Details have been pretty scarce when it comes to AMC’s Walking Dead companion series Fear The Walking Dead, which will be debuting later in the summer. But EW caught up with exec producer (and creator of the original Walking Dead comic) Robert Kirkman to get some fresh intel on the show, including a previously unannounced casting.
Kirkman tells us the new zombie drama will focus on two Los Angeles schoolteachers in a relationship: widow Madison (Kim Dickens) and divorced Travis (Cliff Curtis). Both have children from previous marriages: Madison’s high-achieving high-school daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and college flunk-out son Nick (Frank Dillane), along with Travis’ son Chris, who resents his father for the break-up with his mother Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). EW can now reveal that Chris will be played by Lorenzo James Henrie, who recently appeared in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and is perhaps best known for trying to bully a young Spock in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot and for a six-episode arc on 7th Heaven back in 2004.
We spoke to Kirkman to get some more info on what to expect from the new “blended family” on Fear the Walking Dead, and the threat that awaits them.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s the story you’re telling with Fear the Walking Dead, in terms of whom we’re following and the situation they’re in?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: There’s a large cast in this show, just like there’s a large cast in The Walking Dead. But I think at its core this is a story of Travis and Madison, who are these two schoolteachers that both have kids from previous marriages and are very much in love. And then one of the things that really excites me about this show is the fact that this is a show about two people who are a team, and they do back each other up. They do love and respect each other. They’re a happy couple, which is something that you don’t see a lot of on cable television these days. Usually cable television focuses on infidelity, love triangles, divorces, marriages breaking down—that’s really the meat and potatoes of the drama we mostly deal with on TV. So having this interesting couple at the core of this show, fighting against the backdrop of civilization crumbling and the zombie apocalypse, really is the core of things. They’ve got two sets of kids. It’s an interesting situation.
So it’s basically a family dynamic to begin with, and then you put them in this situation with these external pressures to see how they react and bond or do not bond in that situation.
Yeah, I think the idea of having a blended family and trying to make all that work is an interesting family dynamic that could be the basis of its own show. The fact that we have zombies in it is icing on the cake. And the fact that we are dealing with the very beginnings of the zombie apocalypse and watching the world crumble around them, and people are very much unprepared for this world that they’re in and having to very quickly adapt—that’s a second piece of cake next to the piece of a cake.
So are Madison and Travis dating or married? What is their exact status?
They are dating and working very quickly toward marriage.
Why did you guys decide to have Madison and Travis be teachers and start off in a school setting?
I thought it was cool. There’s logistical knowledge, there’s people management, a lot of skills that come from that. And to a certain extent, I think schoolteachers are on the front lines of a lot of things these days with kids and parents and families and all kinds of different elements of society. They are fairly tough individuals, so we’re going to be dealing with a couple of fairly tough individuals on this show.
When exactly does this show start in relation to the outbreak?
We’re very early, but if you think about the way a zombie outbreak would happen, it would happen very organically. It would be happening for a while behind the scenes. In pockets of civilization there would be news stories that didn’t really make sense and didn’t seem connected. And that’s kind of where we pick things up. There are a lot of things on the news, there’s a lot of chatter and paranoia and concern. And yet the vast majority of the population is ignoring these things and talking about their daily lives, and that’s kind of where we pick things up. And things ramp up very quickly from there.
Are we going to then see people first experience symptoms and get a look at what the first walkers look like?
Greg Nicotero and his team have definitely come up with a very unique take on our early walkers. It will harken back a little bit to the early days of the first season of The Walking Dead. But there’s also going to be some nuance, and some cool things added in that will give this show a very unique look. So yeah, there’s going to be a lot of differences and definitely a lot of cool things for fans to catch on to, because they’re actually going to see the early days for the first time.
What is the imperative for these characters on the show? What are their actions centered around? Is it to stop the outbreak? To find a cure? To survive?
That general dynamic is the same as The Walking Dead. These are characters that are focused on survival and they’re not focused on saving the world and they’re not focused on curing the outbreak. They’re focusing on making sure they have enough food, making sure that they’re in a safe place, and making sure that they’re not being attacked. In that respect, it will be somewhat similar to the original show, but they’re going to be surviving in much different ways. And they’re going to be with much different people and be in an extremely different location. So even though they are after the same goal, they will be arriving at the goal in a much different way.
On The Walking Dead, characters always have to deal with the human threat and the zombie threat, and sometimes one is more prominent than the other. I’m curious how that mix is going to show up in this new version, especially when the threat is very confusing to people at first.
I think one of the coolest aspects of this show is the fact that the audience is actually going to be ahead of the characters in many ways, and this is something you always try to avoid in fiction because you don’t want your characters to appear foolish. You don’t want the audience going, “Oh, why did they do that? They shouldn’t have done that.” But we’re toeing a very important line here where this is a world that the audience is more familiar with than the characters—so that leads us to have situations where the audience is going to be terrified for a character even though they don’t necessarily need to be. There will be situations in the world of Fear The Walking Dead where you’ll know that something that they’re doing is dangerous, but the characters themselves haven’t gotten that information yet. So as we’re telling these stories, we’re going to be able to play with that dynamic in a lot of very cool ways.
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