Written by: Beth Kelly on October 10th, 2015
In spite of sharing creators, story universe, and premise with original series The Walking Dead, after watching season one of Fear the Walking Dead, it’s clear that it diverges significantly from its progenitor. Both shows might suggest the down of a zombie apocalypse, but the multiplicity of variances between them prove that one isn’t simply a carbon copy of the other.
One of the more obvious differences between these shows is the choice of setting for each. Geographically they couldn’t be further apart, with one set in rural Georgia and Atlanta and the other in the heart of Los Angeles. While some would say this is a minor point and not worth mentioning, each setting is nonetheless interconnected and instrumental in the development of each show’s characters and the speed at which the story is able to progress.
Strong characters are the backbone of any respectable television show, and in both cases we have a leader who is much more prepared to deal with this new and unfortunate reality than the others around him. From day one of the original series, this is the character of Daryl Dixon, a backwoods redneck survivalist who would be about as out of place in a setting like Los Angeles as the Beverly Hillbillies once were but who is ready-made for rural Georgia. On the other side, the character most likely to adapt in Los Angeles is Nick Clark, a selfish and manipulative heroin addict who has been living on society’s fringe for years in spite of being in a major metropolitan. The finale said it best: he’s already been living in this world and everyone else is just catching up to him.
In both shows, we also have characters who are in varying states of stubborn denial regarding the events around them. These are the people who hold out a belief that the world will eventually recover from the epidemic of undead people who now want to treat you like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Given the differing timelines of the two shows, such characters are naturally more prolific in Fear the Walking Dead, as it explores the beginnings of the outbreak. The Walking Dead, which began roughly 60 days after the global outbreak and after the world had pretty much fallen apart, shows more necessarily hardened souls.
The obvious faith-in-the-establishment character throughout season one of Fear is Travis Manawa, who in spite of the evidence all around him, maintains that military occupation of his neighborhood is a good thing and that the “infected” may still have a chance at being cured. He sticks stubbornly to this stance until the season finale, in which he apparently makes a 180-degree turn and is suddenly on board with not only savagely beating a member of the military for shooting a girl he barely knows, but is also quickly convinced to shoot his ex-wife in the head at her request. You’d surely do the same!
While it was about time for Travis to wake up and get with the program, this storyline felt a bit forced. It seemed as though those behind Fear sacrificed the characters to further the plot, an action any accomplished writer would view as punishable by death, preferably by zombie. Character development flaws aside, this sequence in the final episode did serve to show that these individuals are now aware that everyone infected will come back, regardless of the murder method. This is a fact that our original series characters didn’t learn until the end of season two.
Another noticeable difference between the shows results directly from the timelines of each. The “walkers” in the original series have had much more time to decay, leaving no doubt in the characters’ minds that they are indeed dead. In the new series, however, many of the “infected” haven’t been zombified for long – a factor that adds to the creepiness level of Fear in ways that the original couldn’t match. It also serves to highlight the show’s premise that we are seeing the world as it falls apart rather than just the aftermath.
In either case, the zombies themselves continue work as effective plot devices, standing in for contemporary fears and anxieties as they have done since the time of George Romero’s iconic creations in the 1960’s. Today we might say that our zombies are standing in for a variety of cataclysms, from the possibility of a global environmental disaster that will wipe out humanity to the rise of a global epidemic which ravages much of the world’s population if not properly contained.
Regardless of their figurative symbolism, zombies and zombie stories continue to draw audiences and ratings, whether set in LA or Georgia or Alexandria. The Walking Dead has managed to hold the interest over five seasons and likely will continue to break ratings records into its upcoming sixth season this Sunday. You’ll want to catch up with previous seasons before the premiere on AMC, DirecTV, and Google Play to get yourselves ready for Rick and the gang. Whether Fear will become an icon in its own right remains to be seen.