While it might seem obvious that if you have yet to jump onboard the mothership, you’d have no interest in the new series, here are but a few reasons why that just may not be true, and why you would miss out on what promises to be one of the best new shows of the year.
1. Less Gore (at Least, Initially), Same Emotional Wallop
FTWD is set in pre-apocalypse Los Angeles, just as the city is experiencing the first signs of this outbreak of whatever is. No one knows what a “walker”/”biter”/”rotter” — or any other of the many zombie synonyms — is, but when a few of them begin to encounter these glassy-eyed beings and see what they are capable of doing, all H-E-double hockey sticks will soon break out.
In The Walking Dead, we join the series with the apocalypse already in progress, meaning the walkers are in full decayed, hangry, human-chomping mode; it’s clear to the survivors that they need to play by us-against-them rules. And even though they don’t know how the outbreak started — nor how to put a stop to it — they have figured out how to effectively end a walker life, and, for the most part, quickly grow accustomed to having to kill these creatures who used to be just like them.
In FTWD, our heroes and heroines have no idea what is happening, why these dead-eyed, lumbering humans are trying to eat them, nor that they can only be killed by stabbing/shooting/pummeling them in the brain (braaaaains!). Adding to the trauma: It’s not clear that this is a permanent state for the “turned” humans; because it’s the early days, the walking dead have not decayed, meaning — save those dead peepers — they still look mostly like the friends, family, and neighbors the unturned know, instead of truly terrifying rotten walking corpses. That, understandably, leads to some hesitation in killing them, which leads to a lot more danger, and a major case of the feels for those who will have to start killing people they know and love(d).
2. Part Genre Series, All Complicated Family Drama
The new show revolves around a merged family unit made up of high school teacher Travis (Cliff Curtis), his guidance counselor fiancée Madison (Kim Dickens), her overachieving teenage daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Madison’s drug-addicted teen son Nick (Frank Dillane), Travis’s ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and their teenage son Chris, who is not in a good place with his dad post-divorce.
In the midst of their emotionally fraught, alt-Brady Bunch-ian mingling, the first two episodes (of Season 1’s six installments) find Travis and Madison dealing with just the latest drug-related emergency with Nick, who has seen up-close some of the terrifying changes happening to a still-small group of people. Alicia, meanwhile, is going to find out something terrible about her boyfriend, Matt (Maestro Harrell), and just as Madison and Travis come up with a plan to deal with that whatever that is happening, Nick has another emergency that sends Madison on a dangerous solo mission, while Travis and Liza have to track down an MIA Chris.
The Walking Dead has become a genre show that also dives deeply into its characters and their backstories, while Fear the Walking Dead is taking viewers into its characters’ lives and making us care about them before the guts and gore really hit the fan. It’s a particularly effective way to ease yourself into the zombie action if you’re a bit squeamish or just so-far uninterested in undead goings-on. And again, it makes the emotional impact of what these characters are going to face and be forced to do to survive all the greater.
3. Stellar Cast
TV fans know Kim Dickens’s skills from Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy, Treme, Friday Night Lights, and House of Cards, to namecheck just a fraction of her most memorable performances, but FTWD may be the lead role she’s long deserved, playing the very relatable single mom/caring teacher/half of the lead romantic duo who is going to be surprised by what she’s capable of doing to save her family and keep it together.
Ditto Curtis, whose performances have stood out even in forgettable series like Trauma, Missing, and Gang Related (as well as roles in movies like Whale Rider, Blow, and The Last Airbender), and supporting cast like The Wire and Suburgatory alum Harrell; Orange Is the New Black star Rodriguez; Ruben Blades, the Emmy-nominated actor and Grammy-winning musician who plays an L.A. barber who’s drawn into Travis’s world; 24, House of Cards, and The Returned alum Sandrine Holt, who’ll play a doctor named Bethany; and Shawn Hatosy — who can get some zombie drama tips from fellow Southland alum, and current TWD star Michael Cudlitz — playing Reynolds, an ill-prepared, but well-intentioned military man.
4. The Breakout Newbies
Remember this name, because it’s one you’re going to be hearing a lot: Frank Dillane. You may have seen him as young Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort) in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but the 24-year-old is set to be the breakout of FTWD as Nick, Madison’s addict son who flunked out of college and who has created years of drama for his mother and sister. If anything can push him into sobriety, what he witnesses in the series premiere may do it, but for a someone who makes his family’s life even more difficult in the face of pending disaster, Nick is also one of the most sympathetic and compelling characters. Trivia: Dillane, who also plays Shugs in Netflix’s Sense8, is the son of Game of Thrones star Stephen Dillane, aka Stannis Baratheon.
Another character/actor sure to be a fan fave: Lincoln A. Castellanos as Tobias, one of Madison’s favorite students. It’s hinted that he has an unhappy home life, but he also has some frighteningly on-the-money ideas about what’s happening in his hometown. FTWD is just his second TV gig, after a 2012 guest spot on The Mentalist.
5. Season 2
And one more reason both TWD devoted and potential newbie TV zombie fans should have no fear of committing to Fear: AMC has already renewed the companion series for a 15-episode second season that will premiere in 2016.
Fear the Walking Dead premieres Aug. 23 at 9 p.m. on AMC.