You know it’s been, er, eating at you, fans of The Walking Dead. Exactly what went down during those weeks between when a wounded Rick Grimes conked out in his hospital bed and when he came to, surrounded by the only living guy surrounded by some pretty gnarly-looking (and gnarly-tempered) undead? AMC’s new Dead companion series, Fear the Walking Dead — from the same folks who brought you the original — is ready to shed some light on that dark time. Only this time, the action heads west to L.A.
“We wanted to explore that four- or five-week time frame where Rick was asleep and allow the audience to see the events that would lead up to the disintegration of society — and specifically to use the backdrop of a major city as things begin to fall apart,” says showrunner Dave Erickson, who co-created the series with Dead’s Robert Kirkman. “The other opportunity was this ability to watch the education of a family as they piece it together — what are the undead and why do they turn and is there a way to fix them and is there a way to cure them?”
The clan in question belongs to Madison (Kim Dickens), a high-school guidance counselor and mom to driven daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and drifting son Nick (Frank Dillane), and her English-teacher partner Travis (Cliff Curtis), dad to begrudging son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie). “They are trying to create this blended family and there is all the resentment and anger that can go with that,” Erickson explains. “These are things that really anchor the show and then it’s just a matter of how can we exacerbate those things when we introduce the undead?”
Here’s more of what Curtis and Erickson had to say about Fear, its family and its freshly walking dead.
This father figure loves a fixer-upper.
“Maddie’s son is an addict and, in our little family, it’s heartbreaking,” says Curtis. “But what I love about my character is he’s an optimist. He’s up for the challenge. He’s a fix-it kind of guy. He’s not at all intimidated by taking on a kid who’s an addict. He believes in the goodness of humanity and the potential of others, and he invests in that: How do you get the kids to care about this family? How do you get your ex and your current lover to get along? He’s really the meat in the sandwich in that sense and he’s got a lot to figure out.”
But goodness may not be a good thing.
“You have characters who love each other and as things begin to chip away over the season, things that were, at first, seen as strengths — someone’s abilities, someone’s goodness — can be perceived as weakness in the apocalypse,” says Erickson. “The characters that seem to have their lives together and people who seem to be prepared for anything, those are the characters, more often than not, that are going to have a lot more to contend with. That will be something we’ll explore in Season 2 (which has a confirmed 15-episode order), as well — how do we adapt? And the other thing is because we’re going through sort of this apocalyptic education, you have the tension of the audience who obviously knows this world and knows where we’re headed — that sort of edge-of-your seat quality of waiting for these characters who we’re falling in love with to get it and to get it soon, because if they don’t learn fast, something bad will befall them.”
Fear puts a “fresh” spin on walkers.
“Because our walkers are infected, they’re ‘fresher,’ for lack of a better word,” says Erickson. “It puts our characters in a strange situation that we are very accustomed to from The Walking Dead. We know this person is dead and we also know that we have to put them down in order to survive. Our characters don’t know that yet. It’s part of the education they go through. You’re confronted with someone who you might have seen the day before and everything was fine and suddenly they are behaving in a homicidal manner and they look different. Their eyes are different, but they don’t look monstrous, they are not atrophied and broken down in the way the walkers we’re accustomed to are on the original show. You would think they were sick — a virus that is going around which no one can quite explain. Or you would think they are on something. The first instinct for our characters is not ‘OK, this person is dead.’ That’s something they have to arrive at. And some do sooner than others. … They are completely ill-prepared for this, unlike Rick, who has leadership skills as a cop and knows how to use a gun. When they are forced to commit an act of violence to defend themselves or their family, it takes a toll.”
“We needed to justify Los Angeles creatively and thematically,” Erickson explains. “One of the things that the show is very much about is identity and reinvention. A number of our characters have come to Southland to escape who they were, to distance themselves from sins and crimes of the past and to start over. Then once the apocalypse hits, the things that they have buried are the things that may help them survive in this world. … I think every time we have a shot where we go wide and take in the L.A. Basin and the freeways and the populace, the audience is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a sense of being surrounded by millions of people and knowing that, very soon, many of those people are going to go away. And we liked the idea of being close to the water. There’s something compelling about literally being on the end of the continent. And your options, in terms of which way you can go, start to get a bit limited when you’re backed by the Pacific!”
The Fear cast doesn’t fear The Walking Dead.
“We’re like the new kid on the block standing in the shadow of this Goliath, this gargantuan juggernaut, and you’re like, ‘I don’t want to compete with that! I just want to carve out a little piece of the universe for our little family over here on the West Coast and earn the right to have our own audience,’” says Curtis. “I don’t think it’s possible for us to please everybody — especially with the amount of love and commitment the audience has shown to the other show!”
Fear the Walking Dead premieres Sunday, August 23 at 9/8CT on AMC.