‘Fear the Walking Dead’: Welcome to Zombieland, humanity. I hope you’ve been doing your cardio

Fear the Walking Dead
“Pilot”
August 23, 2015

Meet Nick, the world’s healthiest-looking junkie. Nick wakes up in his usual spot, on a dirty pile of sleeping bag in an abandoned church, and finds that his girlfriend Gloria is missing. A noise from downstairs prompts him to investigate, and he heads downstairs, past walls smeared with graffiti and then … alarmingly … blood. And then there’s the screaming. And then there’s the man’s body with his throat torn out.

Nick is understandably upset, and so when he finally finds Gloria crouched in the nave, he urges her that they have to leave, SOMEONE IS EATING PEOPLE THROATS! But if you’ve seen any Fear the Walking Dead promotional materials, you know exactly who that someone is: Gloria.

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“ACK!” says Nick who flees the church and his zombie girlfriend, without even giving her a chance to explain or prove her crime-solving skills.

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And then Nick gets his fool self hit by a car.

Nick’s mother, Joanie from Deadwood Cassidy from Lost Janette from Treme Shelby from Friday Night Lights Collette from Sons of Anarchy Kate from House of Cards “Madison,” receives a call from the hospital and is all, “OH BROTHER, IT’S MY JUNKIE KID AGAIN.”

When she, her boyfriend Travis and her daughter Alicia arrive at the hospital, they learn that Nick ran barefoot into traffic in a drug-fueled psychosis, ranting nonsense about “viscera.” Mom decides that it’s time to try rehab again, but her son reminds her that he’s 18 now, so NOPE.

Meanwhile, Boyfriend receives a call from his ex, who wants him to take his teenage son for the weekend — something that Teenage Son wants no part of because Daddy Issues — but Boyfriend is like, NOPE.

Madison then announces that she has to go into her job as a guidance counselor at a high school and do something with college applications, NOT THAT HER WORTHLESS CAR-HITTING JUNKIE SON WOULD KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT, and leaves Boyfriend to hang out with Nick. As she drives her daughter to school, she asks her to take her earbuds out, but Daughter is all, NOPE.

They arrive at the school just in time for Madison to intervene on behalf of a student who had set off the metal detectors trying to sneak a knife onto campus (and for the principal to dramatic irony at us that more kids were “out sick” today and that they need to get flu shots; don’t bother, Principal Man). The student goes all Tin Foil hat on Madison, explaining that a virus is spreading that is making people kill and They don’t want people to know about it. Madison finds this preposterous, insisting that They would tell us if something were happening. The student is all, LOL OK.

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As for Daughter, she has a boyfriend.

So anyway, in the hospital when Nick wakes up from a nightmare, Mom’s Boyfriend is there staring at him and ready to pepper him with questions about his “hallucinations.” Nick explains that he was with his friend, Gloria, when he scored some heroin and shot it up at the church, but that when he woke up, everyone was dead and blood was everywhere, but most especially on Gloria’s mouth because she was eating people. So, he’s probably crazy, right? Because that couldn’t happen, RIGHT?

So Sooperjenius Mom’s Boyfriend Travis has a brilliant idea: “Hey, why don’t I break into a shooting gallery filled with potentially cannibalistic junkies in the middle of the night armed only with a flashlight? What could possibly go wrong?” And so he does, and somehow the worst thing that happens to him is that after being lunged at by a non-cannibalistic junkie, he slips and falls in the aforementioned viscera. Ew. Gross. No.

While Travis was busy violating every single rule of simple common sense, Madison spent the night at the hospital with her kid. The next morning Travis arrives with a change of clothes for her, and they leave Nick alone with his sister with whom he has some straight-up Lannister-esque sexual chemistry. Now, I do not have a brother, but if I did, I would certainly not climb up onto his lap and feed him jello while cooing in his face about our mother and stuff. That’s just … not okay. Don’t they screen test these people before casting them?

Outside, Travis explains to Madison that he checked out the church and that something bad happened there, but she is all, “how about you leave my son out of your daddy issues, thnx.”

