“Fear the Walking Dead,” the companion series to AMC’s powerhouse apocalyptic drama “The Walking Dead,” traded the rural beauty of Atlanta for the urban chaos of Los Angeles, placing a rampaging horde of flesh-eating “infected” in the midst of gridlock, smog and cramped neighborhoods.
When the second season launches on Sunday, the band of survivors at the center of the series, traumatized at the devastation of the city they call home, have fled to the coast led by a mysterious but obviously well-off man known only as “Strand” (Colman Domingo). He offers them sanctuary aboard his lavish yacht, where the bedraggled group all hope to sail to a more hospitable environment.
What first appears to be calm seas, however, quickly turns out to be another treacherous situation for the group as they encounter more horrors both undead and alive.
“We will be exploring what it’s like to be an apocalyptic refugee,” said executive producer Dave Erickson, who co-created the drama starring Kim Dickens as a high school guidance counselor, Cliff Curtis as her boyfriend Travis and Ruben Blades as the barber.
Curtis, who has been in varied projects such as “Training Day” and “Gang Related,” has called his role particularly challenging. Not only is Travis overwhelmed by the catastrophe, but he was forced to shoot and kill his ex-wife after she was bitten, a decision that has left him devastated in the second season. His teen son Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie) is crushed by his father’s actions.
“Travis is really struggling with this whole apocalypse thing,” the actor said in a phone interview. “But having to kill his ex-wife — the mother of his son — kind of breaks him. He’s a good, morally upright man who would never kill anyone, particularly the mother of his child.”
As a result, “Fear the Walking Dead” will show what the original series did not — zombies in water. While the “infected” cannot swim, they can wade. And they are just as hungry and ferocious.
“If you get in close quarters with them, it’s very dangerous,” Erickson said. “Also, the survivors will also be forced to go to land from time to time, where the ‘infected’ are. This allows us a lot of flexibility, to play to some of the tropes and expectations that people have but also provide a different landscape and seascape that we can play with.”
Much of the filming took place in Baja, Mexico, in the massive water tank where James Cameron filmed scenes for his epic “Titanic.”
“Fear the Walking Dead” premiered last August and was a smash, averaging 11.2 million viewers an episode, making it the most watched first season in cable history, according to Nielsen data that measure viewing including the live telecast and delayed viewing within the first three days.
However, the return may come under more scrutiny — the season premiere comes a week after the season finale of “The Walking Dead,” which introduced a vicious villain named Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and ended in a cliffhanger in which Negan beat one of the main characters to death with a baseball ball wrapped with barbed wire. The episode upset numerous fans who will not get to learn who was killed until the series returns next year.
Erickson and others associated with “Fear the Walking Dead” do not appear concerned. The trajectory and story arcs of the shows, though both are zombie-infested, are on completely different tracks. In fact, Erickson said he feels the show is at its best in its quieter, zombie-less moments.
“I’m the happiest when I can look at a scene and feel that it could have played in any domestic drama,” he said. “ ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ is still a family drama first. And then there are zombies. If we can keep that core, those are the stories that are more interesting to tell.”
‘Fear the Walking Dead’
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-MA-LV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17, with advisories for coarse language and violence)