AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Adam Davidson (The Following, Hell On Wheels)
Written by Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson; based on the graphic novel series by Charlie Adlard/Robert Kirkman/Tony Moore
* For a review of the next episode, “So Close, Yet So Far” – click here
The opening scene of Fear The Walking Dead is a doozy to me. A nice open throat, a man stumbling around in a worn down church, zombie woman eating a face with a knife sticking from her belly. I found the atmosphere of the scene combined with a tense chase pretty awesome, plus the guy playing Nick (Frank Dillane) ejecting himself from the church and into the street where he’s hit by a car looks genuinely frightened.
So this initial moment makes things exciting. Nothing like starting things off on a wild and creepy moment to get viewers interested. Furthermore, I found for at least a few minutes I wasn’t totally positive if Nick was a junkie, or if he was in the first throes of becoming a part of the walking dead horde. Very cool how they played with that whole angle.
There’s a bunch of family drama at the start of this pilot. A lot of people online seem to be lamenting this, wanting more of the zombies. But what you’re not getting, if in that camp of viewers, is that this is NOT The Walking Dead. We’re beginning at the very start, not in media res of the apocalypse like Rick Grimes in the initial episode of the original series.
So if you’re not interested in that – fine. Just don’t say it’s a bad show; first of all it is the pilot, second you can’t judge it badly because you don’t like drama and want zombies. The zombies, at least in the pilot, are not the first and foremost element of what is happening. We’re watching the world as it is about to plunge into the darkness we’ve come to know on The Walking Dead.
There’s a big mix of families happening. We’ve got Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) whose son happens to be Nick, from the start, so that’s enough trouble for her as it is. But then she’s involved with Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) whose ex is Lisa Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Then amongst them of course is Nick, as well as Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey), plus Travis’ son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie). At first I found it a little confusing, mostly because it was introduced quick and brief upfront. After a little time, though, I settled in and it was interesting to me. The family represents that sort of mixed racial family that I’m sure is fairly prevalent nowadays in a place like Los Angeles; where this spin-off is set. Some I’m sure will cry that Robert Kirkman, the creators, the writers are all trying to be a little “PC” by making it such a family, but I think it’s more realism than pandering.
What I enjoy in this pilot episode is how Travis (Curtis) tries to listen to Nick (Dillane). Unfortunately for him, the things Nick is saying are far too real. When Travis goes to the church Nick crawled out of – a place where it’s essentially “junkie communion” as he puts it himself – there’s little to verify his story, however, the mood and tone are ominous. He doesn’t necessarily think the zombie apocalypse is upon the all, but Travis does tell Madison (Dickens) he thinks something terrible happened there. Mostly, it all speaks to him wanting to help himself as a father, a stepfather, and just feeling the need to given Nick a hand.
Looks like there are complains about how Fear The Walking Dead has such a junkie-centric thing happening in its first episode. Although, if you look at it wouldn’t a junkie den like that church be a place an epidemic could start? Who knows, really. To me, it’s a place nobody cares about; they are the throwaways of society. So if a guy like Nick shambled out of a place like that, no doubt people would toss off anything he says. Especially if he’s saying someone ate another person. Nowadays it would spread around social media, everyone would claim BATH SALTS, then move on to the next thing. By the time anyone turned around, the apocalypse would be in full-swing and the cities would begin to fall all around us as we’d be in no position to head anything off. So, to me, I found this beginning fitting because it feels genuine, from the relationships to the entire situation of Los Angeles.
I love the scene with Travis as he’s teaching the class about Jack London and his story “To Build A Fire”. Highly ironic when one of his students says he doesn’t care about learning how to build a fire; when asked why not, he replies “I got a stove”. The irony, of course, lies in the fact we already know what’s coming. We’ve seen The Walking Dead, we’ve seen all the zombie horror movies, we can understand that eventually all of these people we’re seeing right now will NEED those skills. If not, their furthering survival is at risk of a quick extinction. So maybe some might say this scene is heavy handed. To me, it follows a great tradition of horror films – from classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween to newer films following it such as It Follows – in which there are these wonderful scenes that speak to thematic/plot elements we’ll see as the story progresses.
There’s solid atmosphere throughout this whole pilot, honestly. From the grim opening with Nick in the church, spilling into the street, to scenes in the hospital – an old man in the bed next to Nick goes into cardiac arrest or something similar; moments later an eerie older woman smiles at Nick, staring. Small bits like this, as well as the look and feel of the scenes themselves, really make for quite a bit of tension.
