The Sunday Magazine: Fear The Walking Dead

I’m not sure who did it first but there is a fairly recent storytelling trope which I find annoying. If you watch any television dramas at all you will be familiar with it. It goes something like this. The opening few seconds show our well-known protagonists in some dire predicament. After it plays for some time the words “x hours or y days or z years previously” appear on the screen and the show starts from how the situation came to be. Maybe the first time it was used it was interesting. Now that every show seems to use it, some multiple times, I think it is just lazy storytelling. Good writers can take you from a place where the audience has no idea what’s going on and finally get you to a place where you finally get a handle on things. I prefer that and it is arguably harder to pull off which is why the “insert amount of time previously” treatment is so popular.

One show which totally got this right was “The Walking Dead”. When our hero Rick Grimes comes out of a coma directly into a zombie apocalypse both he and the audience are asking the same questions. In the first season there was a strong desire to find out what happened. By the second season our survivors had realized even if they knew it wouldn’t help them stay alive. In the three seasons since it has been asking the question of which is more dangerous the living or the dead? Which has been a much more dramatic question than “why?”

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Unfortunately the creators of “The Walking Dead” has decided to employ the “insert amount of time previously” with the new companion series “Fear The Walking Dead”. Robert Kirkman who created The Walking Dead is also behind the new series. They have decided to go back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and show us how it happened. The story has moved to the west coast and is set in LA. We meet a blended family complete with progeny who check off all the necessary checkboxes. The brilliant daughter, the drug addict son, and the video auteur son. The first episode was very heavy handed in comparing the drug addict and his shambling ways with the coming zombies. It was so obvious it made it more irritating each time they did it over the first two episodes.

There is definitely horror to be mined from people you know who all of a sudden want to eat you for lunch. At this point you can’t tell the living from the dead until they want to take a bite. That has been when “Fear The Walking Dead” has been its best. In both episodes a character has been responsible for killing a friend turned zombie. The emotional reaction to that is interesting. This is all moving along at a crawl with way too predictable plotting. This time the audience does know where this is heading; patience wears thin as characters do things which put them at risk. We are left at the end of the second episode with the family separated into two parts of the city. The next four episodes will be the fight to reunite and then flee the city at which the first season will probably end.

I am hopeful that Mr. Kirkman can somehow rescue the pace and pedestrian plotting, surprising me. Because right now the only fear I have is that “Fear The Walking Dead” will continue shambling along; a zombie incarnation of its predecessor.

Mark Behnke

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