‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Early Impressions


One of the biggest television premieres this fall season was that of Fear The Walking Dead, a prequel (or companion series) to AMC’s wildly popular series The Walking Dead. We previewed the series earlier this month, posing the question: what would a world gradually descending into the violent, apocalyptic chaos of The Walking Dead look like? This indeed is the question that exists at the core of the new series, and now that it’s run a few episodes, we can begin to discuss whether or not it’s working effectively as its own show.

Here are some early impressions.

First, I have to say the secret tension with which the show opened was pretty unique, capitalizing on an understanding with the audience that can only exist with a prequel or companion series. An io9 review of the premiere fleshed this observation out a little bit more, stating that none of the show’s characters knows what he or she is in for—but the audience does. It’s not unlike a condition that exists in some popular cinematic prequels from the past few years.

For example, when we watch The Hobbit, we know before Bilbo Baggins does that his special little ring will bring the whole world to war. When we watch Obi Wan training Anakin Skywalker in Episodes I-III of Star Wars, we know he’s actually training the future Darth Vader. A similar groan-inducing knowledge of impending disaster is present when you watch Fear The Walking Dead, though there’s perhaps even more sense of inevitability. We know that a storm is coming, and that no one can do anything to stop it.

One result of this brand of tension is that, for once, we can view a zombie outbreak as an oncoming assault on the human condition, rather than a bloody war. This differentiates the show from almost every previous example of zombie-related fiction or entertainment. Clearly, in The Walking Dead, the outbreak is in full effect, and the idea of man vs. zombie is a personal conflict. The same scenario exists across the gaming industry, which has done a great deal to prop up zombie fiction as an incredibly popular genre. In shooter games like Call Of Duty, we gun down zombies by the dozen, and even in more playful zombie gaming experiences, there’s a sense of personal conflict. Gala Bingo’s extensive offerings include a Wonder Woman slot machine in which players must “fend off a zombie attack,” and a game called Day Of The Dead in which skeletons have emerged to combat a grave robber. And then there’s Plants vs. Zombies, a popular app game that incidentally also has a casino version, that presents cartoon zombies as home invaders.

In short, whether through the original Walking Dead series, video games, casino slot machines, or even other cinematic projects like World War Z, we’re conditioned to think of a zombie outbreak as a direct conflict. Zombies are approaching, and we must fend them off physically. Fear The Walking Dead is thus far almost unique in offering up something different. While there is a “walker” in the first episode, and there’s surely more violence to come as the season progresses, the outbreak in its early stages is more like an epidemic or crisis of climate than a war. The originality of this feeling and atmosphere is so far one of the strongest points of the new series. It facilitates, as Yahoo TV put it, “artful suspense” rather than “bloody horror.”

So far, the cast of Fear The Walking Dead is doing a fine job, even if it is likely suffering from the inevitable disadvantage of not including main characters from the original series. There’s no way around that problem, and in the meantime the newcomers are certainly holding their own. Frank Dillane—he plays moody, addict teenager Nick Clark and is best known for depicting Tom Riddle (or young Voldemort) in the Harry Potter films—is getting a lot of positive press. But it’s also particularly nice to see Kim Dickens in a leading role, as she’s turned in excellent supporting performances one after the other in recent years.

And finally, getting past my own impressions and interpretations, it’s probably worth mentioning that the show is already a smashing success in terms of viewing numbers. The Daily Fandom reported 10.1 million viewers having tuned in to AMC for the 90-minute premiere, which broke the record for a cable debut. Part of this is due to the increasing popularity of home entertainment and television series in general, but it also speaks to the size of The Walking Dead’s fan base and the public excitement regarding the new series.

All things considered, AMC might just have another hit on its hands.

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