If you thought the Rick Grimes meltdown set to kick off Season 6 of The Walking Dead was alarming, AMC introduced an even scarier concept to fans at Comic-Con: A spin-off series set at the start of the outbreak in the City of Angels, where survivors must contend with all the nightmare gridlock of Los Angeles. Plus zombies.
“You think the traffic’s bad now,” teased co-creator Dave Erickson (Sons of Anarchy, Low Winter Sun). “You just wait.”
Set within the urban sprawl of East Los Angeles, Fear the Walking Dead promises to take advantage of the city’s distinct neighborhoods in a stark change of scenery from the zombie-infested climes of The Walking Dead.
They may not have plans to set zombies running amok inside certain major LA landmarks just yet (“Staples Center is not going down,” Erickson said). But producers hint at writing in the kind of transformative stories already endemic to LA, some of which will be partially repped in storylines about immigrant characters like Ruben Blades’ barber with a secret.
“The show is anchored mostly in East LA,” said Erickson. “We shot in a neighborhood close to downtown. Part of the benefit of the sprawl of the city is that what’s happening in Burbank is not necessarily happening in Brentwood. What’s happening in El Sereno is not necessarily happening in Santa Monica. It’s because it’s so spread out it’s actually isolating, in a way.”
Erickson and his cast had the enviable position of following the Walking Dead panel Friday at Comic-Con, where the popular AMC hit announced its sixth season premiere this October at Madison Square Garden—a sign of just how big-time the zombie series, and television, has become.
Created by Erickson and Walking Dead showrunner Robert Kirkman to capitalize on audiences’ hunger for AMC’s flagship undead property, Fear the Walking Dead already has a two-season order. (The first six-episode season premieres Sunday, August 23.)
Technically, the new show shares the same zombified world with The Walking Dead—but begins at the start of the epidemic, depicting humanity’s slow, tragic realization that the infection turning people into ravenous monsters isn’t exactly the flu.
It also “loosely” overlaps with the lost month or so Rick spent in a coma, according to Erickson. “Rick was out for 4 to 5 weeks, and this is 2, 3, 4 weeks of that time. Even when we eventually get to the end of season, we’re still not necessarily caught up.”
Tonally, producers say Fear the Walking Dead will play much differently than the survivors-in-the-wild saga of walker-slayers Rick, Michonne, Daryl, and Co. “It’s incredibly different,” Erickson said. “We don’t get to the full apocalypse until late in the season.”
Instead, Fear the Walking Dead starts as a family drama centered on one dysfunctional blended family in Los Angeles trying to get through the day, let alone the apocalypse.
Cliff Curtis plays high school English teacher Travis, who’s engaged to Madison (Kim Dickens), a guidance counselor with two teenage kids of her own, Alicia and Nick (Alycia Debnam-Carey and Frank Dillane). Travis shares custody of a son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henry), from his previous marriage to Liza (Orange is the New Black’s Elizabeth Rodriguez).
When the outbreak begins, it’s Nick who witnesses it first—from a drug den flophouse, so nobody believes him. When Z-day proper hits, Travis is separated from his fiancée and forced to take shelter with a local barber, Daniel (Ruben Blades), who has his own family and secrets of a past life to keep. Zombies might be the least of their problems.
“All of us here would react the way our characters would react,” said executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. “We would all want to believe this doesn’t make sense; they’ll figure it out, it’ll pass just like SARS and Ebola. You want to believe because we live in a world of instant, sensational media that they’re blowing it out of proportion.”
“But what if they’re not?”
Doing research for the apocalypse, producer David Alpert discovered that any devastating interruption to the food chain would make any major metropolis run out of food in just three days. If the zombie apocalypse went down in real life, panelists agreed, it’s Terminator producer Hurd who will save us with her private bunker full of supplies.
“Survivalists have nothing on me,” she said.