A Closer Look: Fear The Walking Dead – “Pilot”

Five years ago – on Halloween night – we saw what the end of civilization looked like as Rick Grimes awoke from his coma. Last night we were met with a similar image as we found Nick awake from his … drug daze. The Walking Dead showed us how groups of unrelated individuals had banded together, formed families and faced the new world they lived in. Despite the geographical differences, Fear The Walking Dead gives us our first extended look at how this new world formed while the old world crumbled.

This season premier didn’t just set up the world of The Walking Dead; but also served as a set up for Fear The Walking Dead itself. The challenges might seem familiar to us; but these characters are about to explore uncharted territory where the overwhelming mentality isn’t “Fight the dead; fear the living”; but rather Fear everything. Civilization is about to crumble, and there’s no telling what anyone is capable of – good or bad. So let’s begin our Closer Look at Fear The Walking Dead’s Season Premier “Pilot” Episode.

Fear Begins – A Slow But Purposeful Start To Terror:

First off, some viewers might incorrectly contrast the Pilot of Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD) with the original Pilot of The Walking Dead (TWD). Sure both shows had/have an inaugural 6 episode first season, but beyond that each show sets out to accomplish something different. Whereas TWD set out to show a man awake to a post apocalyptic world, FTWD aims to show how civilization collapsed. So if you were disappointed because you didn’t see a horde of zombies take over LA, you don’t get this show – or even TWD to an extent.

The Walking Dead has always been about people. Yes there are walkers, but it’s character growth, intense situations and survival instincts that have always lead the show. It’s not Resident Evil or some ‘let’s see who can kill the most zombies’ kind of film. People come first and the walkers are just icing on the cake. That is one of the reasons why it took so long to finally see a – yet to be nicknamed – ‘walker’. This show’s Pilot isn’t about waking up IN the apocalypse. It’s about waking up at the DAWN of the apocalypse. Society has yet to fall; and this episode set up that already cracking society.

Fear The Walking Dead SDCC Trailer Walker

Additionally, despite its similar intro – Rick and Nick waking up – this show isn’t about a man searching for his family; but rather a man trying to keep his family together. I’ll explore this more in a later section; but the point here is that here we won’t have as strong a chance to fall in love with a character. TWD’s Pilot had basically 3 characters – Rick, Morgan and Morgan’s son – but here we obviously have exponentially more characters since civilization hasn’t fallen yet. We see friends, family, coworkers, students and more. With so many characters its impossible for one person to stand out just yet – though we do already see signs of several front runners.

Though if you’re still wondering WHY they would do this, let me put it another way. This show is about Loss. We met so many characters because we’re going to see many of them get killed, rise up or ‘rise again’ as walkers. TWD showed us how new friends occasionally died and had to be put down, but FTWD will focus upon just how much was lost during the initial outbreak. We know what’s coming but the characters don’t; and it will be that ‘slow simmer of fear’ that will drive the story. This Pilot episode started slow but the last 20 minutes or so already showed signs of things starting to boil. Before long we will see things start to boil over violently. So let the fear build. Let the show tease you a little. And brace yourself for the excruciating pain of knowing something the cast doesn’t – and being powerless to save them.

Information vs Misinformation – Authorities, Internet & Beliefs:

One of the hardest things to watch about this show is how no one knows what’s going on yet. Well, that’s actually not entirely true. As the episode progresses we see multiple hints to the authorities knowing ‘something’ is up. The containment of the car accident seems like one such case, but even there the EMS weren’t prepared for WHAT was coming. Additionally even the cops were unsure how to react. They know something is up but not what.

One could even see signs of this in how Nick’s case was handled. I’ve never worked in a Hospital, but the fact that they wheeled out the old man next to Nick so quickly after trying to resuscitate him seemed odd. Add in the restraints and the calls to move him downstairs quickly seems like the hospital might be aware of some of these cases of patients reviving in incredibly volatile states. We don’t know the old man’s story or if he was restrained like Nick; but add in the fact that Nick was ranting about cannibalism and death and that begins to explain the police’s quick response. Are they trying to contain something? Was Nick and that man in that room as ‘high risk patients’? It’s hard to know for sure but all this ‘not knowing’ is part of the FEAR this show is about.

Fear The Walking Dead SDCC Trailer News

Authorities and medical personal might know what’s going on; but they don’t know its zombies. Remember, zombies never existed in this world in fiction. They don’t know how to explain any of this and don’t want to say anything until they know what they’re dealing with – otherwise it could cause a panic. Though even if the authorities won’t talk, the Internet is. The student Tobias has been hearing on the internet about other places dealing with it. He’s seen hypotheses and whereas they don’t give the whole truth, they do give a pretty accurate explanation thus far. So why doesn’t everyone know about this? Simple, they think it’s a hoax.

How many times do you go on the computer and see some crazy story that seems too weird to be true. Whether it’s two moons in the night sky or the world ending on such-and-such a date, unbelievable articles are everywhere. Even when actual things happen, you’ll find a ton of twists and conspiracy articles on them. So the problem is: in a culture that full of fear-mongering, what happens when the end is really upon us?

We see this sometime sadly when there’s revolutions in other parts of the world, but don’t really give it thought until it effects us. Though even in the world of The Walking Dead we have precedence. We’ve seen multiple times in The Walking Dead where people refuse to believe what they see. They think it’ll pass (like Herschel), disassociate from the world entirely (like Lizzie), or think it’s just ghost stories (like the majority of Alexandria). If people can believe things like this years after the world ended, you can imagine how many will refuse to believe it as its happening. When fact becomes stranger than fiction, it’s hard to know what’s real anymore – and that is why having one of the main characters – Nick – be a druggie is SO important.

Why A Druggie? – Belief vs Disbelief:

I’ve seen a lot of people wondering WHY we have a druggie as a main character; but if you take a second to look at the big picture it makes perfect sense. As I just said, reality is crumbling and as if that wasn’t bad enough, imagine that from a drug addicts perspective. Nick has been in and out of rehab numerous times so he’s quite familiar with hallucinations and ‘trips’. But now he doesn’t know what’s real or hallucination anymore.

When we first see him running out of the church, take more of the camera. It’s not just shaky but also incredible unfocused. Even the opening title sequence of the show flickers and seems to bleed out of reality. This style walks the line between acid trip and sated out of your mind; and that’s where we find Nick. He’s knows what he saw but his mind won’t accept it. He’d rather be going crazy than admit it’s real. He’s literally on the verge of his mind shattering; and yet pulls it together to save his parents from zombie-Calvin.

Fear The Walking Dead

Where Nick can go from here will be interesting to see. On one hand, we saw how his parents struggle with letting him go. Does this foreshadow problems if Nick eventually becomes infected? Possibly, but I’m willing to bet on a very different path for him. After all, remember some of our favorite heroes back stories…

Darryl was an outcast who used to cut himself. Carol was an abused housewife. When it comes to ‘unlikely heroes’, The Walking Dead is kind of #1. We’ve seen how the apocalypse changed many people for the better, and allowed many poor unfortunates a chance to rise about and find their inner warriors. This could be Nick’s ultimate fate. It’s happened before, so why not again? When we first met Carol she seemed like a poor character who didn’t have what it takes. Though now she’s one of the most badass women on TV. Hell, had we met a pre-apocalypse Darryl we might wonder the same things. So who knows. Perhaps the apocalypse will serve as the Ultimate Rehab for Nick.

Thematic Parallels To The Walking Dead – Family, Survival & Rising Above:

Besides the blatant in your face parallels between TWD and FTWD – like how they share 3 out of 4 words – there are actually a lot of thematic parallels between the programs – to varying degrees. For starters, there were many times during this episode that we heard familiar ‘lingo’. Travis’s lecture about survival and man vs nature. Like how much do you want to bet the “I don’t need to know how to build a fire” kid is going to be REALLY sorry really soon? On the other hand if the spectrum we have the student Tobias who talks about safety in numbers. Though the ideas of survival are of course going to be present in an ‘apocalypse’ show, and we’re sure to see a lot more survival moments in the coming weeks. The real thematic parallel is family.

TWD was all about Rick’s race to find his family again and keep it together. The main fatherly protagonist of FTWD is Travis who finds himself separated from family in a different way. Rick was apart from his family since he was in a coma when they fled the city. Here, Travis is separated (as in divorced) from his first wife and is now with Madison and her kids. The apocalypse hasn’t struck yet, but Travis is already trying to keep his two families together and on good terms. So when the chaos erupts, Travis will not only protect the family with him but also try to make his way to his other family. Like Rick, he’s going to try to keep everyone safe – but will he be able to?

