In Fear the Walking Dead, prequel to The Walking Dead, zombies are a sideshow
Show, now in its second season, depicts three families at the start of ‘the outbreak’ as they move from coping with everyday problems to dealing with the end of the world
In the world of television, spin-offs are hardly a new thing. Frasier was born from Cheers; The Colbys came from Dynasty; Buffy led to Angel and, more recently, Better Call Saul undertook the impossible and followed Breaking Bad. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the hugely popular post-apocalyptic show The Walking Dead has spawned a prequel.
“We’re following a legacy of shows that expand their universe,” says Colman Domingo, one of the stars of Fear The Walking Dead.
Admittedly, it’s not that usual to see a spin-off find its feet while its parent show is still ongoing. Created by Frank Darabont, TWD – which itself came from the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard – is due to start its seventh season in October.
Meanwhile, FTWD is about to pick up with episode 8 of Season 2. “We’re a very small main cast compared to The Walking Dead,” says Domingo, who plays Victor Strand.
“There are eight of us. It feels that intimate and connected. We’re making a ‘mom and pop’ family drama that happens to have ‘walkers’.”
Ah, yes – the walkers; TWD’s colloquial name for the once-human creatures now feasting off living flesh. But for those who might be put off by this horror staple, think again.
“Zombies and the infected are almost a side plot, especially in this show,” says the 23-year-old Australian-born actress Alycia Debnam-Carey, who plays Alicia Clark.
Indeed, she’s right. In case you’ve yet to jump in, the show is set in the earliest days of the outbreak of the unidentified pathogen that causes the “infected”, as they’re quaintly known in FTWD.
Those who have followed the first six episodes of Season 1 and the first half of Season 2 will know the show primarily zeroes in on three families: the Clarks, the Manawas and the Salazars, as well as Domingo’s eccentric, wealthy Victor Strand.
You’ll also know its set on the US west coast, beginning in Los Angeles and moving to Mexico in the second season – far removed from TWD’s Georgia setting – and that episodes take place in the same time period as the prolonged coma that Andrew Lincoln’s deputy sheriff Rick Grimes wakes from in episode one of the first season of TWD.
In other words, no one knows anything (and, in case you were wondering, FTWD’s co-creators Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson have no intent on saying what started this epidemic).
“Our group is very, very raw and subject to the whims of this new world,” says Debnam-Carey. “They’re definitely not superheroes by any means.”
You won’t find anyone as accomplished as Grimes or Danai Gurira’s legendary Michonne, the “badass samurai-sword wielding warrior princess”, as Debnam-Carey calls her. “It’s a very different collection of people.”
FTWD shows the embryonic transition between coping with everyday problems and standing witness to the end of the world. “It’s about figuring out who you are when you’re in the middle of something like this and who you become,” says the 46-year-old Domingo.
“So it’s more investigative when it comes to who we are as human beings. The ‘walkers’, the infected, just get in the way – they’re just an obstacle. Here comes another one and he’s trying to bite me!”
Take Debnam-Carey’s character – the angsty, overachieving teen Alicia Clark, sister to heroin addict Nick (Frank Dillane) and daughter to widowed high-school guidance counsellor Madison (Kim Dickens).
“For the first season, she was very reactionary in many ways and subject to the whim of her brother and her mother and then, of course, the fall of LA and civilisation. She was just dealing with how that affects everything and what she thought her life would be,” says the actress.
“Now we’re seeing her evolve into kind of a new warrior of the apocalypse.”
Perhaps “warrior” is too strong a word, but as Debnam-Carey rightly points out, Alicia has some of the best survival skills of the group.
“She speaks fluent Spanish from school; we start to learn that she might have a little bit of medical knowledge and she’s a smart, young person. So I think she has quite a lot of things going on for her. And we start to see her really come into her own, and create her own choices and make her own decisions, especially in the second half of this season.”
What’s intriguing about positioning FTWD as a prequel set in the weeks before TWD begins its arc is just how much more the fans of the show know about this post-apocalyptic world than the characters do.
“The audience is way more ahead of the game than we are, and we’re just trying to figure things out,” says Domingo. “At some point, we’re thinking, ‘What am I going to look like? What are my qualities? Am I going to grow into a superhero in some way or will I not survive?’ Those are the questions the audience is asking as well, and that’s interesting.”
Domingo’s character Victor Strand is arguably the show’s most elusive character. “He’s complicated,” acknowledges the actor. “Just when you think you know him [you don’t].”
In Domingo’s eyes, Strand is the perfect “symbol of capitalism” in a show that deals with the fall of the Western world. “[He represents] all the things we hold near and dear: money and affluence, all that stuff. When it hits the fan, who are we? It’s the first thing to go. All that stuff we can build, now we can’t any more. Then who are we?”
What is surprising is just how the world’s fascination with zombies remains as steadfast as ever. It’s been 12 years since Edgar Wright’s zom-com film Shaun of the Dead and Zack Snyder’s remake Dawn of the Dead revitalised interest in the sub-genre; already this year in cinemas, we’ve seen the Jane Austen-hybrid Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect this craze to last as long as it did. I’m surprised it did,” says Debnam-Carey. “I think there is something collective subconscious, the world purging itself. I think human beings are always fascinated with morbid destruction and our mortality... the fragility of life.”
With reports about the outbreak of the mosquito-spread Zika virus in the Americas, it’s impossible not to consider that human life is a very delicate thing indeed. Domingo argues that from the early zombie films by George A. Romero, such as Night of The Living Dead, to shows such as FTWD, they ask philosophical questions about the very foundations that make us human.
“Can you still have faith, when there’s no structure any more? How do you recreate that, recreate family? It’s all those questions in the core of who we are. That’s why these things are so popular.”
Regardless of how long the zombie craze will last, the characters may not survive to see it out.
“You almost fear a phone call from [show runner] Dave Erickson,” says Domingo with a laugh. “If ever he calls you into a meeting, you’re like, ‘Please don’t say the character is going to go!’”
Such is life when you’re starring in a show where characters can be torn apart by zombies at any given moment. “But if he’s going to go, hopefully he’s going to go for the sake of the story. And, hopefully, he’ll go in a spectacular fashion.”
Season 2 of Fear The Walking Dead, AMC (i-Cable Channel 46), starting on August 22