It's odd to remember the idea of putting zombies on television was non-commercial just a decade ago, as the brain-eating dead were deemed too extreme for home audiences. The millennial success of zombie films like Resident Evil, Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake paved the way for AMC to risk commissioning The Walking Dead in 2010—a weekly drama based on Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's 2003 comic-book series. It's a horror drama that regularly attracts 15 million viewers in the U.S, on a cable channel that would otherwise class 3 million as a big hit.
Is it any wonder AMC are launching a companion series this month? Fear the Walking Dead is sure to be a ratings magnet, and a way to ensure zombies will be on AMC for most of the year. Plus, it's a chance for the creative team to do something different, while attempting to improve on their hit formula. Excitingly for British fans, FearTWD is also the flagship drama for the new AMC channel on BT.
Below are five of my hopes and desires for Fear the Walking Dead, having not yet seen a single minute:
It's already known that Fear the Walking Dead takes place during the weeks The Walking Dead's leading man, Rick Grimes, is lying unconscious in an Atlanta hospital. At least for the initial six-part season. The Walking Dead has never explained why the dead came back to life, or how society collapsed once they did. FTWD won't answer the first question because creator Kirkman's often said it doesn't matter how things began, but it'll provide intriguing background details about the immediate aftermath of the zombie uprising. Interestingly, FTWD's characters will be encountering recently deceased's zombies who therefore more closely resemble ordinary folk.
2. Suburban HELL! The Walking Dead has a very particular atmosphere of eerie silences across sun-dried Georgian flatlands abuzz with insects. It's hot, sweaty and humid. FTWD will have a similar climate, but the fact it's set in Los Angeles means the show will have a very different look. More unnerving silences are to be expected for a horror show that relies on suspense, but having the undead and human survivors bump into each other around a big metropolis will be very interesting. Some of the best hours of The Walking Dead were when its characters returned to the streets of Atlanta, so a whole show of that is exciting to imagine. Doubly so if famous landmarks and places make an appearance, like the Hollywood sign and Disneyland (although that may be tricky because they shifted production from L.A to Vancouver after the pilot). A zombie Mickey Mouse eating Donald Duck's brains will be too much to ask for, but one can hope.
3. Family Ties!
Rick Grimes had a wife, son and (eventually) a baby daughter. The other characters have slowly bonded to become a makeshift family unit, but few of them are related by blood now. After five seasons, most have suffered the loss of sisters, brothers, husbands and children. FTWD will focus entirely on a family, albeit an unmarried one with stepchildren who must work together to survive zombie hordes: high school teacher Travis (Cliff Curtis), his ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), new fiancé Madison (Kim Dickens), her drug addict son Nick (Frank Dillane), and ambitious daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). And that's just inherently more relatable to viewers, whose first thoughts would be for their own families if a zombie uprising ever happened. The ethnic mix of the actors is also nice, as The Walking Dead's has always struggled to make its non-white characters standout from the crowd. Remember T-Dog?
4. Stronger Arcs?
One aspect of The Walking Dead I always have problems with is the consistency, pace, and flow of its story. It often feels like half of every season gets harder to watch because there just isn't enough happening to justify the quantity of hours being produced; or the writers switch focus to a storyline that just holds less interest for viewers. FTWD will hopefully prove more narratively even because it's not beholden to a following a comic-book's lead. While it's a comfort to have something that exists to adapt, from a writing perspective, there's undoubtedly more freedom in just doing your own thing.
5. Fewer Spoilers!
Similarly to HBO's Game of Thrones, it can be slightly annoying that so many of The Walking Dead's surprises and its general direction is known by fans who've read the original source material—as a few people can't keep their mouths shut and regularly spoil the surprises. There are lots of differences between the comic and the TV series, it's true, but it still takes a lot of cues from the page. FTWD is a new invention with a fresh story and characters, so it will obviously be more surprising for more people. We're all on the same page, for once.
What do YOU think? Will the show succeed in becoming a worthy spin-off? There's only one way to find out... catch Fear the Walking Dead's UK debut on the new AMC channel, exclusive and free to BT customers, on 31 August @9PM.