How ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ is like ‘Apocalypse Now’
AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead” has the benefit of a sizable built-in audience and an inherent curiosity factor. The connection to “The Walking Dead” is a double-edged sword, however. Though “Walking Dead” continues to be a ratings juggernaut for AMC, both critics and audiences have grown weary of repeated story arcs and what sometimes feels like a long road to nowhere.
When the spinoff series was announced many wondered how it would distinguish itself from the parent show. The answer the creators landed on was to set the “Fear” during the time of Rick Grimes’ coma --the inception of the zombie apocalypse. For those who don’t recall, “The Walking Dead” protagonist essentially awoke from his coma to a world that was already overrun by “Walkers.” “Fear” will provide viewers with a look at what was happening while he was sleeping. The trick is to craft a series out of that premise that functions as more than a short-lived gimmick.
“Fear the Walking Dead” showrunner Dave Erickson believes the answer is to draw the audience into an unexpected character arc inspired by one of the greatest war films ever made.
“When I think about models for the show, ‘Apocalypse Now’ is something I was thinking about when I was writing it,” Erickson told Hitfix in an exclusive interview. “I was thinking about madness. The idea that when the world changes as profoundly as it does on our show, and your belief system has to adjust to survive that, at what point does that [drive you over the brink}?”
“The Walking Dead” is fundamentally about how the collapse of civilization changes and effects the survivors. Essentially, “Fear” will take a similar route. The only difference, it seems, is that we may be witnessing one of these characters transform into a monster akin to “The Walking Dead”’s Governor, rather than a group that we sympathize with who will forced to face-off against villains like him. Those who are familiar with the source material know that “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman wrote a prequel, “The Rise of the Governor,” that traced the moral decline of that character. It will be interesting to see something like that story brought to life over the course of this series.
“Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) embraces a belief system that for us is inhumane and immoral, but it makes total sense to him,” Erickson said. “I want to explore one of our characters going through that process and becoming that thing. And having the core relationships in the show build on those dynamics.”
Having seen the first two episodes of “Fear the Walking Dead,” I already have some guesses as to who the series’ Colonel Kurtz may be.
Before we can get there, however, the first hurdle that the show needs to overcome is allowing the characters to experience a “zombie education,” as Erickson says, without it becoming tedious for an audience that already knows the rules. The showrunner hopes that it’s the core relationships that will hook viewers.
“Fear” introduces a fractured family. Nick (Frank Dilane), a drug addict who is the first to come face-to-face with the undead, his mother Madison (Kim Dickens), stepfather Travis (Cliff Curtis) and their other children. Sans the virus that destroys the world, Madison would likely spend her time trying and failing to get her son sober.
“I wanted to tell the apocalypse version of what would happen to Madison and Nick,” Erickson explained. “It’s that human drama, plus zombies. As Robert [Kirkman] says: the story is you go to rehab and then there were zombies. My parents got divorced and then there were zombies. I went to prom and then there were zombies…”
As to how he foresees the series playing out beyond this first short (six episode) season, Erickson feels there’s plenty more to mine from.
“We manage to insulate our characters in such a way that there’s still a lot more story to be told [once this season is complete],” Erickson assured. “Going into Season 2, I’m not worried about getting to that place of, ‘now we’re doing a supply run episode, now we’re trying to get to a new safe house, our new sanctuary.’ I don’t think that’s going to manifest too soon. Everything we set up in the pilot, all of the relationships in the pilot, those are the stories that I want to continue telling in the second season.”
“Fear the Walking Dead” premieres Sunday, August 23 on AMC.
Take a look at my first impressions of the series in the video below: