'Fear the Walking Dead': Showrunner Dave Erickson on What to Expect in Season 1 (and 2)

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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After more than a year of murmurings about a spinoff/prequel/companion series to the network’s monster hit The Walking Dead, AMC will launch Fear the Walking Dead Sunday with a 90-minute premiere episode that will finally give fans of the Robert Kirkman-created universe a glimpse at the series stocked with new characters and a pre-Rick Grimes view on the zombie apocalypse. (Read Ken Tucker’s FTWD review here.)

Kirkman created the new series with Sons of Anarchy writer and producer Dave Erickson, who serves as Fear’s showrunner. Erickson talks to Yahoo TV about the focus and goals of Fear’s first season, and the anti-Brady Bunch-ian blended family at the heart of Fear’s unfolding apocalypse, and even hints at where the family — including sure-to-be-breakout star Frank Dillane as drug-addicted teen Nick — will be in the already-greenlit Season 2.

Critics have seen the first couple of episodes, and fans have seen several trailers — how does it feel to finally get some feedback on the show?
I only read the good reviews, so I’m not sure what most people are saying, but it’s interesting… it’s exciting. I think the fans, at least from my understanding and my experience when we went to San Diego for Comic-Con, there is an anticipation. Fans are excited to see it, so I was encouraged by that. I heard stories from [The Walking Dead producer] Gale [Anne Hurd] saying that at the first Comic-Con for the original show, you had people who were incredibly devoted to the comic, and the attitude was, “OK, how are you going to screw this up?” And of course, they didn’t, and maybe that’s earned us a little bit of good faith with the fanbase.

The characters in Fear are compelling, and we learn a lot about them right away. It is very much a family drama, as well as a zombie apocalypse drama — how important was that to what you wanted the show to be?
I think the benefit, because it’s just the onset [of the outbreak], is that it did allow us to take the problems that this family would have had regardless of if there was a zombie around the corner, and play to that drama, which only gets exacerbated by what’s happening. It’s a pacing issue, and it was, “How quickly do we want the apocalypse to start, how quickly do we want our family to become aware of it?” That was part of the balancing act over the course of the first couple of episodes, so that was challenging. Also, for an audience who comes to the table knowing everything, knowing what the walkers are, finding that fine line where they’re leaning in because they’re concerned and they want our characters to figure out what’s going on, and not getting to a place where they just want to slap [the characters] and say, “OK, haven’t you seen Dawn of the Dead?”

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In The Walking Dead TV universe, we don’t know much about how the government deals with the apocalypse, how the infrastructure breaks down, etc. I’m assuming that’s something we’ll see throughout the first season of Fear.
We will. We never tell the story from the perspective of the CDC or the generals or the politicians. It’s not going to be World War Z, but we will see a military presence. We will see the effort to stop the contagion, the effort to contain it. We’ll do it consistently through our family’s filter, but, yeah, absolutely. We wanted to present the outbreak in a way that felt credible… we refer to the authorities a number of times, and the expectation is that there’s a solution and they will come in and they will fix it. We’ll see them attempt to do that, and then, of course, we’ll see them fail.

With The Walking Dead, we’re thrown into the action and then throughout the seasons we’ve gotten to know the characters and their backgrounds. With Fear, we’re getting to know the characters right away, but there’s still obviously a lot we don’t know. Will you use flashbacks to tell some of those things?
Yeah. Well, not necessarily through the first season, but, I mean, Nick, his father died when he was 13. His father died in a car wreck six years ago, so the interesting thing about both Nick and [his sister] Alicia [played by Alycia Debnam-Carey] is they both have sort of a fatalistic streak. They’ve experienced death because they lost their dad. The other interesting thing for Nick specifically is, he’s been living on the fringes for quite a while, and in many respects he’s been living his own apocalypse and now the world’s actually catching up with him.

Also, a number of our characters are from another place. They’re not from Los Angeles, and they’ve come here for a very specific reason, or they’ve come here to escape who they used to be. That’s something that we’ll explore with the Salazar family. It’s something we’ll explore in Madison [played by Kim Dickens], and her background. I definitely want to explore the backstories of the characters and use that to flesh out the present day stories.

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We have six episodes coming in the first season. You suggested there’s no rush to get into the full apocalypse, but where do you want to be at the end of Season 1?
There is a tendency in the zombie genre — if it’s a film, by the end of the first reel — you know what zombies are and you know how to kill them, and you know it’s OK to kill them, and that’s the reality of the show, or the reality of the film. I think what Rick Grimes’s coma in TWD was, to me, was a brilliant narrative device, because I loved him waking up so late and realizing that in the time he was asleep, the world has disappeared. That’s incredibly compelling, but he got up to speed pretty quickly. We have an opportunity to explore things that are not normally seen in this genre. By the end of the season, our characters will know that it’s the end of the world as they know it, and they will know that things have changed, not irrevocably, but there’s still a journey they will set off on by the end. I think they will come to realize that the apocalypse is definitely upon them.

Put it this way: Their point of view is still quite limited, and it’s very specific. That was by design. We wanted to insulate them in such a way that we could maintain the family drama and that narrative, and then also continue to slow burn the realization that the world is over. So I would not say that the end of the season is the moment when Rick wakes up; in fact, we have quite a bit of runway going into Season 2 to catch up with that point. I think there’s a world of story that we didn’t see on the original show that we get to explore going into the next season, with questions of “How do you survive?” and “How do you find food?” and “How do you live when you’re now completely off the grid without cell phones?”

Fear the Walking Dead premieres Aug. 23 at 9 p.m. on AMC.