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'Fear the Walking Dead' series premiere: the slow burn

It all started with Gloria.

She's the first person Nick Clark yells for when he wakes up in a junkie drug den wearing a white, cropped cardigan. But instead of finding his friends sipping coffee and munching on bagels, Nick finds one with his throat ripped out and Gloria snacking on another unnamed friend like it was a free brunch buffet.

Nick bolts, sprinting as fast as his lanky legs and cardigan cape will let him. Then he gets hit by a car. What a terrible way to wake up with a drug-induced hangover.

And so it begins.

Sunday's premiere of Fear the Walking Dead gave us the chaos and tension of the unknown. Dead superfans, e.g. me, already know what's going on, what's going to happen, the proper way to kill a walker, etc.

But Fear gives us those terrifying details of society's collapse. It ignited the flame that slowly burns until it consumes all that our civilization takes for granted and cherishes. The little bites of information keep us on our toes.

We aren't Rick Grimes waking up in an abandoned hospital utterly confused about the world around him. We get to be Nick and his sister, Alicia, who still goes to school, texts on her phone and worries about her future. We get to see the apocalypse through the eyes of Nick and Alicia's mother, Madison, and her boyfriend, Travis Manawa, as they struggle with addict Nick, angsty Alicia, the drama of melding two families together and the refusal to believe people aren't really staying dead.

After Nick's fight and loss to a car, Madison finds him in the hospital, strapped to the bed. She's heard all of his excuses before and she's clearly over it. Travis on the other hand, still upset over his own son's refusal to visit, becomes the sympathetic future-stepdad. He bonds with Nick by believing what Nick tells him and reiterates the want to "become a family."

At the high school, Madison and Travis struggle to keep the kids focused on academics while more and more students are disappearing daily. Madison confronts Tobias, so paranoid about the "sickness" that he brings a knife to school. Madison tries to comfort Tobias by showing her faith in the government. Yea, ok, whatever.

"There have been reports in five states," Tobias says. "They don't know if it's a virus or a microbe. They don't know, but it's spreading."

Down the hall, Travis' lesson plan is a punch in the face to anyone not paying attention. In Foreshadowing Act I, Travis discusses "building a fire," physically and metaphorically, to keep from dying. In Foreshadowing Act II, Alicia's science class learns different "brain states" and other wonders that are impossible to predict or control.

"Nature always wins," Travis says.

Foreshadowing Act III comes when Alicia struggles to reunite with her missing boyfriend, Matt, by frantically texting him "where r u??" and "you better be dead!"
Sorry, Alicia, he probably is.

Though social media is surprisingly overlooked in the first episode, Alicia and classmates get a glimpse of why Travis and Madison were stuck in traffic the other night. What they see in the viral video is chilling. The dead man strapped to the stretcher is blurrily munching on the paramedic's neck. The man-that-just-won't-die takes numerous bullets from police but keeps getting back up.

At this point we are all screaming at the TV because the characters are in the midst of the zombie apocalypse and all they care about are their boyfriends and getting flu shots.

Desperate for answers, Travis and Madison check out the junkie church and find no bodies, but plenty of blood and leftover meth cooking tools. Trying to find Nick, who's escaped from the hospital clad in old man clothes, they track down his friend Calvin, who just so happens to be his dealer. He disguises himself by washing his car in the driveway and having pink plastic flamingos in his yard.

Travis and Madison find Nick, who just shot Calvin. Nick is surprisingly calm admitting the murder and Travis and Madison are surprisingly calm hearing his confession.

The episode ends with a tussle between the three living and Calvin's bullet-ridden corpse. And me freaking out because Madison almost gets bit by hungry hungry Calvin.

Again, the calm exhibited by all the characters except Nick and Tobias seems out of place. But at this point it's just their sense of disbelief.

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