Fear the Walking Dead Recap ‘Pilot’: The Dread and the Undead

In the debut Fear the Walking Dead recap, the city of angels serves as the back drop to the apocalypse as the dead begin to rise and humanity is no longer at the top of the food chain…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

Knowing what’s about to happen makes a prequel that much harder to tell.

Whether you’re waiting for Anikin Skywalker to transform into Darth Vader or watching a trusted psychologist dissolve into Hannibal Lecter, telling an origin story when the book has already been written is never easy and often times fails more than it works.

So it was a slightly risky proposition that Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman decided to spinoff his wildly successful AMC series into a new secondary show called Fear the Walking Dead. At first the show was just another zombie opus set in a different corner of the world. Instead of the damp sticky air in Atlanta, the new crop of survivors would be battling against zombies and smog in Los Angeles. The formula seemed to work — give us 8 to 10 characters, some we actually care about, the promise of survival, a shit load of zombies, some epic kills, and in the end only a few actually make it.

It’s not rocket science, but it works. The Walking Dead is now the most watched show on television. So why not capitalize on that and see how the west coasters are dealing with the zombie apocalypse?

But for the new series Fear the Walking Dead, which debuted on AMC Sunday night with a six episode first season, the premise was a little different. This time we would watch the dead rise before the world went to hell.

Now the story would eventually reach the same climax where The Walking Dead has made it six seasons into the show, but for the first time ever we were going to witness society unraveling as the dead started rise up to eat the living. And as previously stated, telling a story where you already know how it ends is difficult, some might say, nearly impossible to do.

Well, the good news is Fear the Walking Dead — through at least the first episode — pulled off dread and impending doom like nobody’s business and if the debut is any indication, seeing the fire get started might be even scarier than watching the world burn.

With that said, let’s recap the debut episode of Fear the Walking Dead:

The Needle and the Damage Done

Lexi Johnson as Gloria - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/AMC

The first three minutes of Fear the Walking Dead was released a few days ago and it was a great precursor to what this debut episode was going to be all about.

We meet Nick for the first time as he wakes up in an abandoned church where he fell asleep the night before after shooting up heroin with his friend Gloria and some other junkies who crash here on a regular basis. At some point during the night, everyone else disappeared but Nick was left alone until he finally opened his eyes and saw for himself that Gloria was gone.

In classic horror movie fashion, Nick crawls around the decrepit building carrying a stick as a weapon while shadows and sunshine play around every corner, dancing between darkness and light until he finally happens upon Gloria sitting on the floor overtop of another person. When he reaches for her, Gloria snaps her head around, face and mouth covered in blood, looking at Nick like he’s dinner.

Nick slips, falls and quickly escapes the church until he’s running down the middle of a street that looks like something out of Fight Club and when he finally stops to look back to see if Gloria is giving chase, a car plows into him and knocks him down the street.

Cut to a normal L.A. suburban home where we meet Nick’s family.

His mother Madison is a high school guidance counselor, who is also raising Alicia — a 17 year old high school standout who loves spending time with her artist boyfriend while counting down the days until she can escape to Berkeley to start a new life on her own. We also meet Travis — Madison’s live in boyfriend who is an English teacher at the same high school while playing beta to his girlfriend’s alpha. He’s got an estranged wife named Liza and a son named Chris, who will do just about anything to avoid spending a weekend with his father.

In other words this is seriously the atypical American family for 2015.

Unfortunately everyone’s day is thrown into upheaval when they get a call saying that Nick was hit by a car and in the hospital.

When his family arrives, Nick is more coherent than he was a few hours ago after telling wild tells about his junkie girlfriend eating someone’s face off before he ran down the street to get away from her. The police try to question him, but Madison quickly sends them packing when she realizes that Nick is just really high and not under arrest.

This is normal for Madison. She’s used to finding Nick in all sorts of trouble, usually more often times than not because of drugs. But when she gets called away to work, Travis offers to stay and babysit Nick because he wants to be there for his girlfriend’s son.

In reality, Travis is trying to connect with Nick and ‘fix him’ while he can’t even get his own son to spend a weekend with him.

Once Nick is coherent enough and the drug haze has released his brain, he tries to tell Travis what he saw in the church and how he’s not sure if it’s real, if it’s part of what he took or if he’s really going insane. Nick pleads with Travis to believe him because he doesn’t want to be insane.

So Travis makes a trip to the church that night to do some digging around. The abandoned house of God is even creepier with no lights except for a few beams peaking in from the street. Inside, Travis finds a squatter who runs away after screaming ‘please don’t kill me!’. Travis is rattled, but he pushes forward. When he finally makes it to the basement where Gloria was once enjoying a midday snack, Travis finds a pile of blood coating the floors but no bodies to be found.

Maybe Nick was onto something after all?

School’s Out

Cliff Curtis as Travis  and Kim Dickens as Madison - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/AMC

Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/AMC

At school that day, Madison commiserates with the principal about how attendance has been dwindling ever since that damn flu started going around.

