What’s better than a show about the zombie apocalypse? Two shows about the zombie apocalypse! One Walking Dead show just wasn’t enough, so AMC created Fear the Walking Dead, a prequel set in the same universe.
Last month, the cast and creators spoke to the Television Critics Association via a panel that included Dave Erickson, David Alpert, and Adam Davidson, along with cast Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, and Mercedes Mason. Plus, we spoke with stars Alycia Debnam-Cary and Elizabeth Rodriguez at a press roundtable and screened the first episode so we could share these nine things to expect when Fear the Walking Dead premieres this Sunday.
The Walking Dead is so Georgia that you can go crazy from the chirping cicadas in the background of every scene. Fear the Walking Dead has a different sort of ambiance. It’s set in Los Angeles and begins just as people are starting to turn into zombies from the outbreak. Only the first episode was actually filmed in L.A. The rest is in Vancouver, but Vancouver is used as L.A. more often than L.A. these days, so it actually works.
Don’t worry if you’re part of the 99 percent of the viewing public who also doesn’t live in L.A. Debnam-Cary moved here from Australia and said that the show captures her impressions of L.A. well.
“I hated L.A. when I first got here, hated it,” Debnam-Carey said. “Now I think I’ve welcomed it finally when I found this bizarre charm to it. It’s this huge city, but it’s got these kind of cracks that are just bursting with so much life and story. It’s very romantic and artistic in many ways. The palm trees, the sunsets… the sunset’s made out of smog by cars. I think the show does a great job at finding that.”
Way back in season one of The Walking Dead, when Rick reunited with his wife and son, it was only to find out that she’d been sleeping with his best friend, Deputy Shane. Give her a break! She thought Rick was dead. On Fear, the Clarks are a mess before the zombies even show up. Madison Clark (Dickens) is in a relationship with Travis Manawa (Curtis), and their respective kids from previous marriages do not get along. Alicia Clark (Debnam-Cary) is a straight-A student with a boyfriend and Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) is a drug addict. When Travis goes looking for his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), he’s got to get through his ex-wife Liza (Rodriguez) first. Jeez, we’ll take our chances with the zombies.
They’re not called Walkers, because why would Los Angelenos use the same name as southerners? The producers say these are just the early stages of infection, so they’re not full-fledged zombies yet, but we’ve seen the show. We can guarantee that you won’t mistake zombies for early stages of the sniffles.
Since these are the first Walkers, what we don’t see are fully rotted corpses or severed torsos re-animated. So they save a little time on makeup, but all it takes is a rotted jaw snarling and biting, and you’ll know you’ve got to stab ‘em in the head and run.
We witnessed with our own eyes some gory zombie action in Fear the Walking Dead. The actors tell us there’s more, as survivors sustain regular injuries in their escapes, and the same makeup team creates graphically realistic wounds.
“I had to learn, Liza learns, how to do all these medical things,” Rodriguez said. “It was still way too much gore, way too much blood. I wasn’t good with blood, doing medical things, and seeing special effects of bones sticking out of people. It was traumatic. I had to act like I knew what I was doing and play as if I was comfortable with that world.”
The Walking Dead gave us Michonne, Andrea, Lori, Maggie and Carol — all capable women who rose up when their friends and family needed them. Now Fear the Walking Dead gives us more badass women. Debnam-Cary said to watch for her action in an upcoming episode, for which she had to learn a new skill she couldn’t reveal.
“I can’t say that yet,” Debnam-Cary said. “She does have to learn one thing. It’s fun. I liked her edginess. There’s a power within her that’s quite strong that I hope you get to see evolve.”
Liza is not just the other woman. “The fact that I found out that Travis didn’t leave her, that it was a choice Liza made, was a breath of fresh air because she’s not a victim,” Rodriguez said. “She’s not just a scorned woman. She felt really independent and she’s a single mother that’s burning the candle on both ends, making things happen.”
Madison is a schoolteacher, but after a few episodes, Dickens got addicted to kicking ass. “There’s so much excitement and action that I would get a little bit disappointed if I just had a dialogue scene some days,” Dickens said. “I’d be like, ‘Oh, I don’t get to run and jump and fight and scream.’”
You’ll meet Ofelia Salazar (Mason) once the looting starts. Holed up with her family, Ofelia has to grow up fast too. “I think the biggest survival guide is to stop being so innocent, because the nice ones are always the ones who die first,” Mason said. “So she really has to grow a set. I’m a lady, guys. She has to grow a set.”
Fear the Walking Dead takes us back to the beginning and the first season is only six episodes. Don’t worry, there’s already going to be a second season and it will run 15. So, it’ll be a while before the Los Angeles survivors catch up to the world Rick woke up to, where supplies are already pillaged and human survivors are minimal. We won’t even see that in L.A. until next year.
“You’re going to have to wait until season two,” Erickson said. “I think by the end of season one, we definitely know the world has changed. We definitely know that it is the end of the world as we know it, but we aren’t necessarily at the same place we were when Rick woke up in Georgia.”
One advantage to starting so early in the outbreak timeline is that you can tell stories that would be irrelevant by the time the full zombie outbreak happens. Rick and co. on The Walking Dead are pretty much focused on finding a safe shelter, gathering supplies, and dealing with their own in-fighting. Fear still has a society to deal with. Some people know more than others, and some people are still holding onto the civilized world.
“Are we going to get to a place where we’re looking for the next sanctuary and we’re battling our way into the sanctuary?” Erickson asked rhetorically. “That’s not something that I anticipate in season two. I can’t speak for season three because it hasn’t been ordered yet and I’m not that far ahead.”
As we’ve said, there are zombies, but Fear is taking its time getting to them. That’s on purpose. “We will see walkers,” Erickson said. “There will be a build. We tried to slow-burn the story, make it as much about the anxiety and tension and paranoia that goes with this outbreak, as much as it is about the actual confrontations with zombie.”
This is good news. The worst part of any prequel is when they explain the stuff that was so mysterious in the original. Luckily, the producers of Fear the Walking Dead have no plans to reveal what caused the whole zombie apocalypse in the first place.
“No,” Erickson said. “Short answer, no. We’re not going to be looking at it from the people who are trying to find the cure, find the solution. It’s really very much the ground roots. We’re never going to tell the story from the perspective of someone at the CDC or someone in the military. It’s not the generals, not the politicians, but how we see a military presence and we will get a sense of how first responders reacted when things started to go sideways and what they did to protect their own families.”
If this is before the end of the world, it means that Shane and Lori are still alive, as well as our other favorite characters! But they’re all the way in Atlanta, so it would be really hard to have them meet our new L.A. heroes. The point of Fear the Walking Dead is that it is a new stand-alone story, so unfortunately there won’t be any crossovers.
“There’s no crossover plans right now,” Erickson said. “[By] telling parallel narratives that live under the same mythological umbrella, I think the instinct for me would be… to see those stories conflate at some point but there’s no plans to do so. There’s no intention of having Easter eggs or character references. I’m sure there will be things that come about over the course of the season.”
Another producer contradicted Erickson, so we might get a few callbacks. “There might be an Easter egg or two,” David Alpert said, “It’s possible.”
Fear the Walking Dead premieres this Sunday, August 23, at 9 p.m. on AMC. Read reviews here.