Robert Kirkman‘s The Walking Dead horror comic turned cable television sensation has been an impressive success for AMC. But after five seasons and a sixth on the way in October, the plot has gotten a little repetitive. AMC hopes to breathe new life into its undead franchise, offering a new take on Kirkman’s tale with a spinoff show, Fear the Walking Dead.
This new take on the zombie apocalypse is set to premiere August 23rd with the first of a six episode run. A fifteen episode second season has already been announced. Fear is set in Los Angeles instead of the South and, according to the teaser, will recount the early days of the zombie plague as a mysterious flu-like virus. The illness will continue to spread among an increasingly anxious population without an effective response from the government.
Robert Kirkman and Dave Erikson conceived this as a stand alone project. Fear isn’t based on existing comic book story arcs; this means that plot development is pretty much wide open, but there are a few things fans are hungry to see as the disaster unfolds.
10. Origins of the Plague
Creators Kirkman and Erikson have said in interviews they don’t plan to reveal the origins of the plague. This is a mistake. Within the constraints of a science fiction television show, it would be interesting to explore how a virus turns healthy people into flesh-eating zombies.
Others might argue it’s better not to know in order to maintain the mystery. This is a valid point, but after The Walking Dead teased everyone with the idea that one of the characters knew how the plague happened and more importantly, how to stop it, they have to deliver something here. Any hope for a resolution was dashed when Eugene was revealed to be a weak, sniveling fraud. Fans are owed a little payoff here.
9. Side Step the Zombie Shuffle
Since movies like 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, zombies have usually been portrayed as shambling corpses that can’t get out of their own way. Hollywood’s choice has presented some challenges to writers so survivors can’t always elude the zombies. It works as a convenient storytelling device of course, because it allows the human characters to get away to fight another day even when horribly outnumbered.
Notable exceptions to this convention include 28 Days Later and World War Z, where zombies are quite athletic, running at full speed and climbing piles of fellow zombies to go over walls. Shuffling corpses are a tired cliche of the genre and could use a tune up. Some clever writing could explore a new direction and help alleviate this conundrum.
8. Fresh Meat
Unlike The Walking Dead, Fear is not based directly on the comic book storyline. Although some purists might take issue with this, many fans will appreciate the fact it frees up the creators to take the story in any direction they choose. They can experiment without the worry of upsetting fans who are expecting it to be faithful to existing material.
Fear can find its own footing while still staying true to the established canon. We know the story will begin before the zombie plague has taken hold. We’ll be able to see what the characters are like and what they’re up to before everything begins to fall apart. Then we’ll sit back and watch how they adapt to the horrible reality of a world coming undone.
7. Working for a Cure
Fans don’t want Fear to be a show about virologists huddled over microscopes – that wouldn’t be any fun. However, a subplot involving Army researchers would work, or something like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta seen in the first season of The Walking Dead.
The local equivalent would be the L.A. County Department of Public Health. The 1995 disaster movie Outbreak managed to make a pretty good thriller around a monkey spreading a fictional strain of Hemorrhagic Fever called Motaba to a small California town. In the movie, the Army medical team was able to treat the disease with an experimental cure made from an Army serum and the monkey’s antibodies.
6. L.A. Zombies
The Walking Dead avoided the pitfalls of trying to use zombies to make statements about the culture the way some zombie movies have done in the past. Having said that, it would be cool to see a nod to the Baywatch, jacked-up-on-Starbucks L.A. culture.
There is so much to poke fun at in Hollywood, but there’s no doubt it would be a risky venture. Do we really want to see tanned surfer zombies, pumped up bodybuilder zombies and cosmetically enhanced starlet zombies? The show’s credibility would be balancing along a very fine line just to have a little fun at Angelenos’ expense. Then again, it would be interesting to see if the creators could pull it off without crossing over from a little tongue-in-cheek humor into camp.
5. Crossing Over
Television has a long history of spin-offs and cross-over shows such as the popular CSI and Law and Order franchises. There should be room in the Fear plot line for cross-over stories that intersect with The Walking Dead story and characters.
This would take a little doing since the respective stories take place on opposites coasts, but Mr. Kirkman, Erikson and the talented crew ought to be able to come up with something. Some Fear characters will make their way to Atlanta hoping the CDC is still standing. Perhaps as Fear unfolds, it will become necessary for some of the characters from The Walking Dead to pursue rumors of a cure in L.A. Daryl could take his chopper out to L.A. and cause a little backwoods mayhem in the Southland.
4. Break the Vicious Villain Cycle
Everybody knows the zombies are just being zombies, and we can’t expect much more from them. Zombies aren’t so much villains as a force of nature but we need to address the human bad guys. How many post-apocalypse enclaves can the survivors stumble upon and then be surprised they’re populated by people like the Governor in Woodbury, the cannibals holed up at Terminus and the cops at the hospital in Atlanta?
We all get the message: the apocalypse has brought out the worst aspects of human nature, making humans the real monsters. Maybe Fear can try a different approach? The zombies will remain limited by their mindless shambling ways unless they can somehow evolve into a more compelling threat.
3. I’m With the Government
Many people are increasingly uneasy about the world, making dystopian tales a prominent part of popular culture. Fear will make its own contribution to the genre with the show’s early episodes detailing the unraveling of civilization in the face of a mysterious virus that turns victims into undead eaters of the living.
What would Washington do to help you – send FEMA to the rescue? How long would your local police department stay on the job? Would your neighbor panic and mistake you for a zombie? The governments’ track record dealing with unexpected catastrophes is not very comforting. The early episodes will likely chronicle the failures of the government on all levels to deal effectively with the crisis. In other words, in the event of an emergency – we’re all on our own.
2. Character is King
Like all successful television shows, The Walking Dead has created a slew of memorable characters the audience cares about. Rick, Daryl, Carol, Michonne and the others are a diverse group with enough noble attributes and tragic flaws that allow viewers to relate to them on an emotional level.
Viewers are able to imagine being in similar situations (if our world really did end) and ask themselves: what would I do? We all like to think our better selves would emerge under these dire circumstances, but we are all too aware of man’s weaknesses. Fear has to capture the viewers’ imaginations with the same kind of compelling characters – characters that make us want to root for them or hate them even when the plot sags a bit.
1. The End is Here
As much as fans enjoy The Walking Dead and are anticipating the premiere of Fear, it is important to keep in mind that all good things must come to an end. As true fans, we should want to see both shows run their course, but not overstay their welcome as they slowly decompose into a stinking corpse.
Rick and the others have covered a lot of ground, killed lots of zombies and fought off other desperate survivors. There is a growing sense the journey needs to come to an end. Kirkman would be wise to give fans an intense Fear for 2 or 3 seasons before wrapping it up. This doesn’t mean he has to give fans a neat little ending tied up with a bow, but let’s hope he pulls the world back from the abyss of the zombie apocalypse.