. For example, by the time a friend of Nick's sister Alicia gets ill, Nick and his mother have already seen and killed a zombie.
But do they tell Alicia about zombies? Of course not. Which leads to a fight when Alicia won't listen to her mother.
"Mom, what the hell are you doing?" Alicia says, as her mother tries leading her away from her friend. "Are you psychotic?"
Wouldn't it have been better for Madison to just tell her "we think he's turning into a zombie"?
(This moment and other scenes on the show also reflect a bad case of Rebellious Teen Syndrome, a malady in TV-land where otherwise smart young people do stupid things for little reason other than to stoke conflict with their parents.)
Fear the Walking Dead may also repeat the mothership series' early problems with diversity, when The Walking Dead seemed to kill off black characters with alarming frequency. Without dishing spoilers, let's just say the body count for black men is pretty high in the first two episodes of the spinoff, too.
Ultimately, the plot moves so slowly, Fear the Walking Dead feels more like a thin knockoff than an inspired idea. Let's hope the storytelling picks up soon, to keep this series from turning into another shambling TV zombie that needs to be put down.
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