Warning: There are spoilers for this episode in this recap and review.
Fear the Walking Dead takes place in Los Angeles during the start of the zombie outbreak. You can watch the opening scene to the pilot of the episode here. The opening features a man, Nick, finding a zombie, but as he runs away, he gets hit by a car and tons of people come to see if he's ok. Nick seems like a bit of a drug addict with a lot problems. His parents, mother and step-father, care for him, but apparently not enough to care if he's doing drugs an abandoned building. Nick was apparently missing for some time.
There are problems between Nick and his family as well. Travis, the step-father, has an ex-partner and child as well. Travis and Madison's (Nick's mother) relationship is moving forward and newer. There's also a teenage daughter named Alicia. Madison works at a local school and as a kind heart for the students, especially those who are problematic. One kid, Tobias, gets busted for having a knife and he seems a tad crazy or super-insightful, since he's believing in the idea of a zombie apocalypse. Nick kinda confirms a sighting of someone eating someone else while talking to Travis in the hospital, although Travis thinks that it was all part of a bad trip from drugs.
Travis heads to the church where Nick was shooting up and saw the zombie and investigates the area. He finds a lot of blood. Travis really sticks his neck out there for this family, mainly because he wants to do the right thing by Madison and fit into this family unit.
Nick escapes the hospital and Madison and Travis go searching for him, back at the church. Nick meets up with his drug dealer, Calvin and Calvin wants to kill him, but somehow, Nick gets the upper-hand and Cal gets shot. Madison and Travis go to pick up Nick and Calvin's dead body as gone. As the group leaves the LA River where this all took place, Calvin has become a walker.
The opening of the show works exceptionally well since fans are so used to humans being alone in this world and seeing other people and the world functioning normally is actually a bit jarring for fans of The Walking Dead. It's a nice kick off for what we're about to have thrown at us.
The first half an hour of the show is slow. Understandably, the show needs to set-up the characters and the world, but the first 35 minutes of the episode feels like an hour and a half. It's a double-edged sword because with the slow set-up, we get to know a lot about the family dynamic for the Clark family and how Travis fits into this whole situation. This is all mainly revolving around the incident with Nick and what happened to him at the abandoned church, but part of the problem is that the pilot tries to deliver overly-emotional scenes with characters the viewer has no real connection to, like when Madison discovers Nick's heroin needles. If this were even a few episodes in, it would have some impact on the viewer and really worked but here, we're not familiar with these characters yet, so the scene loses a lot of its initial impact. A lot of what makes the first part of the episode slow here will eventually be a better pay off in the series in the long run though
The show picks up a lot in the last half as there's an air of mystery to everything that's happening in Los Angeles. We get to see a walker take down some paramedics as it reanimates and everyone wonders what it is. It plays out a lot like the events in the real world of a dude hopped up on drugs eating someone's face. At first, it's unbelievable, but since Nick has already seen this happen, Travis and Madison are a bit more alert to what is going on. Those final moments with Calvin turning work exceptionally well because the seeds of this virus spreading have been placed throughout the first parts of this episode. Something that fans can look forward to is characters trying to understand what's going on, as this seems as it will be delivering a great amount of questioning and mystery as the series continues forward.
The pilot really wants to nail normality onto the viewer, and what these characters were like before everything went to complete hell. It's a slow and drudging push towards total madness, which as we saw for the preview for the upcoming season, will happen pretty quickly.
What makes this episode great is that it's in the already established The Walking Dead world but has nothing to do with it. This takes place in the past, when the outbreak starts to happen and there's no familiar characters, so anyone, even folks who have left watching the main show or those brand new to the world, can enjoy what's going on here and not feel lost in the woods.
Overall, it's a good pilot episode and good pilots tend to make for great seasons. Sure, a good chunk of this opening episode is slow, but it will pay off in the long run considering that the show really spends time developing characters and the world, building an emotional investment between the viewer and the show's main cast. This is probably the last time the viewers will see anything that remotely resembles anything they could consider "normal." While The Walking Dead has had its bumps in the road, don't let that take away from the fact this is a stand-alone series and gives the audience a completely different perspective on the same plague that faces Rick Grimes and company. This is a solid start to what hopefully be a great first season.