TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 1 “Pilot” (USA, 2015)

With the monstrous success of The Walking Dead it does seem like a good idea to rewind the story a little bit and check out the origin of the zombie/walker outbreak that, as we’ve seen, completely destroys society and threatens to drag humility with it. Robert Kirkman’s hit comic series and eventual AMC megashow became a huge platform to show the more dramatic side of post-apocalyptic fear without the time constraints of cinema. The show’s spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, looks to do much of the same but at a different point in time, tracking the rise of the walkers and the downfall of humanity from – seemingly – the perspective of one dysfunctional modern family living in Los Angeles.

The setting is as much of the star here as anything else, and L.A is used to great effect, providing an everyday, 21st century scenario while horror very slowly slides into the picture, to the knowledge of only one or two characters. It’s very much unlike the pilot of The Walking Dead in which Rick enters an inescapable world where the dread is immediate; instead, that fear is avoidable in Fear’s pilot, which begins with a hazy shot of a strung-out Nick (Frank Dillane) who wakes up in an old church-slash-junkie-hangout to find nothing but blood, guts, and a walkerfied friend of his. It’s out the window for him and back to a society that is none the wiser, out in the L.A sun trapped only by the fear he feels of what he just saw, which to him and those around him, may or may not be a drug-induced dream.

Dillane must have learned a thing or two from his father (who plays Stannis in Game of Thrones) because despite some slight over-acting, his presence on screen is admirable, especially when compared to almost everyone else in the pilot. His on-screen mother, Madison, is played by the usually reliable Kim Dickens, who isn’t given much to work with in the this first episode but delivers a solid enough, quiet performance of a concerned, proactive mother. She’s mostly opposite fellow school teacher and boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) who has an estranged family of his own for the writers to save for a rainy day. TWD’s pilot won on a lack of dialogue and an overload of tension, and this one is a bit of a reverse, with the writers ramping up the family drama aspect of the show as one neat, slightly annoying print so they can very gradually superimpose the other print over it as episodes roll on; and that print is (hopefully) bubbling with horror, tension, and action.

Nick’s escape from the church of nightmares is cut short when he is hit by a car and ends up in hospital, allowing for his mum, her boyfriend, and Nick’s younger sister to track him down and show their concern. The drama is built around that, with Nick in hospital reflecting on what he just saw, a vision only Travis pays much attention to. This sends Travis back to explore the church, a scene only thrown in for tension before it, frustratingly, cuts to him outside of the church again. This dissolution of any tension happens twice in the episode, teasing us in the dark and eerily silent church before cutting to everyone being safe and outside of the church again. It’s almost as if the showrunners are telling us how accustomed to things (that is, walkers) springing out of nowhere we have become – via TWD – and how that isn’t at all in the cards, yet, for Fear.

One of the most effective aspects of any disaster or horror flick is the build up of tension, the sharp jab of anxiety that floods in with scenes such as people stuck in a mass traffic pile up trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We get that here; the tropetastic L.A traffic scene where things aren’t quite right, a tension which again bubbles up only for the show to turn the heat back down and show us the spill-out by way of social media. That’s right, the next day pretty much everyone is watching on their phones as footage of police shooting a man that won’t die (and bites an EMT) is broadcast around the world.

Nick takes it upon himself to find out what happened at the church which leads him to his dealer and an accusation that the heroin he brought may have been PCP. Things don’t bode well, and we get a little showdown in a famous L.A setting that leads to Nick, his mother, and Travis witnessing the rise of one of the dead, right before the camera pans out to once again show how busy and unaware L.A is while small corners of the city are experiencing the horrors in store.

Fear the Walking Dead’s first episode may be slow, and that may dampen the hype a little bit, but we shouldn’t have expected anything less. What we should expect though, is dialogue a bit stronger and drama a bit more engaging than what we are given in “Pilot”. There are many scenes where the delivery is a cut below the quality we have come to expect from this particular world, being that it is still tied with the world of The Walking Dead. Although this may stem from the aesthetic of these characters being a bit more everyday and realistic than Sheriff Rick Grimes, Hunter Daryl Dixon, and Katana-wielding Michonne; whether this will continue subjecting us to more middle-of-the-road family drama remains to be seen. I – and most, I would assume – have faith in the showrunners and their approach to tackling the spin-off of such a dominant network juggernaut.


Fear the Walking Dead screens every Monday at 1:30pm on FX, Fotel.


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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.