The Walking Dead has always been an exercise in imagining what would happen in a post-apocalyptic world, where people are forced into extreme situations, needing to make equally drastic and unforgiving decisions. But, as in most dystopian stories, it always feels like there are so many more stories that exist in that world; perhaps different settings, people or circumstances would present a variety of other outcomes.
Since the ratings have exploded, AMC plans to do that this season with Fear the Walking Dead, a six-episode companion to The Walking Dead premiering Aug. 23, 9/8C, followed by a 15-episode Season 2 in 2016. While the parent show uses the comic books by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charles Adlard’s to guide them through each season, Fear is unknown territory and has been shrouded in mystery until this past week. Blastr sat down with several cast members of the show, including Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Fank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Cary, Ruben Blades, Mercedes Manson, Lorenzo James Henrie and Elizabeth Rodriguez, as well as producers Dave Erickson, David Alpert, Greg Nicotero and Gale Anne Hurd, and here’s what we found out.
We arrive at The Walking Dead with Rick Grimes waking up from a coma in a hospital and we hit the ground running as he tries to catch up to the rest of the world. The timeline is rewound for the spinoff roughly around the time Rick is in the coma. Fear the Walking Dead follows an extended, blended family living in East Los Angeles and this takes place in the outbreak in its infancy. “They're facing their own internal problems that to them is all they think they have to worry about,” Hurd said. “Then THIS happens and ups the emotional stakes.”
Forget the Grimes family and meet the Bennetts, Manawas and Salazars.
There is no connection to The Walking Dead except the shared universe and knowledge gained by viewers of the future this world seeing it unfold for the last five seasons. What happens in Los Angeles does not directly affect the survivors in Atlanta/Virginia, and vice versa. Kim Dickens plays Madison Bennett, a high school guidance counselor and widow with two children, drug-addicted Nick (Frank Dillane) and overachieving Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Cliff Curtis is Travis Manawa, Madison’s fiancee, and a divorced high school English teacher who shares custody of his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) with ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Meanwhile, we also get to know a barber named Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades), who moved to L.A. decades ago for a fresh start and is the father to Ofelia (Mercedes Mason).
“It's a family that's dealing with issues that everyone goes through and then survival, Lord of the Flies stuff,” Mason added. “It's a working class family. When people think of L.A., they think Hollywood, but because it’s East L.A., it’s down to earth. It’s gritty. It feels real.”
“At the beginning you have to establish the relationships between the different families,” Blades shared. “The tensions between the personal human perspectives and cultures–the meeting of two different cultures imposed on one another because of the circumstances.” And it’s through these families that the apocalypse filtered through and we get to see how the magnitude of Los Angeles getting destroyed by the apocalypse.
Direct me to the young adult section.
Hurd explained that one thing we never really got in The Walking Dead was the young adult experience, which was mostly adults or pre-adolescent children. Fear the Walking Dead features three young adults to begin with. Alicia is all set to go to college and is motivated to be everything her brother, Nick, is not. He flunked his way out of college and is in the middle of dealing with his addiction when the outbreak hits. Meanwhile Chris is still processing his anger towards his father for their destroying their family and trying to start another with Madison.
“Los Angeles is a place of immigrants, reinvention, rebirth,” said Hurd. “You start with characters who are at different stages. Alicia has dreams and ambitions. You have a son who's dealing with drug addiction and a new family unit. You have exes, resentment from a son who feels replacements who are soon-to-be step siblings. All of that is part of the fabric of Los Angeles.”
More levity...at the start
“When I did Tremé,” shared Dickens. “I talked with people who lived through Katrina and they said they never lost their sense of humor.”
Before the whole world goes to Hell, there are plenty of moments for the series to reflect on the bickering that families do. We’re not talking about Comedy Central, here, but there is more moments of humor as a coping mechanism than The Walking Dead. Of course, the more you have people devouring each other, the mood becomes more dire and desolate. Enjoy the laugh track while it lasts (Just kidding about the laugh track).
A different structure and pace
The Walking Dead is about strangers whose lives are completely shattered or clinging onto broken fragments of them. The desperation of survival paints them into corners and extreme measures are needed to live. The cast and crew of Fear, insists this is a family drama first and to see whether a blue collar family and all of their relationships can withstand the outbreak. Everything eventually disintegrates in this world but we’re going to watch it devolve and see how this specific family copes with those problems.
“How would we behave if the world suddenly went to hell?” Blades asked. “Like what Columbus did with indigenous groups here. Would we question the existence of God? Morals are out, authorities out, everything is redefining like in war. It’s happening right now in Syria, where you wake up to a different life in front of their face (than what they had previously). What do we do? What happens?”
