Living in the same universe as The Waling Dead, Fear the Walking Dead is a gritty drama that explores the onset of the undead apocalypse through the lens of a fractured family. Set in Los Angeles, a city where people come to escape, shield secrets, and bury their pasts, a mysterious outbreak threatens to disrupt what little stability high school guidance counselor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and English teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) have managed to assemble. The everyday pressure of blending two families while dealing with resentful, escapist, and strung out children takes a back seat when society begins to break down. A forced evolution, a necessary survival of the fittest takes hold, and the dysfunctional family must either reinvent themselves or embrace their darker histories.
It was fairly inevitable that AMC would make a spin-off series of their highest rated show 'The Walking Dead', and 2015 was the year to do it, with five seasons of the show under the network's belt. It's worth noting that the debut episode of 'Fear the Walking Dead on AMC was the highest rated and most watched episode in cable television history, with over ten million viewers. It more or less sustained that viewership despite some rocky reviews. The bad reviews or recaps didn't sway the AMC execs, as they renewed the series for a second season with thirteen episodes instead of the six we got in this first season.
The big part here is how does AMC differentiate and make an original series set in the same setting as their biggest hit show? Where' The Walking Dead' is set in an already post-apocalyptic, zombie filled world where almost everyone is already stitched into this new way of life, 'Fear the Walking Dead' acts more like a prequel in a different part of the country. This prequel series follows the actual beginning of the outbreak from one of the first signs and cases of this zombie plague and how everyone is dealing with it, rather than just show the aftermath. That is one of the main differences here, which is quite a good one.
If you're looking for the high octane action scenes that are usually seen in every episode of 'The Walking Dead', you really won't find that here. Instead, we follow a broken family, dealing with this new outbreak and being forced to lead a new and awful life, which mostly just consists of survival. In 'The Walking Dead', we first see most of the characters having already come to terms and transitioned into this new way of life, whereas here, we see everyone living normal lives, then starting to deal with this horrible situation.
In the opening scene, we see a young guy named Nick (Frank Dillane), who wakes up an a shoddy, abandoned old church with needles sticking out of his arm. In his drug induced state, he sees his girlfriend chomping down on someone else. This causes Nick to run out of the church and into the street where he is almost immediately hit by a car, which sends him to the hospital. There, his mother Madison (Kim Dickens), her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), and his sister Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) are by his side, struggling with his drug addiction, and wanting to know what happened.
Nick doesn't quite believe what he saw, but he knows deep down that it wasn't a hallucination. Still, he tries to tell them. Most people don't believe him, but when Travis goes to investigate himself, he knows Nick is telling the truth. Soon after that, more and more people start turning into zombies and the outbreak begins. 'Fear the Walking Dead' follows this family along with some other supporting characters related to Travis's previous relationship, as they come to terms with the situation and try and get out of the big city of Los Angeles, which proves more difficult than they thought.
There are riots, looters, protestors, high crime, and of course, zombies to deal with now. As I would think would happen realistically here, there are always a ton of people who will deny what's happening right in front of them. The drug addiction angle is also very good, as we get to see not only a struggle with surviving from flesh eaters, but also trying to kick a bad drug habit, which has its own consequences when trying to stay quiet or run for your life. Again, this is more of a slow-burn show, at least for this first season where there are more melodramatic moments than there are action scenes with blood and zombies, which might upset some fans.
That being the case, the show-runners here have allowed us some excellent character development to really get down to the nooks and crannies of each character that completely pays off in the final episode of this season. In between the long stretches of talking and dramatic moments here, are some pretty suspenseful zombie scenes that are on par with any episode of 'The Walking Dead'. You just won't get as many of them. The practical zombie effects are still top notch here and the show is shot very well.
The setting of the big city is a character in itself and becomes more of an enemy to our survivors than an ally, which is fun and entertaining to see. This first season surely sets up some big moments to come next season. Let's just hope the pace picks up a bit and that all the great things from season one passes through to season two.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fear the Walking Dead' Season One Special Edition has two 50GB Blu-ray Discs that are housed in an eco-friendly hard blue plastic case and is Region A locked with a single page insert telling us when both 'Fear the Walking Dead' and 'Preacher' will air, as well as the digital download code. The case also has a cardboard sleeve. Four episodes are on Disc 1 and two episodes plus the extras are on Disc 2.
