In 'Walking Dead' Spin-Off, Expect To Get An Apocalyptic Education

Aug 23, 2015

When Fear the Walking Dead premiers Sunday night on AMC, don't expect to see Sheriff Grimes. There's no Daryl, either. In fact, the streets aren't even overrun yet with those dirty, hungry hoards of the undead that viewers know so well.

Still, something weird is happening — and it's happening in LA, not Atlanta, this time around. Fear, a prequel to the hit show The Walking Dead, swaps the post-apocalyptic Deep South for the West Coast, where that apocalypse still has yet to happen (or is just getting underway).

As show-runner Dave Erickson explains, that change of location was decided quite early in the series' planning process — when he and Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic books, began discussing the shape of the new show.

"When he and I first sat down, he had already decided on Los Angeles," Erickson explains. "It was somewhat predetermined by the master of this universe."

But don't expect to see the city's standard landmarks, either. Instead, the action takes place in El Sereno, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles. He says the aim was to have the setting and characters reflect the makeup of the real LA.

"It's incredibly dense and incredibly vibrant as a place. It's surrounded by freeways which is something we tried to capture as another icon of Los Angeles," Erickson tells Tess Vigeland of All Things Considered. "It was a process of trying to find pockets and areas that hadn't been shot before and also to try to draw out a community that's not typically filmed."

To hear their full conversation, click the audio link above.


Interview Highlights

On the timing of the new show

Our Season 1 going into Season 2 takes place in the time in which Rick Grimes was in a coma. So, Rick is shot in the comic and in the pilot of the original show, and our story would start about the same time. Because Rick was asleep through the fall of civilization, it was a chance to see what Rick had missed.

On the challenges of writing a prequel for a cultural touchstone

Both shows live under the same mythological umbrella, so the rules of the walkers, our infected, are the same — you know, the way the walkers turn, how you kill them, headshots.

What we did have an opportunity to do was show the steps by which people adjust to the apocalypse. You know, something is not right and now you're trying to tear up my throat. ... You want to help and you assume that the person is sick. You assume the person is on something, and that's part of the process, the process of discovery.

It's really an apocalyptic education for our characters. And our core group of characters are the first to witness, you know, first-hand the turning. It's really a process in the pilot of them coming to understand something unnatural is taking place. It's something otherworldly.

On the new characters

Obviously on The Walking Dead, with Rick and Shane you have two police officers. In some respects, they are sort of primed for something apocalyptic. And we wanted to start with characters who were completely ill-prepared for anything that was to come.

So, we have a guidance counselor, we have an English literature teacher at a local high school. And the goal was to essentially take the group — elements of the group — that we first meet outside of Atlanta at the end of the pilot of the original show and begin to demonstrate and dramatize the process by which they become, you know, zombie savvy.

It's interesting, because I think when you have characters that are that vulnerable — for me, that puts me that much more on edge.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

There is no Sheriff Grimes. There's no Daryl. In fact, the streets are not yet overrun with the dirty, glassy-eyed, hungry, walking dead people, but something weird is happening.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FEAR THE WALKING DEAD")

LINCOLN CASTELLANOS: (As Tobias) They don't know if it's a virus or a microbe. They don't know, but it's spreading.

KIM DICKENS: (As Madison Clark) You need to...

CASTELLANOS: (As Tobias) No. People are killing.

DICKENS: (As Madison Clark) You need to spend less time online, OK?

VIGELAND: That's the setup for tonight's premiere of "Fear The Walking Dead" on AMC, a spinoff of the hit show "The Walking Dead," which finished its fifth season back in March. Dave Erickson is the show runner for the prequel, which moves the action from post-apocalyptic Atlanta to pre- or current apocalyptic Los Angeles because, Dave Erickson, Los Angeles doesn't have enough threats to worry about?

DAVE ERICKSON: (Laughter).

VIGELAND: Figured you throw zombies at us, as well? (Laughter).

