Oh yes! At long last comes the long awaited and possibly unnecessary spin-off series of The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead. How did it go? Let’s find out what’s going on in the zestfully titled first episode “Pilot”. Warning: Spoilers roam these lands.
Oh, if you have not seen it, it’s currently available on AMC’s website without any login required.
We open and meet the first of our heroes, Nick the Junkie. Nick is played by Frank Dillane and he has a real young Johnny Depp thing going on. Though, as far as I know, Johnny has never tried to pull of the weird sleeved capelet thing that Nick has going on.
It’s interesting that the first scene is a scare because, strangely, it’s also the most familiar moment in the entire show for Walking Dead fans. We’re all so used to someone wandering around a dilapidated, poorly lit environment with flickering lights from Doom, blood, guts and Walkers lurking around every corner to leap upon the unsuspecting. It feels less like a tense scare than it does a welcoming reassurance that this is what we’ve eventually going to be getting back to.
Nick runs out of the run down church and back into the real world. This is where we are suddenly greeted by the shock that things are, in fact, still pretty much normal.
Nick is rather a contrast to Rick. I seriously doubt the West Coast is in danger of falling under a Nicktatorship any time soon. Nick is a messed up young heroin addict, though he’s in really good shape for someone who supposedly been doing the stuff for some time. Despite his obvious issues, it’s obvious he’s smart and he can be funny.
Nick ends up in the hospital sharing a room with Old Dude Who Is Clearly Going To Die And Become A Walker. This is a running theme for the show where there are constant fake outs of imminent walker danger for the central characters which, mostly, never actually happens. If you weren’t a fan of the mothership, you’d probably never even notice many of them, but every time it’s strictly there as a tease. This would be my major gripe with the episode, too much is happening off screen. This series was predicated on showing us the start of everything and instead the start of everything has already happened somewhere else and eventually it’s going to catch up with our main cast. How is there not one single cast member who even comes down with the flu? Not even one!
Nick’s hospital trip is our gateway to meeting the rest of his very concerned family. His mother, Madison, played by Kim Dickens, works at a high school as a guidance counselor but talks like a lawyer. Madison is probably closer to being the Rick in this crowd, so at some point a Madisonancy may break out. She definitely has a hard, survivor’s edge to her, though she also has moments of doubt and pain throughout the show. Most of the time, though, she seems very in charge and sure of herself.
Madison is dating Travis Manawa, played by Cliff Curtis. Travis is a teacher at the same school and is basically set permanently to earnest and well-meaning. No one believes Nick about what he saw at the church. After all, he’s not the most reliable eye witness. Eventually, Travis visits the church. The Walkers aren’t around. Given what we’d seen, there should be at least three of them in there. They’ve either wandered off or the authorities came in and cleaned them out. This is another one of those scenes where you get a build up of tension thinking something is going to happen but it never does.
The last member of our little family is daughter Alicia, played by Alycia Debnam-Kelly. She is the polar opposite of Nick, the straight A student and doesn’t get a whole lot to do other than helping to reveal the other characters, tapping away at her phone and some cuddle time with her boyfriend.
While Travis is off at the church, Madison goes to school. Things are tense. A child named Tobias, who somehow is the only person who knows what’s going on, tries to sneak in with a knife because he’s freaking out. He’s heard about the virus spreading to five states, people killing each other, etc..,. You’d think this would be something everyone would be kind of aware of and, indeed, you get the feeling that everyone who isn’t a major member of the cast is aware of it and getting very nervous. There are almost constant sirens and helicopters going around in the background which, again, makes it kind of frustrating that most of the hour and a half run time is spent on a lot of personal issues which aren’t going to matter a hill of beans once things start going down.
The principal at the school turns out to be played by Art Costa aka That Guy Who Looks Kind of Like Obama. Even though Obama has retired to the quiet life being a principal out here in LA, he can’t let go of all that juicy NSA spying.
This sequence really is the most annoying in the whole show. Travis is teaching about Jack London with a lot of really obvious symbolism about wolves and building fires. One of the kids in his class is slumped over, seemingly unresponsive. But he’s only sleeping. And then Madison walks in on Principal Obama who also seems unresponsive. The music gets really tense and… he’s just spying on Travis.
Roughly at the halfway mark, Travis and Madison get stuck in traffic. Something is obviously going Very Wrong up ahead. But, again, our heroes don’t witness it directly. They get back into their sweet vintage pickup and drive away, only later finding out that an accident victim went Walker on the cops and EMTs via the Internet. The video is where things inch up just a tiny notch in terms of the overall panic level.
The Nick subplot keeps percolating along. After the hospital staff sweep the Old Man About To Become A Walker away, Nick gets on a really Johnny Depp looking outfit and escapes the hospital. Nick eventually meets up with his dealer Calvin. Calvin takes Nick out to the scenic LA River because, really, we had to get the LA River in here somewhere. Nick feels he may have a stoolie on his hands, and, well, he can’t have that. They struggle and Nick lands the coveted First Human Kill of the series!
Eventually, Nick finds his mother and Travis and brings them to see what he’s done. Only, of course, Calvin has gotten back up and is walking around again. After he attacks they try to kill him with a forklift… er… truck and get a very vivid demonstration that Calvin is no longer human. This scene, at the end, serves as a bookend to the opening showing that, yes, Walkers are here and things are going to get really really ugly.
Overall, I liked the slow build up approach, even if it was a bit frustrating having the characters so removed from the actual action. It did feel like it didn’t really need the extra half hour’s worth of character work, though. It’s the Walking Dead. We’re not going to allow ourselves to care for these people right away no matter what. It’s not as good as the amazing first episode of the original series, but it’s good enough to keep watching.