A Closer Look at FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

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SHOCK takes a deeper look at AMC’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.

Thanks to the AMC adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s bestselling comic, brought to the screen by Frank Darabont back in 2010, the entertainment industry – film, TV, commercially apocalyptic literature – is now swarming with the undead. So fans of the zombie sub-genre would be forgiven for thinking the concept has been stripped of fresh meaty ideas. Which begs the question: can it still hold our interest? Yes it can, and frequently does. THE WALKING DEAD goes from strength to strength, with no sign of it shambling into obscurity anytime soon. It continues to be engaging, bolstered by excellent characterization, tense storytelling and inventively nasty gore. So it’s hardly surprising it is one of the most bankable shows in pop culture with a thematic series spanning multiple mediums – games, literature, TV – across horror media. Which brings me to the focal point of this article: one of the most interesting off-shoots of THE WALKING DEAD is the not-quite-straightforward-prequel FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.  The show, now in its second season is beginning to establish an interesting and innovative identity, shaping up to be a much more interesting beast.

From the collective mind of Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson comes FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, an ingeniously (at least in theory) clever prequel/spin-off to the zombie-shocker in which a blended family find themselves at the mercy of zombies, social anarchy and military control in the early days of the outbreak. The first season didn’t exactly have the creators firing on all cylinders, with only a 6 episode run with a LOT of ground to cover and not nearly enough time to cover it, a consequence was that they couldn’t fully exploit the potential of Kirkman’s idea, so viewers expecting a carnage-filled, world-collapsing, walker-heavy apocalypse were left understandably frustrated with the rather tame direction the show had taken.

Now midway through its second season, the show has ditched the base-under-siege conceit (an inevitability when you’re on land) and took to the seas after Los Angeles was decimated by the army, introducing more dynamic characters (like Michelle Ang’s Alex and Colman Domingo’s Victor Strand), a creepy Mexico setting and more episodes to flesh out the various characters and their back-stories, it is far more promising. So what sets it apart from the parent show? The tone, style and direction of THE WALKING DEAD was informed by the comic book series, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is an original idea, without an established road-map for plot navigation or the bloody well of the source material to draw inspiration from. This gives the writers more creative freedom and ample opportunities to take the show down some interesting, creative avenues with viewers unable to guess the direction without the comic book signposting what could (potentially) happen. This could well prove to be a double-edged sword resulting in the show drifting without an anchor (I couldn’t resist) with no clear destination, or it might not.

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The title: FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

Rick Grimes once said “we are The Walking Dead.” – The title of the show could be indicative of the creator’s long-term goal, that these characters will evolve into a less humane and more mercenary group than Rick’s initially started out as. There are several theories floating around online that these people will become the antagonistic tribe The Whisperers – a barbaric cult that live in the wilderness, wearing dead people’s skin and have developed the ability to control the herds. It is a fascinating theory but unlikely to happen. It could be fascinating to see the progression of a villainous group in this nihilistic universe – how one psychopathic mindset might infect an entire community/group. Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga’s origin story Rise of the Governor explored The Governor’s back-story and the evolution of that character was compelling and chilling. These characters have already demonstrated their ruthlessness and capacity for cold-blooded decision-making and violence. They aren’t terribly concerned with self-questioning morality or embracing other survivors. So I predict some of them will emerge as villains sooner or later – In a dog-eat-dog world you adapt, die or become something worse.  

Structure, Plot and Pacing

FEAR hasn’t had the problems that have bogged down The Walking Dead over five seasons yet:  story padding, bottle-episodes, inconsequential characters, weak narrative arcs and odd pacing. So far it has been refreshingly linear and forward-moving. There is a subtlety to the horror here that is absent from TWD, it doesn’t rely on walkers or squirm-inducing gore, at least not yet. Like the parent show, it explores mental illness (PTSD, schizophrenia, depression) with a degree of accuracy.  It has managed to maintain its eerie paranoid tone from the outset and is realistically creepy and more grounded than TWD.  

Colman Domingo’s Victor Strand

From Night of the Living Dead to 29 Days Later, the zombie subgenre has always had a big social conscience and has been historically relevant as a socio-political allegory, making quite a legitimate impact in the horror genre. Last season The Walking Dead spectacularly subverted the action-hero mode with the introduction of key comic book character Jesus Monroe. Fear took it one step further in the creation of Victor Strand, a Tom Ripley-like con artist with a seemingly sinister motive for helping Madison and her family. Here was a fully-formed character with an appealing back-story who is a man of colour and gay. The stereotype skewering character-development (with Strand) and reflection of diversity makes Fear a pretty progressive show. All zombie dramas have Romero connotations – allegorising race relations (Night of the Living Dead) The Cult of Celebrity (Dead Set), sexual violence (Dead Girl) and consumerism (Dawn of the Dead) and promoting discussion and academic discourse.

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The Setting (s):

The prospect of a zombie show that takes place in an environment as volatile (parts of it at least) as Mexico is intriguing for several reasons. With the exception of Romero’s plot template, Kirkman hasn’t relied on pop culture referencing (like American Horror Story) unless it is sly visual reference to the comic book – but perhaps Fear could acknowledge the cinematic history of Mexican horror films – it has already incorporated malignant spiritualism and folklore (in Sicut Cervus) and that worked in the creepy opening teaser. Another aspect which might prove interesting is to examine the psychological effects of the zom-pocalypse on people surviving in areas that were dangerous before the outbreak – When death was a part of life before an army of dead cannibals started chowing down on the populace. We’ve already seen Celia resort to mass-murder because of her own dangerous misconceptions about the undead – what kind of cults would form in the wake of the zombie uprising, would human and drug trafficking still exist? Would armed-to-the-teeth drug cartels still control parts of Mexico?  And what would the survival situation be like in a truly lawless place? It will be interesting to see what horrors the future holds for our band of survivors…