Madison ends up interacting with a boy named Tobias (from the trailers that debuted a few months back) who is carrying a steak knife into school for protection. But Tobias says that the knife isn’t there to scare off bullies — he’s seen enough bad shit on the internet about people dying and chaos breaking out all over the world to know that some of these events have to be connected. Madison eventually secures the knife and sends Tobias packing, but the paranoid kid is onto something.

Meanwhile, Alicia makes plans to meet up with her artist boyfriend after school only he never shows. Where could he be?

The next day while still in the hospital, Nick decides he’s had enough time for the drugs to clear his system and he’s ready to check out. Thanks to a foolish nurse who takes off a restraint just moments before his roommate in the hospital room goes into cardiac arrest, Nick slips out wearing some stolen clothes while escaping to a highway underpass where he will go to sleep until he can track down his dealer to see what exactly he got dosed with the previous night.

While Nick is making his escape, Madison and Travis continue to work at the school despite even fewer students in attendance than the previous day. Madison does her rounds while hearing Travis present a lesson on Jack London and the battle between man and nature — and how nature always wins. A foreboding warning for what we already know is about to unfold. When Madison finds the principal hunched over a chair and not responding to her calls, it looks like this might be when she encounters a zombie for the first time but alas, he’s alive and well and just monitoring classes and the teachers who teach them.

The normal day is cut short when Madison and Travis get word of Nick running away from the hospital so now it’s up to them to find him and hopefully before things get any worse.

Little do Madison and Travis know when they visit Nick’s old high school pal Calvin looking for information on his whereabouts that they are actually speaking to his heroin dealer. Calvin plays stupid and sends them packing while he plans to meet Nick later that day in a diner.

Travis and Madison continue their search back at the church and once again they don’t find anything except a book belonging to Nick that also contained some burnt foil, drug ashes and a syringe. Madison can’t help but blame herself for Nick’s downfall and even with a smart college bound daughter, that means she’s only succeeded with half her kids.

The church is a dead end, but the strange events are only beginning.

On the way home, Travis gets off an exit from the freeway only to find the police have the entire street closed off with helicopters and sirens blaring in every direction. When even more police swarm the street, Travis and Madison start to wonder what’s really going on. When gunshots start ringing out, Travis knows it’s time to go and he peels out of there in a hurry to get them back to safety.

What were the cops shooting at and why were there so many of them?

It Can’t Be Real

Kim Dickens as Miranda - Fear the Walking Dead  _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/AMC

Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/AMC

The next day as the search for Nick continues, Alicia and her friends along with all of the teachers in the school are watching footage from the police shooting the night before. The leaked video shows a paramedic being attacked by a man everyone presumed was dead, until he started biting the man trying to save him. When he gets up and attacks a cop, they beat the man with batons but he just won’t go down. The power of disbelief works wonders because everyone watching is thinking one of two things — it’s fake or this guy is on some seriously powerful drugs.

Neither are true of course, which is why when an outbreak of this magnitude hits, denial is sometimes a disease’s best weapon.

School ends up being called for a half day after the number of students in classes are almost equal to the teachers there to instruct them.

Nick decides to meet with Calvin at a local diner to get some answers, but for the first time in a long while he’s not trying to score. He just wants to know if Calvin laced the heroin with something new that gave him this nightmarish visions of his junkie girlfriend feasting on someone’s face.

Calvin promises he didn’t dose the drugs, but he would like Nick to go for a ride with him. It’s clear Calvin isn’t happy that Nick’s parents showed up at his house looking for answers and he’s convinced that his top customer might also be a snitch.

So Calvin drags Nick out to the middle of a highway underpass and through a tunnel with the intention of killing him. Luckily, Nick spots the gun in Calvin’s hand and a struggle ensues before a single shot rings out. Take a wild guess who got shot?

Calvin falls dead, Nick panics and finally calls for help.

When Travis arrives he’s brought Madison with him, despite Nick’s pleas to leave his mother at home. Nick is convinced he shot and killed Calvin, but only in self defense after it looked like the bullet was meant for him. Travis and Madison agree to go to where Nick left the body so they can assess the situation. The only problem is when they get there, the car is there, the gun is there, but Calvin is nowhere to be found.

As they drive back up the tunnel to get to the street, a shadowy figure appears behind the truck. Travis and Madison get out when they realize it’s Calvin and he’s definitely worse for wear. Nick maniacally screams at them to get away and when Calvin nearly bites Madison’s arm off, it’s clear that the heroin wasn’t laced — something is seriously wrong.

Nick quickly guns the truck in reverse and plows over Calvin to save Travis. When Calvin gets up again, much to the surprise of everyone watching in awe, he punches it again and the truck tears through him again. Travis, Madison and Nick look over at Calvin’s twisted and mangled body, but after only a second passes, they see his head twist back around, eyes wide open, looking right at them.

This is death staring them directly in the face and while this monster will eventually multiply into the millions, this one hungered look is as frightening as anything we are likely to see on television and in many ways much scarier because we already know what’s coming next…

Make sure to tune into the new episode of Fear the Walking Dead next Sunday night at 9pm ET on AMC.

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