"Man do these things not because of evil, they do evil because of fear”

“Man do these things not because of evil, they do evil because of fear”

Beyond this, it’s just the Pilot episode so we can expect many more similar themes to emerge. I already spoke about how we could see Nick rise above and become a Darryl/Carol-esque character. Additionally, looking at the ‘This Season Ahead’ preview, we’ll find the family with some possibly overzealous and abusive ‘saviors’ as well as learn why people do evil. We’ve seen scared men become evil before – ie: Governor, the cannibals at Terminus, Gabriel’s betrayals, Nicholas vs Glen, etc – and we’re sure to see it here too as the world they know crumbles beneath their feet.

Quick Bites – Easter Eggs, References & Other Notables:

  • Whereas TWD didn’t introduce the idea of “we’re all infected” until mid season 2, FTWD is already showing signs of this as Clive had no apparent bites or scratch marks, but rather reanimated after being shot. This is additionally confirmed as Nick’s friend/girlfriend is seen to have a stab wound but no bites. She and Clive must have become infected some other way – shared needle perhaps – and reanimated one way or another. Though those they’ve bitten and attacked – like all those in the church – will now reanimate as the results of their bites.
  • You have to give the writing and visual team a round of applause for incorporating Social Media into the zombie scenes. It adds a new level of concurrent realism to the show which makes it all the more scary.
  • Despite seeing how a ‘headshot’ finally took down the Highway walker, this doesn’t mean everyone knows a headshot is the only way to kill it. People are going to make mistakes on this and waste precious time on ineffective hits (ie: Car vs Calvin)
  • Again, it bears repeating that the man on the Highway – or anyone on this show – is NOT Patient Zero. The signs of this virus have already been making the rounds in some reports. What this show demonstrates is the moment a seemingly random illness becomes an world wide epidemic.

  • If you’re wondering why there was a strange linger on Travis and Madison when the phone was ringing, it’s simple. It’s 2015 and very few people have landlines anymore. So if someone calls on your landline it’s not going to be a friend or family member – they’d use your cellphone – but most likely something bad.
  • The opening scenes of the church really called to mind Gabrielle’s parish and the eventual slaughter of the Termites there. It might have happened in different ways and at different times, but we’ve rarely seen churches in TWD. So for two to be featured with exceptionally bloody events bears mentioning.
  • While on the subject, WHY didn’t Travis call the cops when he saw the state of the church?
  • Was it just me or was anyone else waiting for that old man next to Nick to turn and attack him while restrained?
  • Yes, Nick – played by Frank Dillane – REALLY looks like a young Johnny Depp. Spoiler Alert: Season 2 will be titled Walkers Of The Caribbean. lol
  • Million Dollar Idea: Fear The Walking Dead Drinking Game: Drink every time you shout “IDIOT” or “NO” at the scream when someone does something we all now know to be a VERY bad idea (ie: shining lights, screaming someone’s name, touching infected blood, etc)
  • I really liked Alicia’s boyfriend He’s suave, artistic and most likely dead. DARN IT! The Walking Dead universe is really the Cable version of Game Of Thrones when it comes to killing off characters.
  • Speaking of Game Of Thrones, did anyone else get a very incestuous vibes when Alicia visited Nick in the hospital. The moment of course quickly diffused and their real dynamic was explain later, but for a moment I did honestly wonder if their original last name was Lannister lol
  • There was a strange moment when the camera focused on the words “Space Line Vertical” at the school. I don’t know why or what this could mean yet, but felt it needed acknowledging.
  • Note that Madison is a school counselor. Wonder if those skills will come in handy later on when it’s time to recruit people/get others to put down their guns and trust you.

So there you have it, the full analysis of the Pilot of FTWD. I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone at The Walking Dead Addiction Facebook Group for discussing the show with me last night, helping me put my thoughts in order and even pointing out something’s I missed! So thank you ladies and gents, and I’ll see you next week!

As for everyone else, what did you think? Is there something we missed? Let me know! But please do remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day – although we might soon see a city fall in a day thanks to this show. Either way, give this show a chance and enjoy its parallels to TWD while remembering to not crucify it for what it differs on.

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