By Dalton Ross
July 07, 2015 at 09:01 PM EDT
Justin Lubin/AMC

When Rick Grimes woke up from his coma on The Walking Dead, the zombie apocalypse was in full cannibalistic swing. Fear the Walking Dead’s debuts in August, however, will show the outbreak as it happens. That means we’ll see something on the new series we haven’t seen previously: mass confusion.

Before we see the characters — led by dating couple Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Madison (Kim Dickens) — kill any zombies, we will have to watch them coming to grips with comprehending the fact that the zombies even exist. EW chatted with Fear showrunner Dave Erickson to get the scoop on this unique wrinkle, as well as what else to expect from AMC’s companion show.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you describe the two main characters at the center of this whole thing in Madison and Travis?

DAVE ERICKSON: For Madison and Travis, the goal was to establish a strong couple. They’re not married yet: He’s divorced, her first husband passed away several years ago, and the idea is they have the quality of soul-mates. They met each other, they’re strong for each other, they compliment each other in the best way. What I love about that is that it’s taking this very fundamentally sound relationship and then seeing how the apocalypse changes that. Seeing how our personalities begin to evolve as time passes in the face of this. I think they’re very understanding of each other’s flaws, and what’s interesting is to take the normal complications that exist in a good relationship and then put them under intense strain and see how each of the characters react.

A lot of what, thematically, the show is about to me is it’s very much about identity, which is one of the reasons we chose Los Angeles as a place to set the show. It is a city of change, it’s a place where people come to either start new or to distance themselves from their pasts, and that’s the case for a lot of our characters. It’s interesting to see individually, but also interesting to see in terms of relationship and family how those established identities begin to fracture and begin to change.

How does the physical environment of L.A. play a part in making this show feel different than what we have seen down in Georgia on the original Walking Dead?

It’s denser. We’ve shot primarily in east L.A. and whenever we’re outside in that environment and you look out and see the hills that are stacked with houses, and you see the freeways — just the sense of density and population for the audience in the pilot and the first few episodes — they’re a little bit ahead of our characters. They know what’s coming and there’s that anticipation and anxiety of waiting for our family to catch up and realize what’s going on, learn the rules, learn how to survive.

I think that any time we have this sort of vibrancy and chaos of the city and we’re reminded of the fact that there are millions and millions of people surrounding our characters, and there’s that dread of, “Holy s—, a bulk of those people are about to die.” For us, it was always about the shark you don’t see in the beginning of the show, and it was trying to understand something very wrong is happening and what is it? There’s a level of paranoia, there’s a level of anxiety, there’s a very disquieting feeling initially. And we have walkers and we play to the some of the beautiful tropes of the genre, but there’s a certain psychological tension that we have in the beginning.

It’s funny you mention the psychology of it, because on the regular Walking Dead you know if you see a walker, you kill it. I have to imagine the early steps of this are, “Is it murder to kill this person?”

And that’s one of the challenges: “Why are you behaving this way?” When push comes to shove, people have seen enough—I mean, we’re looking at the apocalypse through the filter of this family drama, so they’ll witness this, they’ll be confronted with people who have turned, they will be forced to contend with this. And in many ways Madison and Travis, Nick and Alicia — our core family — are slightly ahead of the game. And what’s interesting is as they come to realize more of what’s going on, there will still be neighbors, there will still be people in their lives who haven’t quite caught on yet. It’s a strange disconnect at times where, why are people not recognizing what’s going on?

It’s always an interesting scene when you’re trying to explain to a person that the world is over, and that people have come back from the dead. It’s an interesting little story navigation that Robert brilliantly ellipsed over in the comic, and I think that the download Lennie James’ character gives to Rick in the pilot of The Walking Dead is perfect. Basically, Rick has come out of his coma and Morgan’s able to say, “Hey, look, here’s what’s happened. Here’s what these things are.” We get to explore the process really by which Morgan’s character came to learn that, which I think is interesting.

We haven’t seen the actual outbreak before, so was there any process at all in terms of you having to be in communication with Robert Kirkman or anyone else in terms of the rules that you are establishing with this world?

We co-wrote the pilot, so he’s been very involved. We’re living under the same mythological umbrella, so we have to follow the rules that he laid out in the comic and in the show. So at any time if we’re in danger of veering or playing at something that’s not been established in the original, he’s all over that. We have the benefit of working with the executive producing team of the original show, so we’ve got Robert, Dave Alpert, Gale Anne Hurd, and Greg Nicotero. So there’s enough guidance. It’s a different look for the walkers, and Greg Nicotero was very hands-on in defining the look of our fresher zombies, for lack of a better word. We’ve decided not to veer from the rules of the original, just because I think what Robert has done works, and there’s no reason to push that particular envelope.

Although the characters and events on your show do not come from the comics, is there anything you did take from the comic that we might see?

The vibe. Thematically, what I love about the comic and what I love about the show is that it feels very grounded to me in terms of the character dynamics and the relationships. I think that’s the reason the comic and the show have been as successful as they’ve been, so that as a mile marker was very important when we started working. But in terms of story, in terms of elements, most of what I love about the comic has been used in the show. Now that you say that, I’m going to have to go back and see if I can start to find some Easter eggs and find some connective tissue.

For more ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.


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