“Here, you have a Latino family that’s not just facing what’s going around, but someone who has already gone through this in their place of origin, are now subjected to it again. They’re forced into another segment of the population that they’re not familiar with because they don’t know how these people are, they don’t necessarily like each other, but they’re helping each other. The pace has to be established. It’s not about killing zombies. It’s about what happened, and what are we going to do? What is acceptable? All of these existential questions are being discussed on the show. It’s entertainment, yes, it’s also an interiority that I found interesting. Nobody’s perfect, we all hide things, and maybe those things become visible that were not justified before and now you have to (step up) and do this. But can you?”
Wait for the rotting dead
Because it’s so early in the outbreak, there are not as many zombies around and they haven’t been sitting around for a few weeks rotting away. So, expect the undead to look similar to the living at the start. Remember, there’s no guidebook established yet on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, and again, as a reminder, there are no such things as zombies or the idea of them - even in fiction - in this world. Now we’ve learned through The Walking Dead that the fresher the corpse, the more active they are at pursuing their prey, meaning more intense action when a zombie shows itself. The population is at its peak in the show, so there are more people to kill, but this isn’t as pure a genre show as The Walking Dead is. The pedal on the gore level isn’t being put to the metal just yet.
“We have our moments of course, which we’ll build to,” Nicotero said. “But right out of the gate, in the original Walking Dead we had Bicycle Girl and all this stuff, we were bringing the audience up to speed as to what the world was like. In Fear the Walking Dead, the world is evolving with us as opposed to being ahead of them.”
No authority or alphas
“Outside of a few flashbacks, we don’t get that opportunity to see normal in The Walking Dead,” said Hurd. “Two of the central characters were authority figures in the first season, Rick and Shane. They were police officers, they were the authority you look to, and we see how equipped and ill-equipped they are. At the same time they carry firearms, they are used to taking charge, but there are no alpha characters (in the start of Fear the Walking Dead). Everyone is in a level playing field but everyone finds that they have skills, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.”
Look for Dicken’s character, Madison to show early signs of that alpha mentality, since she has a propensity to make decisions quickly, but it’s done mostly to keep her family safe. Rather that act now and ask questions later, Dickens says they may never ask questions.
Zombies are the next national disaster
For much of the press tour, the cast of the Fear of the Walking Dead referred to the outbreak as a national disaster, while The Walking Dead cast has never really addressed the event or the cause of the zombie apocalypse, nor did they have to since the cause or a search for a cure has never been a focal point of the story. Rather than recreating The Walking Dead in Los Angeles, Fear sounds more and more like a disaster film where characters are in a heightened state and aware of everything surrounding them. This is a slightly different lens that we're viewing the zombie apocalypse since we’re seeing the outbreak slowly take hold of the city and strangle it, hence, why situations like Katrina and 9/11 have been studied to see what happened in the aftermath. How does that affect the characters?
“Two ways,” Curtis replied. “First, it can pull communities together, where they don’t sweat the small stuff and help each other out. Secondly, in intimate relationships, if you have different opinions about something vital, it can pull you apart. It has this contradictory tension. We’re forced together in communities to cooperate with people we don’t know but internally, intimately it pulls us apart because we don’t agree.”
The flow of misinformation
Alpert explained one thing they’ll be able to show here that they couldn’t in The Walking Dead is spread of communication and, more specifically, the wrong information. Again in The Walking Dead, computers and cellphones have been rendered useless and hope that a cure or fix is done away with by the end of Season 1. With the time jump back, viewers will see how technology can be part of our downfall.
“One of the things we studied was the misinformation in natural disasters. Everything from what happened in New Orleans following Katrina, to blackouts in New York after 9/11. Watching how that played out–not the real story–the wrong stories that got out there that inflated paranoia–like the giant marauding gangs at the Superdome. How does that get out there? How does that start? How does that change both better or worse the journey for our characters?”
“The linear flow of information is like a 1950’s style science fiction, you get some things right but you imagine as stuff starts happening people’s social media accounts are going to blow up. Is that real? Is that a stunt or a marketing thing? Are they trying to promote something? You’re not going to know what to think about it. We had this the other day with ebola. Is that the end of the world? I don’t know. Most people just changed the channel to find the sports. Watching people absorb information and get wrong information is essential element of what we’re going to explore.”
Knowledge won't carry over from Fear the Walking Dead into The Walking Dead.
In other words, we won’t learn something about the outbreak or something specific about the nature of walkers that would be helpful to The Walking Dead storyline. Showrunner Dave Erickson confirmed that despite the added metropolitan resources and variables in Los Angeles, the audience won’t be any wiser about the shared universe. When Rick woke up from his coma, he could see that there were attempts by the military and Center for Disease Control (CDC) to contain the outbreak but were abandoned or failed. We get to see first hand what those efforts were but there are no tidbits of information that we can pin some hope that eventually makes it way to Alexandria.