Review: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’

Originally published in Student Life.

When AMC announced that it was creating a spinoff show of its milestone horror-fantasy classic “The Walking Dead,” I was skeptical. But quickly after its premiere on Sunday night, “Fear the Walking Dead” was declared a success, after breaking the record for the largest series premiere in cable history with 10.13 million viewers.

“Fear,” set in Los Angeles at the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse skipped over, begins its premiere with a hazy Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) waking in a decrepit, trashed church, similar to Rick’s jarring return to consciousness at an overrun hospital in “The Walking Dead.” The episode then quickly launches into a typical morning for a stereotypical modern American family.

From the very beginning, “Fear” focuses on the gradual and confusing intrusion of zombies in a world without even the concept of the phenomenon, though family drama and career worries seemingly fill the majority of the premiere. The show’s emphasis on tense group dynamics and strained relationships—with others and with self—is no stranger to “The Walking Dead.”

But in recent seasons, the main characters of “The Walking Dead” have become larger than life, whether it’s Michonne wielding her vicious katana or Rick biting into an enemy’s neck to escape attack. “Fear” is certainly a regression to some semblance of normal characters and issues: Nick Clark can’t last in community college, let alone outsmart the living dead.

As viewers, we’ll see the transition from regular citizens to methodical, hardened warriors with a sense of urgency that “The Walking Dead” never needed. Even the opening titles themselves point to a difference in tone between the two shows: While “The Walking Dead” features a breed of unsettling, muted horror, “Fear” presents an immediate and stabbing terror.

Though the cinematography is certainly a step back from the poetic visual beauty of “The Walking Dead”’s first two seasons, “Fear” adds depth with a conceivably realistic yet poignant script and absolutely incredible acting by Frank Dillane. Characters Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) and Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey) had unrealized potential in the premiere that will hopefully come out as the series, already under a two-season commitment by AMC, progresses.

Viewers seeking an understanding of the outbreak may be disappointed: the premiere frames the apocalypse as a source of gradual confusion and panic. Also, “The Walking Dead” and “Fear the Walking Dead” creator and original comic writer Robert Kirkman has stated multiple times that he will evade any situations demanding a scientific or logistical explanation for the outbreak.

If viewer numbers continue to grow as steadily as its parent show, which will premiere its sixth season this fall, “Fear the Walking Dead” will establish itself among the few successful spinoff ventures.