Meanwhile, Daughter still has a boyfriend. He draws Marilyn Manson designs on her arm (specifically, the logo for Marilyn Manson’s “Eat Me, Drink Me” album. GET IT? WELL DO YOU?)

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It seems that Travis also teaches at Madison’s school, and she sticks her head in on his lecture on Jack London and “man versus nature.” GET IT? DO YOU NEED ME TO EXPLAIN IT TO YOU? And then Madison pops in on Principal who is weirdly listening in on the classrooms and who is totally going to turn into a zombie soon. Don’t you have work to do, Madison? What about all those college applications you were complaining about?

Back at the hospital, Nick’s roommate is busy dying, and Nick manages to convince the worst nurse in the world to release one of his restraints.

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Roommate starts coding, and when the doctors can’t resuscitate him, they “get him downstairs, NOW,” and Nick makes a break for it in Roommate’s old man clothes.

And so when Madison and Travis return to the hospital and discover that Nick has escaped, she is NOT AMUSED.

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Frustrated, Madison asks Travis to take her to the church? For some reason? Maybe she thinks Nick might be there? I don’t know. But they go and inside Travis points out that the bodies are missing. Upon seeing the bloodstains, Madison notes that “something bad happened here,” which is the understatement of the series so far. They head upstairs where she finds Nick’s dirty junkie bed and his copy of Winesburg, Ohio, which also serves as his drug kit. She has a sad.

Then they swing by one of Nick’s friend’s houses, Calvin, who claims he hasn’t seen him, but tries to be super-helpful and make some calls.

On their way home, Travis and Madison get stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway, which soon turns into a full-fledged police military-esque operation what with the helicopters and the motorcycles and the shots fired and it is Very Alarming, so Travis and Madison cut across the freeway and take a different route home, which maybe they should have taken in the first place? Google Maps existed in 2010. It could have shown them that I-10 was a zombie-filled mess.

The next day at their school, the teachers gather around a computer to watch footage filmed at the highway scene: a man on a stretcher attacks an EMT, goes for a patrolman, and is shot several times before a kill shot to the head finally stops him. Bath salts, man. They’re a hell of a drug. Travis notes that this was what Nick was describing, so Madison decides it’s time to get the police involved in helping them find her son.

Meanwhile, Daughter tries unsuccessfully to contact her boyfriend during her biology class? math class, maybe? where they are learning about chaos theory. The lesson is cut short, though, as the school is very implausibly evacuated out of worry over the freeway shooting, but whatever. The point is, Madison sends Daughter home to go wait for Nick, and then Madison gets this “WHAT DID I TELL YOU” look from Tin Foil Hat:

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1. She totally earned that. 2. And that kid grew up to become Dr. Mullet. (He did not grow up to become Dr. Mullet.)

As for Nick, he meets his buddy Calvin at that one diner in Los Angeles, and Calvin is concerned that Nick is telling people what he “really does,” i.e. sell all the drugs. Nick swears that he hasn’t told anyone, he just needs to know what Calvin gave him recently, because IT MADE GLORIA EAT PEOPLE’S FACES OFF, DUDE. WAS IT BATH SALTS? IT WAS BATH SALTS, RIGHT? Calvin is like, “nope. That didn’t happen because that doesn’t make any sense and you need to pull it together, dude.”

As Nick cries on Calvin’s shoulder, Calvin assures Nick that he’ll hook him up, just come with him and take a little ride, it’ll be totally cool. Calvin then drives Nick to the Los Angeles River, where he takes out a gun from his trunk. However, when he opens Nick’s door, Nick sees the gun in Calvin’s hand, realizes what Calvin’s intentions are, and goes into Super Junkie mode, tackling Calvin and grabbing for the gun. Struggle struggle struggle, and Nick manages to shoot Calvin in the gut, somehow instantly killing him. I don’t think that’s how it works, but we’ll go with it.

