[SPOILER ALERT: Read only after watching Sunday’s premiere episode of Fear the Walking Dead.]
FINALLY! After months of build-up, we got our first taste of Fear the Walking Dead with a supersized series debut. The show started and ended with zombie attacks, using them to bookend a story about a family having trouble coming together even without flesh-eating infected milling about. Showrunner Dave Erickson chatted with us to break down the premiere —including a potentially key piece of information in the Walking Dead universe — and also give us a tease as to what to expect in next week’s episode. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview, and also check out our premiere reacts with stars Kim Dickens, who plays Madison, and Frank Dillane, who plays Nick.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve been hearing all about how it’s going to be a bit of a slow burn to show the onset of the zombie apocalypse, and then you start us off in our very first scene with junkie zombie girl munching on some dude’s face. Tell me about the decision to jump right in with that and have Nick be the guy who first discovers what is going on?
DAVE ERICKSON: That was actually a Robert Kirkman pitch originally, and what we wanted to play with in the pilot and then in the first season was this sense of apprehension and dread and paranoia. So, to have Nick be the one — given his addiction, given his backstory — and be our first character who witnesses an infected, it worked for us because it became a question for the pilot of, did he really see what he believes he saw?
I mean, he doesn’t even believe it. He doesn’t know if it was the drugs that he took. He doesn’t know if he’s losing his mind, and when he tries to convey that to Travis, Travis doesn’t believe him. He sets out to try to discover if he’s right and see what happened, but we were able to play out this idea where the audience knows that what Nick saw is true, but no one else does, and I think that was part of the challenge and the fun of the pilot.
I usually find junkie stories in TV and movies to be pretty tiresome, but I thought Frank Dillane just killed it — no pun intended — as Nick. We spoke about this a while back, but he brought such a lost, childlike quality to the character, like in that scene in the diner with Calvin.
Frank Dillane is an amazing actor and I think he’s a very serious actor, but it was true with him, and it was true with Cliff and with Kim and with Alycia — they all really embody these characters, and the great thing about Nick is there is a vulnerability. There are some scenes in the pilot where he shifts between three or four different emotions in the span of 10 seconds and they all feel real. And that’s something that we thought of when we were casting, and it’s something we want to hold on to, which is the sense that these are people that we can identify with, and they’re people who are incredibly fragile and flawed and yet still, they’ll aspire to the heroic and often fail.
I liked how you showed the other side of that with how Madison reacts to her son’s situation when Kim says “He’d rather sleep in that place than his own bed. I don’t know if I want him to come home. What does that make me?” That’s something a mother in that situation no doubt thinks but may not often say out loud.
Her first husband died when Nick was 13, and that’s pretty much when he went off the rails so she’s been dealing with this for a long time, and I think Madison has a certain familiarity when she’s walking through that shooting gallery searching for Nick, and we’ll come to realize that there’s more to her backstory as well. I think there’s a certain part of her co-dependent relationship with her son that comes from her own sense of guilt and concern that his addiction is more deeply connected to her own family than we might realize at first.
Madison has that one line where she’s talking to that student Tobias where she says, “If there’s a problem we’re going to know about it. The authorities would tell us.” I find that line really haunting because I’m that guy who blindly puts my faith in others in power to tell me when something is amiss, and that seems to be a big arc for you in the start of this series in terms of people who are seeing things are off, and others who choose to explain it away because they’re maybe too trusting or not asking enough questions.
It is absolutely, and I think there’s a callback to come in a subsequent episode where the question of the authorities comes up again and it’s actually a scene with Tobias and Madison. But part of the way this would go down — there’s a certain rapidity to the end of the world when you’ve got people turning and you’ve got a sense of confusion. And because people are confused and because they’re trusting, and their hope is that things are going to be made right by the authorities, they don’t act, and by the time they realize, it’s too late.
Our family will make an effort to get away. Travis is a fixer. He’s somebody that believes there is always a solution and believes that there’s always a corner that will be turned and things will be okay, and he’s entering a world where there are no solutions, and I think that’s going to be challenging for him. Whereas once things get going for Madison, she’s got a little bit more flexibility, and he’s going to be able to find ways to adapt because she’s got something of her own dark past.