Welcome to “Fear the Walking Dead,” a show during which you will spend a great deal of time yelling at the protagonists to look out, there’s zombies there, only they won’t, because they don’t know what zombies are yet. But they’re about to learn!
We open with a young fellow awakening in an abandoned building. He’s got slightly red eyes, just to mess with you, and he’s looking for a gal named Gloria. Where can she be? He searches for her throughout the building, innocently calling her name, until he discovers a dead body in the hallway. Things only get worse when he does eventually find her, hunched over on the floor. We finally get the big zombie reveal moment, because she turns around with a mouth full of brains. He sprints out of there onto an empty street, only to get hit by a car moments later. Not that guy’s best morning, most likely.
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We cut to a very normal morning in a house with a teenager, as Madison (Kim Dickens) hustles around her house, telling her daughter Alicia to get ready for school and chatting with her boyfriend, Travis (Cliff Curtis). The phone rings, and everyone gets unusually anxious. It turns out that our zombie attack victim is her son, Nick, and she’s used to getting calls like this, because he’s a heroin addict. Everyone goes to the hospital to check in on him, where the doctors say he presented as delusional, so they restrained him.
He’s feeling a bit more cagey now, and backs off his zombie attack story. His mom wants to send him to rehab, but he tells her it’s not worth it, and both he and Alicia yell at Travis and tell him he’s not needed there. Poor Travis calls his ex to talk to his own kid, who bluntly tells him he doesn’t want to come stay with his dad for the weekend. Travis gives up and tells him he can stay with his mom, a decision he will surely regret once things get really bad here.
Travis stays at the hospital with Nick, and Madison and Alicia head to the high school, where Alicia is a student and Madison is a guidance counselor. Alicia doesn’t have the most optimism for Nick’s recovery.
At the school, Madison learns that a lot of kids are mysteriously out sick, and stops a student from bringing a knife into the building. She assumes he’s in trouble with kids at school, but he tells her some vague things about viruses that she totally reasonably for real life but unwisely on this show ignores.
Back at the hospital, Nick tells Travis a bit more about what he saw. He says he’s never hallucinated before while on heroin, and that he’s worried he’s losing his mind.
Travis works on that Stepfather of the Year award by going to the church, alone, at night, to investigate what Nick said. Even if Travis is going with the concept that Nick hallucinated something, going there alone at night is pretty courageous and/or reckless. He finds one non-zombie but very freaked out dude who runs away, and enough blood to convince him that something really did happen there.
Back at the hospital, Alicia and Nick have a sweet moment where she feeds him jello and he promises to stop using. She doesn’t seem to believe him.
Travis tells Madison what he found at the church, but she tells him not to enable Nick by confirming his hallucination.
Alicia has a cute boyfriend, who invites her to the beach after school. She wants him to go to Berkeley with her, but he knows that’s an unrealistic goal for him, and she reassures herself that she only has one more year to make it through before she can get out of this town. You know, normal teenager concerns that are about to become completely moot.
We get a quick scene of Travis being a really good English teacher, engaging even his slacker students. Pointedly, they are learning about man versus nature, and humanity’s drive for survival. Madison watches for a few minutes, then goes to the principal’s office. He’s hunched over awkwardly, just like a zombie, but then it turns out he’s actually listening to the teachers to assess them. This show enjoys its fakeouts.
Nick sweet talks a nurse into untying one of his hands while he pees into a bed pan, and the moment she walks out, he sets himself free. He knocks over the bed pan noisily, but his roommate chooses that moment to die, providing enough distraction that Nick is able to steal the man’s clothes and slip out.
After discovering that her son has gone missing again, Madison makes Travis take her back to the church, where she finds some of Nick’s paraphernalia, but no Nick. The gore and blood are still there, though. Their next stop is to visit Nick’s old friend Calvin, but Calvin swears he has no idea where Nick is.
Nick’s busy wandering around town by himself, urgently calling someone with his new phone, while Alicia’s adorable boyfriend doesn’t show up to meet her at the beach, and we can only assume what that means.
Travis and Madison get stuck in some kind of police action traffic jam on the way home, which quickly turns into something more ominous when they hear helicopters overhead and then gunshots. They bail out quickly before they can see anything else.
We learn what happened the next morning, because of course someone captured it on a camera. The teachers and the students are both watching it. A paramedic is seen strapping a man on a stretcher, who jerks back into motion and attacks the paramedic. He’s beaten with batons, shoved away, and eventually shot multiple times. Travis points out that this is exactly what Nick described. School closes down early, and Madison sends Alicia home on the bus and goes out to find Nick with Travis.
Nick limps into a diner, and we finally see who he’s been calling, which turns out to be his old friend Calvin, who is a very good liar. Nick wants to know if there was anything unusual in the drugs he sold him, and Calvin harshly shoots down this idea. He also doesn’t believe Nick’s story about Gloria. But he does take Nick off to hook him up with some more drugs. He spends most of the car ride asking Nick if the cops talked to him while he was in the hospital, and then brings the car to a dried out reservoir.
Nick belatedly works out that Calvin has brought him here to kill him, and they struggle with a gun briefly before Nick somehow, sort of miraculously, emerges the victor, with Calvin getting shot and dying. So that’s twice now that Nick, despite his existential “none of this is worth it” addict’s mentality, has fought ferociously to survive.
Shockingly, Nick calls Travis to help him out. Madison comes along, and Nick haltingly explains what happened, and Travis, really earning his points, says that whatever happened, it was self-defense. But Calvin is not where Nick left him. Nick has a bit of a meltdown at this point, because nothing he’s seeing seems to be reality, and then they try to depart.
But while they’re backing up, they see a figure in the tunnel they’re in. Madison and Travis get out to investigate, and Nick yells at them to stop, but of course they don’t listen. It’s a shambling Calvin, who jumps at them and attacks, and Nick, thinking pretty clearly all things considered, runs him over with the car. Bones sticking out freely and missing parts of his face, Calvin rises again, so Nick slams into him with the car again and knocks him out into the reservoir.
All three of them step out to investigate, and Calvin continues twitching, as a zombie is wont to do. He was so handsome, too.
And that’s the beginning of “Fear the Walking Dead.” We’re all assuming that little nibble Calvin had on Madison is non fatal because she’s the star of the show, right?