When I first heard that one of my favourite shows, The Walking Dead, would be getting a prequel spin-off series, which is rather lazily named Fear The Walking Dead, I was quite sceptical. “It’s just an unnecessary cash-grab”, I thought. “It’ll never be as good as The Walking Dead”.
After one episode it’s far too early to say whether Fear The Walking Dead can match the high quality of its big brother show. But it’s definitely not too early to say that FTWD can be a very entertaining and enjoyable series on its own merits.
Although the first episode is quite slow burning, it’s not as painfully slow as some of the weaker The Walking Dead episodes, as you are mostly invested in what’s going on. There’s not tonnes of zombie-killing action like in its predecessor, but when ‘the Walkers’ do appear onscreen, the frightful feeling of “oh sh*t, there’s a zombie” delightfully returns.
FTWD takes place in L.A before the zombiepocalypse turned the world upside down. Unlike TWD which starts off with Rick waking up from a coma in zombie-infested Atlanta, society in FTWD has yet to be overrun by flesh-eaters. This offers up very interesting potential in further episodes as we will presumably see how a city like LA can turn from being a normal busy metropolitan to a sprawling wasteland ravaged by the hungry dead.
After spending five series with Rick and co trying desperately to survive the zombiepocalypse, it’s quite refreshing to see a new cast come face to face with ‘ Walkers’. The first character we meet, Nick (played by a young Johnny Depp lookalike Frank Dillane) is a drug addict in his early twenties who has a long history of messing up.
His mother Madison (Gone Girl’s Kim Dickens) is a school counsellor who can’t quite keep her family together as while her son spends his time shooting up drugs, her intelligent but rebellious teenage daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) detests her mother’s new teacher boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) who is just trying to be liked by his girlfriend’s disapproving family.
The dysfunctional family dynamic presented in the first episode is intriguing as by the end of the episode not only are you invested in the relationships between them but you look forward to seeing how they cope with the frightening future we know will await them.
This future is teased by the mentions of the flu spreading around, reports of a virus spreading through five states, missing people and a troubled school kid named Tobias who tells Madison that he saw some zombies but he isn’t believed. The episode could have made much more of Tobias and the horrors that he saw but hopefully his experiences will be featured more heavily in the following episodes.
There are a few suspenseful moments which build up a thrilling sense of tension – when Madison visits the high school head teacher in his office, when Travis goes looking for Nick in an abandoned old church or when Nick goes on an unsuspecting joy ride with someone he thinks is a friend. All these moments have you gripped to the edge of your seat as you eagerly watch to see what happens next. The very first scene in particular is executed perfectly as well.
While the first episode does lots of things well, there are a couple of things it could have improved on. For example when certain characters first come into contact with a freshly turned ‘Walker’ near the end of the episode, they’re not as terrified as you’d expect people to be when they see a actual zombie for the first time, which comes across kind of silly and unrealistic considering the show’s name is Fear The Walking Dead and it’s otherwise grounded tone. Also there is a scene or two which could have been saved for a later episode such as the introduction of Travis’s ex-wife and son.
Although it has a couple of minor flaws, the premiere episode of FTWD suggests the show has lots of promise. Some viewers may feel that the episode is a little too long (as without breaks it has an added 15 minutes) and is a little too slow which I can completely understand. Personally I had no problems with the pace or length of the premiere and cannot wait for future episodes. Fear The Walking Dead episode 1 scores a:
Fear The Walking Dead airs on UK TV at 9pm Monday 31 August on AMC (Unfortunately you’ll need BT to watch it! Or if you’re internet savvy enough you’ll be able to find it online somewhere.)