Moreover, Nick takes off from the hospital, so in terms of plot things get suspenseful. We’re already aware the zombies are out there; the apocalypse has begun officially, whether the characters realize this or not. While Nick saw it, he is a junkie and does not know for sure if he saw a zombie, or if it was the drugs, or if it was drugged madness on the part of the other junkies in that church. So he’s out on the streets, he picks up a burner cellphone, and there’s this wretchedly ominous feeling to the scenes. We’re left wondering exactly how this sad junkie will make out once things start to get insane out in the streets of L.A.
Another thing I love is that the setting is Los Angeles. So while we as the audience hear helicopters and sirens going around, thinking this is the beginning – knowing it – these sounds are commonplace to the characters, as L.A is one hell of a busy city at all times. Never stops, even the helicopters flying over different neighbourhoods. Those characters would not automatically assume that the apocalypse had begun simply because of sirens and helicopters and police cars and ambulances going mad.
Then after a scene with Madison and Travis, once they’ve sped off from the highway, the next day at the school everyone watches a clip from the nightly news, where they’d been near the highway; EMTs are attacked by people on stretchers. Most assume it was drugs, maybe shock as Travis points… but us? Well we know the difference already, even before the characters themselves come to understand what is happening.
Enjoy the inclusion of cellphones, with a bunch of the high school characters watching online videos of the events from the previous night. It seems like a joke to some, yet school is let out early. There’s a sense of chaos brewing. Everything from the music, to the evacuation of buildings, the sound design with more choppers flying about and voices in the air. It’s a great build up towards the episode’s finale.
A scene between Calvin (Keith Powers), who is obviously a friend and dealer both, and Nick is incredibly well done. There’s a genuine terror in Nick; he’s not simply addicted to drugs, he has seen something terrifying and it’s rocking him. Not just that, Calvin is clearly paranoid because Nick’s mom came to him, he’s afraid that Nick has been saying things that ought not to be heard. Very foreboding feeling to the car ride Calvin takes Nick on, as we’re pretty much expecting him to blast the poor junkie away, which we fast discover to be the truth.
Though, it isn’t a drug dealer and a gun Nick needs to be most concerned about. When his mother and Travis show up to get him – after he’s killed Calvin in self-defense – Nick takes them down to where it happened. However the body is not there.
Do you see? DO YOU SEE?
Nick is looking crazier and crazier. Still, we know something is going to happen, something is already going bad.
THEN THE SCORE KICKS IN! That music we know well from The Walking Dead – deep bass, distorted, heavy. In the dark red tunnel, Calvin reappears and he is zombified. Thus begins the zombie apocalypse, which ushers in Fear The Walking Dead.
This episode, while slow to some, is a solid opener to the series. Others wanted a ton of zombie action right away. I stress again: this is not the show you’re looking for! We are getting a slight prequel, once that begins right on the cusp of the apocalypse we’ve already been smack dab in the middle of during The Walking Dead. So it’s only natural to see a lead up to the actual zombie epidemic breaking out.
I guarantee the second episode will pick up in pace and intensity, as well as there’ll be more gore and zombies for everyone. I’m a fan of all that stuff, too! For those who’ve not read this blog, most of what goes on here involves horror one way or another. So I am a massive horror fan, love the gore and the blood where I can get it. At the same time, I do love the drama involved in a good horror series or film. It’s what makes the horror more real, more visceral.
For me, this pilot was great. An incredible mix of family drama, tension, and bits of horror. Really felt like the world going on as normal, right before the zombies descend on Los Angeles. Even more, not a moment did I find myself checking the time; in fact, I had to stop and see how much time was left simply because I hoped it would be at least 15-20 minutes more, as I’d been enjoying the episode that much. Looking forward to a second episode – it’s titled “So Close, Yet So Far” and is directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on Wheels, The Following). One thing I’m sure of – poor ole Nick is going to have some rough withdrawals as the zombie epidemic commences. It’s gonna prove pretty interesting, if anything.
Stay tuned! I’ll be keeping up with each episode of AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead. I’m also soon starting to review The Walking Dead from its first season onward, and I’ll do each episode of the new season once that comes on, too.