Fear the Walking Dead: Season One
Fear the Walking Dead opens to a scene recalling its parent show’s opening where a gascan-toting Rick Grimes comes upon his first walker, a young girl; however, instead of a (mostly) sure-handed sheriff, we have a junkie wearily waking from heroin-induced sleep, and instead of a child, he comes upon his friend devouring human flesh in an abandoned church’s pew. He (Nick, as we will later find out) sprints through an alley in an iconic shot used for about half of the promos.
It’s a stark, stunning, even thrilling moment, but it’s a bit of a tease given the general pace of the prequel’s first season. The Walking Dead is notorious for its long stretches of, well, walking (searching for safe spots, scavenging for food and medicine), where nothing much happens. But these are usually interludes, punctuated by at least a few episodes of every season of manic, nonstop action. While there are moments of walker terror, they are fewer and farther between in FTWD — which makes sense since this is the start of the infection when there are still presumably more living than zombies. This is the side of the apocalypse where it’s still a shocker to call the afflicted dead — as Nick does in the third episode — a world where it’s not just Morgan, Lizzie, and a few others who are ultra-concerned with the morality of it all. Be ready for even more of the “who are the real monsters” handwringing.
The humans we care about in FTWD — besides Nick — include his pragmatic mother Madison, impetuous sister Alicia, compassionate would-be stepfather Travis, Travis’ teen activist son Chris and ex-wife Elizabeth, and the Salazar family, led by the program’s most morally conflicted soul, barber and ex-Salvadorian soldier Daniel (sinisterly played by Ruben Blades). Travis and Madison bear witness to the Nick’s newly zombie dealer, and feel the growing unease, and decide to gather the families and head out of town.
Travis has the right idea to hightail it to the desert, even if an English teacher and his extended suburban family might not exactly be the best survivalists. Scientists who study this sort of stuff agree that cities are a deathtrap, and hills, forests, and deserts are truly the place to be, post-apocalypse speaking. Unfortunately, while extracting his son from a protest (killing a walker appears to be L.A.P.D.’s usual police brutality at this point), he and his original family are trapped with the Salazars, and the chaos escalates from there as walkers multiply and cops give way to National Guard.
Soldiers and martial law ups the ante of the evil of the living vs. the terror of the dead, and it’s certainly a valid human study. However, the show often slides when it gets bogged down in heavy hands. The characters, mostly, are strong and compelling enough to make you invested, which this needs. As powerful the urge of Walking Dead fans to see the mechanics of how we arrived at the full-blown dystopia we’ve come to know and love, without at least a few central likable humans, there’s no reason to stay. And FTWD has that, barely — mainly Travis and Salazar daughter Ophelia.
Bingeability: 6 (it gets slow, but it’s short)
Total Binge Time: 6 hours
Binge Sittings: 1 or 2
Best Episodes: “Pilot” “Not Fade Away”
You can watch the first season of Fear the Walking Dead on Hulu.