Dave Erickson | FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

PrintE-mail Written by Grant Kempster

From the moment when The Walking Dead bit a large enough chunk in the ratings to spawn another undead show, Fear the Walking Dead has shuffled uneasily through its run, causing fans and critics alike to question whether it had what it would take to live up to the promise of its progenitor. While the end of Season Two showed tremendous promise, Season Three is about to act as a shot of adrenalin that will finally show that Fear can not only live up to that but maybe even surpasses it.

“To be perfectly candid,” Showrunner Dave Erickson acknowledges. “I don’t think we really started to find ourselves until we got to the back half of last season.”

Not that Season Two of the show lacked punch, each and every one of the early episodes had plenty of drama. But as Fear the Walking Dead began its first attempt at a full series run, it became obvious that the creators had decided to take a somewhat more episodic approach.

“The boat was a great backdrop and it allowed us to make the trip to Mexico and that was always the intention and that was a great thing for the show.” Dave elaborates. “The downside of it was that in getting to Mexico there were a number of episodes that did feel episodic. It felt a little more conventional and it was difficult to get grounded. One of the things that I think The Walking Dead does very well – and it’s a by-product of the comic – is when they’re in a location, they stay in that location. They explore it and they’re able to steep themselves in it. I think that we bounced around a bit too much in the first six episodes of Season Two. One of the questions that we discussed at the time was that when we arrived at Thomas Abigail’s compound, did we not want to stay there? Did we not want to invest a bit more? When we got to the back half it was very much about slowing down the pace, making it somewhat more eccentric because Nick had gone through this evolution over the course of the first six or seven episodes. Really telling two separate stories, one anchored by Madison and one anchored by Nick.”

Which brings us to one of the biggest turning points of Season Two; the revelation that the group’s leader wouldn’t turn out to be the group’s patriarch Travis, but rather his wife Madison.

“We had a strong female lead,” Erickson agrees. “It was always about watching her rise and to see how she handled it. The truth is, she handled it not particularly well. She made some choices in Season Two a couple of times, putting her love for her children above the better interests of the group and I think what we’ll see with Madison moving into Season Three is a woman who is going to say goodbye to mercy. She realises that she made a couple of mistakes and she’s not going to allow herself to do that anymore. That will not just compromise her own morality but it will also compromise her relationships with the people that she’s trying to protect.”

As Season Three begins, we begin to see the somewhat unfortunate reunion of the dysfunctional Clark family as they’re rounded up and kept at an army compound, proving once again the living threat looms large, if not larger than the undead one. In fact, from Fear the Walking Dead’s outset, the show has always placed the human menace at the top of the danger chart.

“It really starts as a family drama fundamentally and that’s one of the important elements for this season and the past seasons,” Erickson explains. “When you put that lens on the story it’s always going to start with the human danger with the threats that come from other people toward your family and the things that you’re willing to do to defend them. It’s not to say that the zombies aren’t as deadly, but there’s a realisation that Rick Grimes has in Alexandria that the dead aren’t the actual threat. I think that because that was a place that they had already arrived at on the other show it made sense for us to start there rather than to retread the build up to that realisation. How do these heightened circumstances impact that family and how do you take the elements that existed previously and spin that out into something that feels apocalyptic.”

The setting of the army compound and the experiments being carried out within hark back to familiar zombie ground, namely George A. Romero’s third chapter of his zombie anthology, Day of the Dead. And it’s not the first time that viewers have drawn comparisons with the film series as the group hopped aboard a boat at the end of Season Two (as Romero’s did at the close of Dawn of the Dead). These comparisons are, however, purely coincidental and Erickson has a much more interesting list of films that he’s used as inspiration.

“I have to admit I’m not a typical genre writer,” Dave professes. “I don’t study at the foot of Romero and my favourite movie in the zombie canon is 28 Days Later because I like the intensity of it, I like how he shot the infected, I like how he represented London and then north of the city. That to me was one of the films that I watched repeatedly. We tried to adapt a bit of that energy when it comes to the infected, to the violence of that film. The zombies are not fast moving and I think we need to find ways to manipulate the camera to try and make it more visceral and more violent. More immediate and more dangerous. There’s a sequence with Travis in the zombie pit in the premiere which is really our first attempt at that dynamic.”

“Tonally, one of the films I watched when the show was just beginning was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Phil Kaufman version with Donald Sutherland.” Dave continues, “The thing about that film, especially with the first season, was the sense of dread and paranoia. There was something about what we didn’t know and the slow education of our characters that made it, for me, more interesting and somewhat more psychological. Of course, once we get everyone up to speed and they’ve kind of achieved a level of zombie savvy that went away.”

Whether it was inspired by Romero or not, the group’s arrival at the stockade allowed something to happen that we’ve not seen in a while; the chance to stock up on zombie science.

“Actually I have to credit Cliff Curtis (Travis),” Erickson reveals. “Being a teacher – as his character is – he and I used to talk about [the science]. As he as a character was trying to figure out what these things were, what they represented. He came to me and we were talking about the senses. Well okay, they can see, they can smell because they’re drawn to the living. They must be able to taste because they don’t eat dead things, they’re only looking for live prey. So, if you have a number of the senses are you still human? Is there still something there? That was rather compelling to me, so what we found with Troy and his sidekick Willy in the premiere was to sort of ask some of those questions and start to delve into it.”

So we come to Troy, the loose nut of Season Three that threatens to bring the smooth-running machine to a bloody end at any given moment. The son of a survivalist, Troy is very clearly damaged and has been allowed to run riot since the apocalypse. As a character, you’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next.

“He fancies himself a naturalist, but as a character he is someone who has always been this way,” Dave elaborates. “The apocalypse has given him leave to fully realise himself and his really murderous and perverse potential. The things that they are learning, that they’re trying to decipher – like why not leave a bunch of dead bodies outside of your door because if they smell that they won’t be drawn to it. Troy has a very fixed idea of what he’s studying and the reasons why he’s doing it. It’s a justification for his father and his brother. He’s trying to defend his actions under the guise of science and the need to study. He takes it very seriously, but at his core Troy is aware of who he really is and that is a sociopath.”

For its first two years, Fear the Walking Dead may have been a slow shuffling Walker that tripped as much as it clawed and bit, but there is no denying that this year it’s really hit its stride. The season premieres with the first two barnstorming episodes back to back on Monday June 5th at 2am and 9pm on AMC available via BT.

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