The pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead was delivered to eager audiences and high expectations. While viewership numbers are not immediately available, it’s safe to assume that many folks tuned in to watch the 90-minute premiere, bolstered by the love and fandom for the show’s “big brother,” The Walking Dead. Does show live up to expectations? The answer to that question may not be known for a while longer, but for now, we can assess its initial offering.
WARNING: What you’re about to read contains spoilers about this episode and possibly this season of Fear the Walking Dead. Proceed at your own risk/reward!
RECAP: The action opens on teenage drug addict (and presumed school drop-out) Nick Clark, who is living in an abandoned church with at least one of his fellow vagabond-type friends, Gloria. Nick wakes up confused and alone, coming off a drug-induced high; his quick search for Gloria reveals two dead bodies, with Gloria munching away on the face of the second one. Horrified and confused, Nick runs away from the chaos in the building, bolting straight into traffic and getting hit by a car. A wide camera pan reveals to the audience that the action is taking place in Los Angeles – and contrary to the timeline viewers see in The Walking Dead, it’s clear that this tale will start pre-apocalypse, as we see the hustle and bustle of everyone going about their daily lives.
At their home, we meet Nick’s mom, high school guidance counselor Madison “Maddie” Clark, along with her boyfriend Travis (who teaches English at the same high school) and her daughter Alicia, who seems to be the “typical” uninterested American teenager. A phone call alerts the group to Nick’s accident, and they are quickly off to the hospital. Once there, they can see that Nick is clearly out-of-sorts about what has happened – but is it the drugs messing with his system, or something deeper?
After a quick phone call to introduce viewers to Travis ex-wife Lisa and clearly-estranged son Chris, the pre-breakout action begins to shift into a higher gear. At school, Maddie has a conversation with a conspiracy-theorist-type student, who seems to see the writing on the wall better than most of the rest of the world. After hearing Nick’s story, Travis goes to the church where he confirms that blood and guts have indeed been spilled, but he finds no dead bodies (shambling or otherwise).
Alicia floats through school and a missed rendezvous with her boyfriend, all the while trying to cope with her mixed feelings on her brother and his issues. Nick uses the confusion associated with the death of his inpatient roommate to flee the hospital, which sends Travis and Maddie on a chase around town to look for him. They are largely on their own, as hospital staff and the police seem to have bigger issues to deal with. Nick goes to visit Calvin – a man whom his parents know as a former friend of Nick’s, but who is, in reality, Nick’s drug dealer. Calvin is less than thrilled that Nick’s parents came to his house looking for their son, so Calvin drives Nick to a deserted section of the L.A. “River” while telling Nick that he can help him.
Nick sees Calvin get a gun from the car’s trunk, and the two struggle before Calvin ends up with a bullet in his chest. Nick finally breaks down and calls Travis, who shows up with Maddie just in time for the trio to be surprised by Calvin reanimating and attacking them. Nick runs Calvin over multiple times with Travis’ truck, but as the episode closes, Calvin’s ravaged-but-no-headshot body is still trying to get up and get at his next meal.
>>> We’re given a similar opening scene to the pilot episode of The Walking Dead – there, Rick awakens in a hospital, confused and disoriented after being in a coma, and quickly stumbles upon zombie carnage. Here, Nick awakens confused and disoriented, and quickly stumbles upon zombie carnage. It’s a nice congruence, without being too over-the-top about the show’s connections.
>>> Astute fans of the zombie genre may draw some mental parallels to another “other” major zombie series, George Romero’s film series that started with Night of the Living Dead. FtWD draws obvious similarities to Romero’s own pre-apocalypse story, the 2007 film Diary of the Dead. While the stories are significantly different so far, the obvious similarities are the heavy feature on teenaged characters and the over-arching sense of confusion in the general populace.
>>> If you have any confusion as to how Calvin reanimated, remember: we know from The Walking Dead that the virus is airborne. Even though TWD didn’t reveal this until they were well into their series’ run, the fact obviously still holds true for this “shared universe.”
>>> Throughout the episode, there are lots of police sirens and helicopter action in the background – are the showrunners trying to tell us that this is typical L.A. business, or foreshadowing the chaos that’s obviously coming our way?
>>> I, for one, enjoyed the subtle joke with the policemen interviewing Nick in the hospital and how “nobody really says ‘viscera.’” I spent the rest of the episode using every opportunity to say “viscera” out loud, thoroughly annoying my wife in the process. I have no regrets.
>>> The conspiracy-theorist kid that we meet in Maddie’s office says that there are “reports in 5 states” of this similar violence/aggression. This line should do well to squash any potential fan theories that Gloria was “Patient Zero” and the virus was specifically drug-related to this opening scene.
>>> Speaking of the conspiracy-theory kid: did he look like a young, pockmarked Tom Savini to any other hard-core zombie fans out there? Or was it just me?
>>> On this presumably-average day of high school, the lessons being taught in the classes we’re shown include the “man vs. nature” debate and the chaos theory. Convenient content for the apocalypse.
>>> In the hospital when Nick’s older roommate codes and dies, the doctors are in a rush to get him out of the room, hollering “get this patient downstairs” very urgently. This should serve as a hint to us as the viewers: the authority-types seem to have much more info on what’s going down than is being released to the general public…
>>> One of the most subtle plot points that may have been overlooked by most viewers: when Calvin goes to the trunk to get a gun and then asks Nick to get out of the car, Calvin has the gun at his side, hidden, and not pointing at Nick. Did Calvin really take Nick to the L.A. River to shoot him, or was there something else going on? Calvin seemed to show genuine concern for Nick’s well-being, and when Travis and Maddie went to talk to him at his home, Calvin was cleaning what was presumably his handicapped parents’ van, so we were being presented an image of Calvin being a decent person, drug-dealing notwithstanding. Perhaps this is a question that may get answered later in the show’s run?
CLOSING THOUGHTS: It’s quite intriguing, being a viewer and knowing more about this universe than the characters do. I expect that tack to continue at least through this first season, and it might lead to quite a few occurrences of you watching the show and screaming at the screen “Don’t do that, you idiot! Don’t you know that blank blankity blank blank blank?!” While this episode was relatively subdued, it ended with an odd jump to action at end, likely done to satisfy fans who came for the zombie carnage. Even with the action of the final scene, Travis and company were still acting blissfully unaware; based on the “scenes from this season of Fear the Walking Dead,” that mentality is about to change for them very quickly.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Cliff Curtis as Travis Manawa
Kim Dickens as Madison Clark
Frank Dillane as Nick Clark
Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark
Lorenzo James Henrie as Chris Manawa
Elizabeth Rodriquez as Lisa Ortiz