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Fear The Walking Dead S1.01 "Pilot" Review

One of the smarter moves that The Walking Dead (both the show and the comic) made was in declaring the end of the world unimportant. Sure, it was a pretty big deal for the characters, but for the viewers it's all been about the “post” part of post-apocalypse. Shit happened. What do we do next?

There was a good reason for that. We've seen the zombie outbreak movie before, many, many, many times. We didn't need a Walking Dead prequel because that's practically every post-Romero zombie movie.

But, hey, here we are with exactly that show. And it's... not bad. It's not essential – not yet – and it's certainly not up there with the best of the main series, but there's potential here, albeit spread a little thin.

From the off this feels like a very different show. The humid greenery of The Walking Dead has been replaced with a cooler, urban look and feel. We're in LA and there's people, lots and lots of people all wandering around like they own the place. The music is different too – all terse, spiky synth jabs and ominous drones.

But don't get too excited yet… Before the horror begins we've got to get to know the characters, and that's where Fear The Walking Dead wobbles. It's a solid cast, but at this point the extended Clark family aren't a very interesting bunch.

The first person we meet is Frank Dillane's slightly-too-handsome heroin addict, Nick. He's selfish, but there's vulnerability there, even if Dillane is overplaying the twitchiness. He's certainly more empathetic than his mother, Madison (Kim Dickens) and less bland than her new fella, Nice Guy Travis (Cliff Curtis). Oh yeah, and there's sister Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). She doesn't make much of an impression here. Let's hope that the crisis brings the family together, rather than leading to constant, tedious bickering.

Like The Walking Dead, this is taking a decompressed approach to its simple premise. We're watching a slow unveiling of the horror, which is atmospheric enough, but also a little harder to swallow. So… the kids at school know about a disease that's turning people feral, but it's not being broadcast on the news, just passed around on blurry smartphone footage? Really? This is meant to be a nationwide epidemic already, so why isn't it setting Twitter alight?

It's a small gripe – a dramatic device that adds to the show's tension. More annoying is the show's reliance on heavily abused TV tropes. Both of the classes we see are filled with portentous signifiers of the doom to come. A Jack London novel becomes a metaphor for the fight for survival and there's pointed chat about chaos theory. Hell, even the area where Nick and Cal have their fight is grafittied with walking skeletons. After the “Ooh, is it it a zombie? They're turning the music up...” fake out with Artie earlier in the episode it all feels very heavy-handed.

That said, the last 15 minutes are very good. Nick kills Cal – who then gets up, gets hit by a car and then gets up again. It's the moment where the scales fall away from the Clarks' eyes and they see the shape of things to come. The atmosphere of looming catastrophe is brilliantly evoked and it reassures us that this isn't going to be another Caprica...

Fear The Walking Dead faces an odd dilemma. If it cuts straight to the apocalypse, then it's no different to the original show. But if it drags its feet for too long, then fans are likely to drift away. There's definite promise here that will, hopefully, be explored over the next five weeks. It could be great. Episode two is called “So Close And Yet So Far”. Let's hope that's doesn't turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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He Who Must Not Be Named

Think you've seen Dillane's face before? You probably have – he played the 16-year-old Tom Riddle – aka Voldemort – in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.

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What year is Fear The Walking Dead set in?

Short answer: we don't know for sure. The Walking Dead has always been vague about its dating. However, we can assume it's post-2007 (Glenn has played Portal, remember) and this episode seems to suggest as late as 2012, given that Alicia is using what appears to be an iPhone 4S.

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Ratings

It was always going to be big, but AMC must be delighted with the news that the pilot smashed cable TV records. Nielsen estimates that the pilot episode pulled in 10.1 million viewers, making it the highest rated cable series launch ever.

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Best line

Travis: “Nature always wins.”

Fear The Walking Dead airs on AMC in the US on Sundays, and on AMC (exclusive to BT) in the UK from Monday 31 August.

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WritersRobert Kirkman and Dave Erickson
DirectorAdam Davidson
The One WhereIt's the end of the world as we know it and nobody is paying attention.

More Info

Available platformsTV