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'Fear the Walking Dead' recap: It's L.A.'s turn for zombie apocalypse

'Fear the Walking Dead' recap: It's L.A.'s turn for zombie apocalypse
Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) and Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) struggle to keep their families safe as zombies terrorize Los Angeles on the series premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead.” (Justin Lubin / AMC)

Fans of "The Walking Dead" horror drama know in gruesome detail what befell Georgia residents when the zombie apocalypse struck. Now Los Angeles is in the spotlight as a prequel, "Fear the Walking Dead," premieres on AMC.

When the pilot episode opens, teenage drug addict Gloria (Lexi Johnson) has died, reanimated and partly devoured two junkies at a boarded-up Eastside church.

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Now Gloria targets 19-year old Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), who's not sure if what he sees is real or if he's lost his mind during a nightmarish heroin trip.

Fleeing in terror, Nick escapes the church and runs barefoot down the street. He's promptly hit by a car, restrained in a hospital bed and questioned by police.

Rushing to Nick's side is his widowed mother, Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), a well-liked guidance counselor at an El Sereno high school.

Also at the hospital is Nick's younger sister Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), his polar opposite behavior-wise. While high-achieving Alicia received an acceptance letter from Berkeley, deeply troubled Nick got expelled from a community college.

Doing all he can to help during the crisis is Madison's boyfriend, Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), a divorced English teacher. Travis has a son of his own, resentful teenager Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie). Travis' ex-wife is short-tempered Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse in training.

"That's never happened to me before — nothing like that," Nick confides to Travis when recounting the gory church scene.

Is Nick going insane, he wonders? Or is a mysterious, flu-like virus turning Angelenos into the undead? It's the latter, of course.

Already aware of the rapidly spreading pandemic is Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos), a gloomy high school student caught sneaking a knife onto campus for protection. Tobias earnestly tells Madison about Internet reports of violence and disease outbreaks in five states, but she remains unperturbed.

"If there's a problem, we're gonna know about it," Madison says in a reassuring voice. "The authorities would tell us." No, not yet they won't. For L.A. is stuck in denial.

While Nick awaits a psychiatric evaluation, he vows to "get my head shrunk, get out, get clean."

"You mean that?" Travis asks.

"I always mean it," Nick replies with a cynical smirk.

It's not surprising, therefore, that Nick sneaks out of the hospital when an elderly patient in the next bed goes into cardiac arrest. Then Nick repeatedly calls his drug dealer, clean-cut Calvin (Keith Powers), for a heroin fix and an explanation.

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"I need to know what you gave me," Nick pleads. "Was it laced with PCP?" Whatever happened, Nick frantically says, he's desperate to get rid of the terrible images in his head.

Suspecting he's been ratted out to the cops, Calvin drives Nick to the Los Angeles River with the intent of adding homicide to his list of crimes. Nick wrestles a gun away from Calvin, however, and accidentally shoots the dealer during a struggle.

"I killed Calvin," Nick confesses in a panic after he's picked up by Travis and Madison. Not knowing what to believe, Travis drives to the riverbank and finds Calvin's abandoned car. But there's no sign of a victim, at least not initially.

When blood-soaked Calvin does appear — in full zombie mode — Travis and Madison naively offer assistance. Nick knows better, fortunately. He steps on the accelerator of Travis' truck and sends Calvin flying.

"What the hell is happening?" Madison asks in disbelief. She'll have answers before long as civilization crumbles in the City of Angels.

Think earthquakes, brush fires and mudslides are scary? The walking dead, Madison and other Angelenos will soon realize, are far bigger threats.

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