'Fear the Walking Dead' Season One comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The entire season looks great, with the detail looking very sharp and vivid at all times, even in the darker sequences. Closeups reveal every gooey practical makeup effect, wrinkle, individual facial hair, and makeup blemish very well.
Wider shots of Los Angeles look equally impressive, giving the image some great depth, no matter if we are in a well lit area or very dark room. It all looks very good. Colors are well saturated and balanced and pop off screen when in well lit areas. Black levels are always inky and the skin tones are natural throughout. There were no issues with banding, aliasing, or any other compression problem, leaving this video presentation just as good as the other AMC series.
This release comes with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and sounds excellent from start to finish. Sound effects pack a punch and come from every speaker perfectly with great directionality. Each gun blast, punch, hit, kick, and zombie kill sounds exquisite and gruesome. It's all very realistic and robust. Ambient noises of riots, people scattering, and zombie growls are intense and dynamic at all times. You'll feel every sound effect as you are fully immersed in this chaotic world where the zombie apocalypse begins.
Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, or high shrills. The score is sweeping and adds to each suspenseful and dramatic moment. There is quite a bit of bass that never crosses into rocky territory either. The dynamic range is wide and the LFE is excellent here, leaving this audio presentation with great marks.
Basically, the only difference with this "Special Edition" are the additional extras. There is commentary on each episode and some new bonus features. The problem is that more than 85% of the extras are comprised of just clips from the show, rarely showing any on-set footage or how they did any of the makeup or effects work. Very disappointing.
Audio Commentaries - Each episode has selectable commentary with select cast and crew, who all discuss the tone, themes, and characters of each episode. There is not constant discussion and is not as lively as I thought it could be. There are some trivia and behind the scenes anecdotes here and there.
Pilot Episode: The Widescreen Version (HD, 65 Mins.) - The entire pilot episode in widescreen is a choice you can make on Disc-2.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 7 Mins.) - There are a few deleted scenes here, all of which are fairly short, and show more people dealing with the zombie infection, crying at the ocean, and a tiny bit more character development.
Inside 'Fear: The Walking Dead' (HD, 32 Mins.) - Each episode has a five or so minute bonus feature where select cast and crew discuss each episode's storyline and character with too many clips from the show interspersed here. There is no behind the scenes footage here.
Fear: The Beginning (HD, 11 Mins.) - The cast and crew talk about the very beginning of the zombie apocalypse and how it started in the big city, as well as how their characters deal with it. Again, there are way too many clips of the show here with zero behind the scenes footage.
Five Things You Need to Survive (HD, 3 Mins.) - Here is a quick, funny extra with the cast telling us what five things or people they would bring to the zombie apocalypse. MacGyver is mentioned. Again, there are more clips from the show.
Locations: LA & Vancouver (HD, 7 Mins.) - The cast and crew discuss the differences between shooting in Los Angeles and Vancouver, as well as, which place would be easier to survive the zombie apocalypse. Yes, there are more clips from the show.
Quarantined (HD, 7 Mins.) - With a wink of on-set footage, the cast and crew talk about being quarantined and the military becoming the bad guys, plus a ton of clips from the show.
Stunts and Anarchy (HD, 7 Mins.) - Cast and crew talk about how they hit Frank Dillane with the car in the first scene of the series as well as how they got all of the actors to film the mass chaos in the riot scene. There is some decent on-set footage here of how they filmed the stunts along with some clips from the show.
The Faces of Fear (HD, 6 Mins.) - The main actors deliver their own character bios with even more clips from the show.
The Infected (HD, 5 Mins.) - The cast and crew talk about the zombies themselves here with a few seconds devoted to showing makeup application, as well as discussions on the difference between fresh wounds as supposed to year long decaying wounds. Yes, even more clips from the show.
This "Special Edition" of 'Fear: the Walking Dead' Season One is virtually the same release as the standard version. The only two differences are the new extras and the digital download copy that comes with this release. Unfortunately, the extras are NOT that exciting or really even that good. Most of the extras are just clips from the show with a few people discussing certain aspects of the series and characters. It was a let down for sure. Still ,the video and audio presentations are top notch with an option to view the pilot episode only in widescreen. The series itself is still great. For those of you who already purchased the standard version, there is no need to pick this one up. However, if you do not own this season already, and you can find it for the right price, you might as well pick up this version.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.