The much anticipated prequel/companion series to “The Walking Dead” will premiere on AMC this summer. The series, created by “Walking Dead” honcho Robert Kirkman and writer Dave Erickson, will take place during the early days of the zombie apocalypse and a continent away from “The Walking Dead’s” East Coast setting.
Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis star as a couple struggling to understand what’s happening to the world around them in Los Angeles.
As the series nears its six-episode first season, Erickson spoke by phone to discuss his goals for the series that has largely been kept under wraps.
Where did the title, “Fear the Walking Dead,” come from?
It was a challenge. In the same way that they’re very different shows, but they live under the same mythological umbrella, it was important that there was some connective tissue in terms of the larger franchise. When it came down to what we definitely did not want to do, which was “The Walking Dead: Los Angeles,” “The Walking Dead: X.” To me, the title is strong and blunt. I think that ultimately as things tend to go, it will be broken down and people will start to refer to it as “Fear.” Which is what we’ve been doing, internally. Also, if you didn’t know it before, now you know you really should fear the walking dead.
Well, the characters wouldn’t know to fear the walking dead since in this series, the outbreak is just beginning.
What’s interesting about that, and I joke about it, but we’re dealing with a group of people who are completely ill-prepared for this. One of the things I love about the show is that we get to slow-burn the apocalypse a little bit. And we get to start with what feels very much like a straight-up family drama. The problems in this highly dysfunctional, fractured, blended family are established in the pilot and those are the stories we’re telling for the duration of the season. Then those problems are exacerbated by the rise of the dead and the arrival of the apocalypse. There is, inherently, Kim Dickens’ son, who is played by Frank Dillane, has certain issues and certain problems that cause tension and worry about your son, your daughter, your ex-wife and then it evolves from that. The thing for us, it’s very much about the shark you don’t see for the first couple of episodes. It’s about, we know something is wrong and we’re going through the process of trying to understand what it might be. Tonally, it’s about paranoia, tension and anxiety and people not behaving and not quite looking right. It doesn’t hit a crescendo until a bit later. It starts with the quotidian fears we have every day and grows into something far more dramatic and far more powerful.
Will the focus of the series be more on this one family instead of the larger group ensemble of “The Walking Dead?”
Yeah, in terms of setup, Travis and Madison (Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens), they’re a couple, they’re not married. He has recently moved into her home with her kids. He has his ex-wife, who’s played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, and his 16-year-old son. Robert Kirkman was really gracious when we first sat down and talked about doing this, I said I need to layer something in that’s specific to me. Thus, the elements of divorce and blended family and fracture. What I love is, you’re talking about two people, our heroes, who are trying desperately to bring this family together into one cohesive unit. The irony is that the only thing that forces that is the end of the world. In many ways, it puts everybody together, but it also intensitfies and exacerbates the problems they have already experienced. As things begin to fall, it’s all through their perspective and their POV. True to the comic and the original show, we’re not a show that will ever tell the story from the perspective of the CDC or FEMA. We’re not going to do the scientists and the politicians and the generals as they try to World War Z it. It will be from the perspective of this grounded, blue-collar family as they go through the process of trying to understand what this thing is. I think that process is interesting because they don’t know if it’s a virus. Is it bath salts? Is it drugs? One of the things Robert keyed in on and wanted to explore in depth is the idea of violence. Our walkers -- we don’t call them walkers on the show -- they’re, for lack of a better word, fresher. They haven’t taken on a monstrous visage yet. So when you’re confronted with someone, a colleague, a family member, a friend you had coffee with the day before, your instinct is not to kill them, you’re instinct is to try to reach them. It’s the slow accumulation and realization that there’s nothing there anymore.
Have these characters never seen a zombie movie? Do they understand what they’re seeing?
It’s hard to believe zombie movies don’t exist in the world of “The Walking Dead.” But they’re not going to have the shorthand and go to the George Romero of it all and immediately know that’s a zombie and I know I gotta hit him in the head. That, to me, if you’re on the street and someone is coming at you in that way, you would assume they were drugged or mentally ill. Our characters have to go through that process first before they get to “it’s the undead.” We’re trying to ground that process as much as possible. We will go full zombie at some point. But I think there’s a lot of story to explore, a lot of drama and character work in the build up to that realization. And then the fallout from it. It’s different ways to approach the entry.
Will there be any connections or references to the original series?
I love Easter eggs. This is something we haven’t really made any plans for. As it stands right now, you’ve got the geographic gap, obviously. And it’s going to become difficult to travel as everything falls apart. There’s no plans to conflate the two stories. My instinct is when you’re telling two separate narratives but they’re living within the same mythology, the instinct is to draw the stories together at some point. But there’s no plans to do so right now. Between the timelines being different, which we can gradually drive together, and they’d have to Lewis and Clark it to get across the continent -- it’s not happening anytime soon. But I am all for the suggestion that there may be connections.
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