With nowhere else to turn, Nick calls Travis who arrives with Madison, and Nick has to confess that he did “a bad thing,” and he explains the situation: he shot and killed Calvin. Madison is like, “I’M SORRY, DO WHAT NOW?” So they drive to the River, consoling themselves that it was self-defense, but when they arrive at Calvin’s car, the body is gone. Poor Nick, who has had a rough couple of days, proceeds to freeeeeeeak out. But what can be done, right?

So when they get back in the truck and back up through the tunnel entrance to the River, who should appear behind them but the reanimated corpse of Calvin. Travis and Madison hop out to check on him against Nick’s protests, only to discover that Calvin has become rather bitey. So Nick pops the truck in reverse and runs over Calvin, hitting him again. Except not, because Calvin gets right back up. So Nick throws the truck in drive, hits Calvin AGAIN, this time knocking his surely dead-by-now body into the riverbank, only to have Calvin turn and look them directly in the eyes. “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?” Madison asks. Zombieland is happening, my dear; you’re going to want to learn the art of the double tap.

Welcome to a whole new, earlier chapter in The Walking Dead universe! So, about this, the first episode. Before the show began, we heard some reports that we would see “Patient Zero” in the zombie apocalypse, and that Gloria would be “the one that starts it all in The Walking Dead.” However, having seen the episode, it’s fairly clear that while Gloria is an early walker, she’s not the cosmic chicken that laid the zombie egg. For one thing, the student at Madison’s school informs her of reports from other cities where people are contracting some sort of virus that turns them into killers. So clearly people are talking about this phenomena and are already concerned.

And then there is the hospital. When Nick’s roommate codes and the medical staff are unable to resuscitate him, the doctor orders that they get the dead man “downstairs, NOW.”

Here’s a fun little document AMC released ahead of the series:

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The most important part of the document are bullet points two and three: “If lifesaving techniques fail to procure life within 60 seconds (one minute) after Time of Death, the techniques are to be terminated and the patient is to be considered expired. Immediate transfer of the deceased to a morgue is necessary. If morgue is more than fifteen (15) minutes away, the remains are to be removed from the the bereaved and restrained by any means necessary,” and “In the event that the deceased resumes signs of life following the cessation of lifesaving technique, the reanimated remains are to be regarded as biological hazard.” Clearly emergency management personnel — including the medical staff at Nick’s hospital — not only knew there were zombies afoot, but had whole procedures in place to deal with them. Based on this, it seems the creators might be more interested in the story of  how the world collapses, notably through the failures of the authorities — how they knew the world was burning but kept the public in the dark — than they are in the origins of the crisis.

That said, there are some hints in this episode that this is a natural event rather than a manmade one. We already know from The Walking Dead that everyone is already fated to become a walker at death; one doesn’t need to be bitten by a zombie or take a hit off, say, some contaminated drugs, for instance, for the zombifying to occur. You just have to die. That suggests that everyone is infected, and that it was probably a simultaneous worldwide event of some sort. Nature just had enough of humanity and unleashed hell in the form of some sort of zombie virus. This theory is supported in this episode via the two class lectures we see: Travis’ lecture on the struggle between man and nature, and the math(?) teacher’s lesson on chaos theory. Sometimes Nature just wins and we don’t know why. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So even though this series is about the beginning of the apocalypse, we will probably never learn anything more about why it happened. But I think that is also part of what the series is trying to say. This lack of information, of understanding — this lack of explanation and reason why will be one of the major themes of this new series.

Check out these two screenshots, curiously both of Travis:

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I think it’s interesting that Travis, a teacher, someone who answers questions, who imparts knowledge, is framed in both shots with giant question marks, the one in the church even explicitly asking “WHY?” Will Travis try to untangle this mystery and will that journey of looking for answers only to find that there are none be part of the Fear the Walking Dead story? Is this series really an exercise in existentialism?

Because go back to that church: the very first scene in this series takes place there, a place where people go in search of answers: why are we here, what happens after we die, why do bad things happen, what’s the purpose of life, who are we, what is the reason for all of this, for this world, for this universe. Just, why? But what is important here is that the church is derelict, it’s abandoned. God has left this place, He has left the collective us. And we will never know why.

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Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on AMC.

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