fear the walking dead comic-con panel

Appropriately, Fear the Walking Dead served as a warm-up act to its parent show at Comic-Con in San Diego, premiering a new trailer for a packed house of fans. While AMC’s zombie spin-off has never achieved the overwhelming popularity of the original The Walking Dead, it definitely offers a different flavor of zombie apocalypse via the Mexican locations and a timeframe that places the action much earlier in the franchise timeline.

With the second half of the show’s third season returning this September, the series looks to bring its various story threads to a boiling point. As you’d expect, the details we learned and the footage we saw promised a grim future for the various survivors.

First, moderator Chris Hardwick took the stage with a somber note. He reminded the crowd that stuntman John Bernecker died on the set of The Walking Dead last week and requested a moment of silence from the crowd. With respects paid, the show’s creators and executive producers took the stage and the panel got rolling.

Of course, the centerpiece of the panel was the trailer for the back half of Fear the Walking Dead season 3, and fans surely know what to expect by now. It looks like more of the same – how you react to that is entirely up to you. There were a few gory moments and surprisingly few zombies in the trailer, with the bulk of the focus being placed on the human characters and their increasingly desperate situation. Like its parent show, Fear the Walking Dead seems to have moved past zombies being the key threat (they’re just a fact of life now) and the focus is now on more human conflicts. What happens when water starts to run out? How do the various tribes that spin out of the ruined world deal with one another?

You can watch the new trailer right now.

In fact, executive producer Dave Erickson noted that the inevitable culture clashes of a ruined civilization trying to rebuild itself was born from a pitch in the writer’s room, when everyone stared to wonder how a marginalized group like Native Americans would confront this situation. “It’s an opportunity to take back, to balance the scales again,” Erickson said.

Community and family were big themes of the panel. “We really start to get a sense of this border community,” Erickson noted when asked about what we can look forward to in the back half of season 3. But fans of tons of flesh and gore will also find plenty to love, as he also promised a “crescendo” of carnage and chaos in the episodes ahead. “We got bolder and bloodier…than we have before,” he told the crowd.

The producers also discussed the revelation, revealed via Russian cosmonauts, that the zombie plague has spread across the entire planet and that there is no longer a safe place to go. “It’s a sobering moment,” executive producer Gale Ann Hurd said. “There is no place they can go to where life is normal. They’ve come to the realization that they will have to forge their own community and rebuild in a way they never imagined.” And things will only get more grim. “The zombie apocalypse is not going to end anytime soon.” Since The Walking Dead is heading into season 8, this was probably the least surprising reveal at the panel.

While Fear the Walking Dead takes place on the other side of the continent from the other show and is set much earlier in the timeline of the apocalypse, The Walking Dead creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman couldn’t help but tease a connection between the shows. Is anyone on the spin-off related to anyone on the original show? “The Dixon family is splintered in my mind,” Kirkman said, mischief in his voice, “It’s entirely possible that there’s a connection there.” After an extended gag about Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon finding a magical telephone and calling the cast of Fear the Walking Dead across time, Kirkman got a little more serious. “We know the fans would love it,” he said. “It’s very complicated because of that gap…we’ll just have to see.”

Greg Nicotero, the franchise’s resident make-up maestro and executive producer, paused the panel to pay tribute to Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead director George Romero, who passed away just a few days ago. “None of us would be here if he hadn’t taken this voodoo mythology and translated it to flesh-eating corpses taking over the world,” Nicotero said. “It was a really sad day for all of us. The fact that something he developed continues to go strong is a tribute. He really broke down the boundaries. He used the zombie apocalypse to tell the story of what was happening in the world at the time.”

Nicotero, who worked with Romero personally on Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, shared a fond memory of an actor’s performance obscuring a make-up gag…and Romero embracing it, saying that he valued “imperfections.” That has lingered with Nicotero. “Every gag I design, I embrace the things you can’t expect,” he said.

While AMC’s spin-off series has never achieved the popularity of its parent show (season 2 saw a troubling dip in the ratings), its mere existence and its presence at Comic-Con proves that AMC is still all aboard the zombie television show train. Hopefully, this show will continue to carve out its own identity in the new season, giving those who already get their undead fix from the network’s other zombie show something else to chew on.

Fear the Walking Dead season 3 returns on Sunday, September 10, 2017 on AMC.

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