Creating AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead—the companion piece and prequel to post-apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead, which premiered in 2015—Dave Erickson has served as showrunner through Season 3, which is airing through the summer while shepherding two short-form series set within the world of Fear. The first, titled Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462, was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, in the first year that category was at play in the Emmys race.
The follow-up, Fear the Walking Dead: Passage, is another 16-part web series, with segments ranging in length from 40 seconds to one minute airing as promos during the much-watched seventh season of The Walking Dead. Starring Kelsey Scott, Mishel Prada and Michael Mosley, Passage watches as two survivors brave harrowing underground tunnels to make their way to Mexico.
The concept for a FTWD short-form series was brought to Erickson by AMC in the series’ first season, as a way to keep the series’ fan base engaged during the show’s hiatus, and the time between the airing of The Walking Dead and Fear. “I think their feeling was, from a marketing standpoint, it makes sense to keep the story alive, and try to do something that continues to generate attention,” Erickson explains. “I do think there is a fascinating opportunity when you look at multiplatform storytelling, and if you are able to integrate those stories on some level, which we’ve done to a degree, I think it makes the experience that much richer.”
While there was the intent to merge the world of Passage with that of FTWD, that goal didn’t play out exactly as it had with Flight 462. “The character of the boyfriend in Passage, played by Mike Mosley, we wanted him to be the border guard that Travis and Nick come across in 301—in the premiere—and then, frankly, it became a question of scheduling,” he admits. “It didn’t pan out the way we wanted.”
“You can’t always exploit every single character, otherwise you end up with a cast that is too large, and you are not able to service the stories the way you want to. I think that is the upside and downside,” Erickson continues, discussing the positioning of short-form series in relation to the series that birthed them. “The good news is you do have these characters you have established who you can thread back in if it works organically. You also have the benefit of knowing that they are out there, knowing that there is a resource, and then you sort of wait and see where it goes.”
With Season 3 of Fear telling a “border story”—focusing on the U.S.-Mexico border—it made sense for the short-form series to focus on tunnels, or “passages,” as an extension of that world. To Erickson, when character integration isn’t possible, due to the logistics of narrative, production, and broadcast, standalone stories like Passage can provide “a little bit of layering, and a little bit more interest” that is stimulating, both to viewers and those involved in production.
Although there has been a consistent desire to keep The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead separate—not going for crossover potential, in hopes of sticking with organic storytelling choices—with short-form pieces like Passage, in its 13-minute run, there’s no similar drive to differentiate the world represented. “It was more about how do we layer in elements that are going to speak to the themes, or speak to the narratives that we are telling in the actual show,” the EP says. “In a perfect world, the tone of the webisodes is the tone of the show, itself.”
While short-form series like Passage have been implemented by networks for a number of years, the EP feels that there’s been an evolution in their function and importance. “I do think initially it was something of a gag; it was a gimmick. It was not something that was as important to the larger narrative as they have become,” he says. “From a budgetary standpoint [today], they are not throwaways. They are something AMC doesn’t want to cheap out on. If people are responding to them and if they are receiving the attention that they receive, then the obligation is to try to make sure that they don’t feel like a second cousin to the show itself.”
Reflecting on the experience with Fear, Erickson has found the supplementary short-form series to be a powerful tool which he hopes to implement with future series. “Definitely looking at any future series I work on, I would want to continue doing that because I think it allows you to expand the universe,” he says. “I think that anything you do that provides for a deeper understanding of the show and deeper understanding of the characters is a good thing.”