'Fear the Walking Dead' Producers Defend Title, Answer Burning Questions

Fear the Walking Dead Cast - H 2015
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Fear the Walking Dead Cast - H 2015

The cast and producers of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead met a skeptical yet optimistic press corps Friday at the Television Critics Association where producers helped piece together how the companion series to TV's top-rated zombie drama would work.

The drama, from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner Dave Erickson, stars Cliff Curtis as Travis, a teacher who shares a son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) with his ex-wife Liza (Orange Is the New Black's Elizabeth Rodriguez) and is romantically involved with guidance counselor Madison (Kim Dickens). Frank Dillane co-stars as Madison's drug-addicted son, Nick; Alycia Debnam Carey is Madison's ambitious daughter, Alicia — Nick's polar opposite who dreams of leaving Los Angeles for Berkeley when the apocalypse strikes. Ruben Blades co-stars as Daniel Salazar and Mercedes Mason is set as Daniel's daughter, Ofelia, who encounter the core cast when the civilization begins to crumble. Adam Davidson co-exec produces and directed the pilot. The companion series — at least the first season — takes place at the on set of the outbreak, effectively the period that Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) was in the coma during the pilot of The Walking Dead. (Kirkman was not present and was still recovering from throat surgery that also forced him to miss Comic-Con.)

Here are the highlights from the panel, though many of the questions discussed at TCA can be found here.

About the death rate of the show's African-American characters:

Early episodes (the first two were provided for critics) show two African-American characters in peril and Erickson noted that the show — like the flagship — is an equal opportunity character killer. "There will be a balance; there are a number of white characters who die as well," he said.

Don't expect to hear "walkers" on Fear.

The Walking Dead avoids using the term "zombie" and Fear will avoid using the flagship's default term of "walkers." "We don't call them walkers, we're coming up with as much cool West Coat verbage as we can," Erickson said, noting that the pacing on Fear is much slower paced than the original. "We tried to slow burn the story and make it about the anxiety, tension and paranoia that comes with outbreak as much as it's about zombies."

Season one won't end with the timeline of Rick waking up from the coma.

Erickson said that he's allowing some room to catch up with Rick waking up. "By the end of season one, we know the world has changed; it is the end of the world as we know it but we aren't at the same place we were when Rick woke up in Georgia," he said. "By time we end season one, there's still a window of time and exploration that we have some real estate left. We come to realize things have changed but there's still the whole world … [they're] still insulated of the greater truth of what's going on. Part of what we'll explore in season two is that very thing. Will we look for the next sanctuary and battle our way into it? That's not something I'll explore in season two," Erickson noted, though he wouldn't rule it out for season three.

Don't expect to see the cause of the outbreak.

"No," a confident Erickson reiterated when asked if Fear would answer the biggest question in the Walking Dead series (and comics) universe: how it all started.

"Robert's goal was to examine elements of the show and the comic that he didn't do before," Erickson said. Added exec producer Dave Alpert, who developed both Fear and the flagship: "The show in season six is different than what's happening in season one and there were so many questions about what happened in season one that we thought it was a ripe area that wouldn't tread on the mothership. We look at Fear as unique enough to stand on its own with characters you'd be invested in." What will be seen, however, are the first responders to the outbreak. "When Rick exits the hospital in the pilot … you see the presence of the military and MASH units. We're never going to tell the story from the perspective of someone from the CDC or military — not the generals or politicians — but you will see military, and you will get a sense of first responders when they went sideways and what they did to protect their families. That's very much a part of the arc of the season."

It's really a family drama — with zombies.

Davidson stressed Fear plans on keeping the action going by focusing on the family and that the series won't turn into the slow rut that The Walking Dead experienced while at Hershel's (Scott Wilson) farm. "We're experiencing the fall of L.A. through the fall of this family, and you're in the trenches with them," he said. "That's what makes it exciting and what keeps it emotional and grounded. It is a city of 14 million people — there is going to be plenty of encountering of the infected types." Added Erickson: "When it gets really boring, we go to a laugh track."

Fear won't catch up with the flagship — at least for now.

"Rick's coma was approximately four to five weeks. If you track the trajectory of our story, the starting point is not dissimilar," Erickson said, adding that season one covers a three-week period. "There is a time that may come when we catch up with their chronology … there may be a season where we do a major time cut, because that's interesting to me. The thinking for season one and two isn't about, 'How do we intersect with them or catch up with the original show.' "

About that title …

After AMC confirmed that the series would be called Fear the Walking Dead, critics and fans alike instantly ripped the title. Erickson and Alpert noted it was a long process to solidify the title that was what the original script was called. We wanted The Walking Dead in the title and we wanted to avoid: The Walking Dead: Los Angeles. So we put something in the beginning," Erickson said, noting that the show has become more known as Fear in the months since the series pickup (and subsequent 15-episode second season) was announced. The showrunner also previewed that Ruben has a line of dialogue that incorporates "fear in the coolest way." "There was practical reason to do it but it speaks to what the characters are going to go through and where the show is going to go to a certain degree."