ERICKSON: I blame Robert Kirkman for that.

VIGELAND: This is Robert Kirkman, the creator.

ERICKSON: Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic book - you know, creator of "The Walking Dead." When he and I first sat down, he had already decided on Los Angeles. It was somewhat predetermined by the master of this universe.

VIGELAND: And give us a sense of where we are in time when "Fear The Walking Dead" comes to life tonight.

ERICKSON: We are starting where - our season one going into season two takes place in the time in which Rick Grimes was in a coma. So Rick is shot in the comic and in the pilot of the original show. And our story would start about the same time because Rick was asleep through the fall of civilization. You know, it was a chance to see what Rick had missed.

VIGELAND: The risk, of course, with a prequel or a sequel, for that matter, especially for a cultural touchstone that draws some 20 million viewers a week, is that you have expectations to live up to.

ERICKSON: Sure.

VIGELAND: What are some of the specific challenges that writers faced in creating what's a familiar yet a very different world? And how much of "The Walking Dead" can and will we recognize, if any?

ERICKSON: Both shows live under the same mythological umbrella, so the rules of the walkers - our infected - are the same - you know, the way the walkers turn, how you kill them - head shots. What we did have an opportunity to do was show the steps by which people adjust to the apocalypse. You know, something is not right, and, yeah, you're trying to tear out my throat.

VIGELAND: (Laughter).

ERICKSON: You know, you - typically, you're not - you want to help, and you assume the person is sick. You assume the person is on something, and that's part of the process - the process of discovery. It's really an apocalyptic education for our characters. And our core group of characters are the first to witness, you know, firsthand the turning. It's really a process in the pilot of them coming to understand something unnatural is taking place. It's something otherworldly.

VIGELAND: Your main protagonists are a blended family with the parents working at a high school. This is a far cry from a sheriff. What are some of the unique decisions that crop up because of that? What was behind that decision?

ERICKSON: That was - it was - the goal was to have - and obviously, on "The Walking Dead" with Rick and Shane, you have two police officers. In some respects, they are - they're sort of primed for something apocalyptic. And we wanted to start with characters who were completely ill-prepared for anything that was to come. So we have a guidance counselor. We have an English literature teacher at a local high school. And the goal was to essentially take the group - elements of the group that we first meet outside of Atlanta at the end of the pilot of the original show and begin to demonstrate and dramatize the process by which they become, you know, zombie savvy. You know, and I think it became, you know, essentially...

VIGELAND: (Laughter).

ERICKSON: And I think it's a - it's interesting 'cause I think when you have characters that are that vulnerable, for me, it puts me that much more on edge.

VIGELAND: Well, the high school is set in El Sereno, a smallish community east of downtown Los Angeles with a name that, by the way, means the serene one. What drew you there versus, say, where we are here in Culver City or even Beverly Hills?

ERICKSON: We wanted the cast to reflect the makeup of Los Angeles. And so, you know, we wanted to avoid any landmarks that people - we didn't want to see the Capitol Records Building. We didn't want to see the Hollywood sign. What happened was we landed on Woodrow Wilson High School, which is in El Sereno, and really sort of stretched out from that location because El Sereno is east side of LA, in the shadow of downtown. And it's incredibly dense and incredibly vibrant as a place. It's surrounded by freeways, which is something we tried to, you know, capture as another icon of Los Angeles. There's a process of trying to find pockets in areas that hadn't been shot before and also to try to draw out a community that's not typically filmed.

VIGELAND: Dave Erickson is the show runner for "Fear The Walking Dead," which premieres tonight on AMC. Thank you for coming in and for the zombie savvy.

ERICKSON: Thank you for having me. It's been great.

VIGELAND: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland. You can follow us on Twitter - @NPRWATC. And I'm @TessVigeland. That's V-I-G-E-L-A-N-D. Arun Rath is back next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening, and stay safe out there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.