At long last, AMC debuted its highly anticipated “The Walking Dead” companion series, “Fear the Walking Dead.” The prequel show opened strong, laying a lot of ground work and packing some real scares.
For those that don’t know, the series takes place within the same universe as “The Walking Dead,” but it’s set in Los Angeles during the days before the first episode of the original series -- while Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is still in a coma, specifically.
The series opened with a character named Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) waking up with a hangover in the middle of an abandoned church. He’s calling out for someone named Gloria who’s nowhere to be found. He lazily stumbles about the building until he finds a fresh dead body with a pretty sizeable chunk ripped out of its neck. Realizing the party is definitely over, he picks up a weapon and checks the next room for Gloria. As it turns out, she was in the other room, but revealed herself to be the first walker (or “infected”) in “Fear the Walking Dead.”
She stands up with a mouth full of human face and a gigantic knife sticking out of her side. Undeterred by her injuries and sudden new cravings, she goes after Nick, who narrowly escapes by sprinting into the street. His moment of safety doesn’t last long as he gets hit by a car almost immediately. Just like that, we find ourselves in the midst of the first episode of “Fear the Walking Dead.”
After a pretty cool opening sequence, the episode slows way down as we’re introduced to the rest of our main characters for the episode, starting with Nick’s mother, Madison Clark (Kim Dickens). Madison is a guidance counselor at the local high school where her daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) goes to school. Alicia is a bratty teen who kicks her mom out of the bathroom in the morning and displays a perpetual snotty attitude. Joining the Clark clan is Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), who is dating Madison and just moved in with her. He is also a teacher at the high school. They’re enjoying a flirtatious morning when they get the call that Nick is in the hospital after getting run over.
They show up to find him avoiding answering any of the police’s questions about what happened to him as he’s slowly coming down from whatever drugs he was taking. Madison isn’t able to miss work that day so she leaves Travis with Nick and brings Alicia to school. The mood at the school is grim as a lot of people are out sick suffering from a “flu” of some sort. However, Madison soon learns the more viral savvy children are already aware some kind of virus is slowly turning people violent, and the government isn’t sure what’s happening.
“They don’t know if it’s a virus or a microbe, but it’s spreading,” one boy says. “People are killing.”
Meanwhile, a somewhat more sober Nick is awake and ready to tell someone what he saw. He recaps the events in the church and Travis decides to have a look for himself before he dismisses the story as drug-fueled ramblings. When he does, he sees a lot of blood but no bodies, or any hard evidence to suggest what Nick was saying is true.
“They didn’t just walk away,” he later says, in what is perhaps the most incorrect statement in the horror genre since “we should split up.”
The next day, after Madison and Travis finally leave Nick alone in the hospital, he escapes by stealing the clothes of his elderly, and possibly dead, roommate. His goal is to find the drug dealer who sold him last night’s batch and figure out what it was laced with because he definitely did not see a zombie girl munching on someone’s face.
In a frantic effort to find him, Travis and Madison search all over town. They revisit the church, where Madison finally agrees there was more going on than her son’s drug-addled imagination. In addition, they track down one of Nick’s old friends, Calvin (Keith Powers), but he says he hasn’t spoken to him in a while.
Defeated, they start to drive home when the police block traffic on the highway. A helicopter overhead announces everyone should remain in their vehicles. In true Los Angeles fashion, the duo steps out of their car just in time to hear police unload a hail of gunfire off in the distance. Travis gets them out of there but no one knows exactly what happened until the next morning.
Madison, Travis and Alicia arrive at school to learn that most of the students have stayed home due to the flu, coupled the nasty rumor that last night’s highway incident has something to do with it. Footage from the helicopter that apparently leaked online showed confused police engaging a walker, attempting to beat it with batons as it bites a few officers. Eventually, they shoot it in the chest several times only to be flabbergasted that it seemingly absorbed the barrage of bullets and stood up. Finally, an officer shoots it in the head, ending the scene but sparking rumors something biological is happening. The school district decides to cancel school for the day, and Alicia finally realizes her boyfriend, Matt, may not be ignoring her texts after all.
Meanwhile, Nick has tracked down his drug dealer, who turns out to be Calvin. He isn’t too thrilled that Madison and Travis came looking for Nick and seems pretty unstable when they meet up. He tells Nick that he’s going to give him a fix, but instead drives them to a secluded location along the LA canals. He opens Nick’s door and he notices a gun in Calvin’s hand. The two scuffle and Nick manages to shoot Calvin point-blank in the chest.
Now that he’s responsible for a murder, the whole “run away from home” act is over and he calls Travis to help him out. He shows up with Madison (not as planned) and they go to the spot where Calvin’s body is supposed to be. Anyone who knows anything about zombies probably can guess what happened next -- Calvin was gone.
However, his car was still definitely there, so Nick knows he’s not entirely crazy. As they’re leaving, Calvin reveals himself as the episode’s third walker. The naive Madison and Travis try to help him but quickly realize he’s only interested in trying to eat them. Nick, being the episode’s designated action hero at this point, throws the car into reverse and backs over his former friend/dealer. He runs him over one more time only to realize that being shot in the chest and run over twice hasn’t hampered Calvin's ability to live.
With the world finally realizing something very bad is happening, and our main characters discovering the initial rules of how a zombie works, the special 90-minute series premiere ended with the three of them standing dumbfounded at the incapacitated walker moaning before them.
“Fear the Walking Dead” airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. EDT on AMC.