“When civilization ends, it ends fast.”
In a letter addressed to Robert Kirkman in an issue of “The Walking Dead,” a reader asked if we were ever going to see zombies use tools. Kirkman replied that the zombies would never evolve. The only thing keeping man from winning is man. That’s essentially the thought process behind the apocalypse in “Fear the Walking Dead.” Surely, the walking dead are horrifying and major contributors to the downfall of mankind, but what basically destroys civilization is the horror of mankind: Our selfishness, our greed, and our inability to look out for one another.
In the first few episodes, what keeps our protagonists from getting home is the destructive power of a riot that unfolds after police shoot down what many presumed was a sick homeless man. The police seem to know much more than the public do in the series, and they begin executing the infected, while the public largely remain in the dark. Out of sheer anger from the incident of apparent police corruption, a massive riot destroys the core of Los Angeles, trapping patriarch Travis and his family in the belly of the beast. When we view most of what’s occurring throughout the fall of man kind, much of it is filled with the thought process of rats escaping a sinking ship.
Everyone is in it for themselves. In one scene a woman confronts a police officer who is filling his car with a large supply of water, for what promises to be the end of the world. He’s been filled in on something most of the people around him are utterly oblivious toward, and it’s frightening to think that when the grid goes down, everyone are pretty much on their own, and left to fend for themselves. There’s no savior, there are no superheroes coming to save anyone. It’s just people doing whatever they can to survive, even if it means hurting each other and murdering in the process. “Fear the Walking Dead” has taken a very unorthodox approach to its formula, choosing to completely work as a series that doesn’t feel like it’s exploiting the brand for the producers of AMC Television.
Surely it’s a spin off, but it’s also a prequel that works within the general timeline of when Rick Grimes was in a coma, except, in another city, entirely. When protagonist Nick awakens from a deep sleep, he emerges in to a new world, much like Rick did. He finds himself in a church that’s now used as a drug den, and he views what is arguably the first walker set to bring society down around them. What seems like a terrible incident involving a stabbing set off a chain of events where a young woman turns and attacks everyone else in her range. When dad Travis breaks in to the drug den to humor Nick about what he claims he saw, the walkers have all but disappeared, and found a way out. For better and for worse, Travis finds no shambling flesh eating monsters, and before he or his extended family can ready themselves, civilization crumbles faster than anyone predicts.
The writers of the show spend a lot of time exploring how quick and easy it is for our luxuries to dissipate and our mundane activities to be destroyed by simple disturbances. Accidents on the road clog up traffic, random incidents involving the infected turn a populace from confused, to angry, right down to downright violent. The series dares to ponder if giving the public total information would have benefitted us in the long run, but there’s the possibility that no matter what, the outcome would have involved rioting, violence, and many more people rushing to grab supplies resulting in so much more rampant chaos than anyone could comprehend. As with most of the Walking Dead universe, the power belongs to the military, and they’re the least trustworthy asset in the rapidly decaying world. They’re all out to achieve some end game involving mass genocide and sacrificing many for the greater good.
When we see them raid the cul de sac in the end of episode three, it’s pretty clear they have nothing to offer except the illusion of safety. The shoe finally drops in the finale where we’re given a full scope of what the infection has wrought, and it’s no accident that the military has chosen a local stadium to lock up the infected in. “Fear the Walking Dead” brings about shades of Katrina, and the climate racial unrest in the modern society by featuring a higher authority trying to cut its losses, rather than attempt to save what’s left of the world. When Travis, Madison, and their family leave their cul de sac in the finale, they can do nothing but pity their neighbors, who sit in the dark awaiting a direction. They’ll wake up to a new day with nothing to do but try to make sense of the new world.
When they learn it’s senseless and now about survival of the fittest, chaos will surely ensue. Mankind is beyond saving by the last episode of season one, and now our characters can only try to pick up and move forward to tackle another obstacle down the road. Characters are thankfully growing, with Travis completely abandoning his passive attitude, and Nick somewhat admitting to himself that there is simply nowhere to go but down. I think by season two Madison will be much more ruthless, and willing to exterminate the dead.
These characters must harden if they hope to see another day, and now that they have a firm understanding of the walking dead, they know that this is not going to pass any time soon. Season one has primarily been a compelling look at a disjointed family unit trying to weather the storm in a disjointed society that can never seem to see eye to eye. Hopefully season two will be about forward motion, and evolution of all the characters from spectators to genuine survivors. I look forward to seeing what the writers pull off next season.