The Walking Dead S1, E5: “Wildfire”

And here I thought last week’s episode was good, but “Wildfire” put that one to shame. The penultimate ep of season one inched awfully close to the amazingness that was the pilot. Taught, tense, dark, and quiet, this ep shook things around and turned everything upside down. Nothing happens like it’s supposed to and motivations are known only to those who espouse them. In a season as up and down as this one, it’s comforting to know while the bad episodes are crippled under the weight of good intentions that the good episodes will always manage to impress.

If nothing else, this show does some damn fine cold opens. This time around we get Rick talking more to himself than to Morgan on the CB radio as he warns him to stay away from Atlanta and the campsite. He is riddled with guilt about the zombies and desperate to prevent any more deaths. And even though he has no clue if Morgan can even hear him—and I’m sure he suspects he can’t—he still holds hope.

Next up is Andrea. She’s spent the whole night holding Amy’s hand presumably mourning the loss of her baby sister and grieving in her own delusional way, but like everyone else on the show, she isn’t what she seems. Instead of grieving, she is waiting for Amy to come back from the dead. It is heartbreaking and touching as breath slowly comes back into her lungs, her dead fingers gripping Andrea’s hair, her milky eyes looking at her sister and seeing nothing but noms. Andrea was never there for her sister. She missed her childhood, skipped her birthdays, and couldn’t protect her when she needed it most, but the one thing she can do is put her out of her misery.

Tragedy continues with Jim. The poor guy was bitten during the skirmish and is turning into a zombie right before the camp’s eyes. There is no cure and no amount of Rick’s “the world is full of kittens and unicorns” fantasy hope will fix that. Jim is dying and it won’t be an easy death, but he’s ready to be with his family. Leaving him there at the side of the road with that look of resignation on his face was almost too much for me. First Amy and now Jim. Even Daryl can’t hold his wrath against such inevitable doom; that solemn, respectful nod is the only emotion he’s shown thus far that isn’t rage.

Even Douchy Von Assholington—aka Shane—gets something to do. He’s fucking pissed about Rick taking Lori and Carl away from him and all that fury finally boils over after the attack. When Rick makes an off-handed comment about him not being a part of their family Shane goes apoplectic and comes very close, too close, to shooting him out there in the woods. Dale sees it all and isn’t fooled by Shane playing it off as a silly almost-hunting accident, and neither are we. Right now Rick’s biggest mistake isn’t holding on to futile hope in the face of utter adversity, it’s underestimating Shane.

The Walking Dead episodeThe other background characters begin to shade themselves out more. Daryl has to play the tough guy by braining and burning the zombies, but he also grows a shadow of humanity and compassion when Carol vents her marital frustrations on the corpse of her late husband. And she certainly isn’t as meek and passive as she once was. She rages on Ed, pickaxing him over and over and over again, then turns around and mothers Jim. Glenn overcomes his comic relief status by demanding—against Daryl no less—that they bury their own. Dale steps away from the mold as the boring old man who spouts Faulkner into a kind and sad man who misses his wife and recognizes evil when he sees it.

Jacqui doesn’t do much of anything except rat on Jim, but she makes up for it by watching over him on the journey to the Center for Disease Control back in Atlanta. The Morales’, on the other hand, don’t do anything at all except bury some bodies and take off for Birmingham, AL, to find their family. I’m not sure why they even existed if they didn’t really have any specific or meaningful purpose so I have to assume that Darabont is playing a long game with them, Morgan/Duane, and Merle. Surely The Walking Dead isn’t suffering from the Put On A Bus trope, right? Right?

All in all, an excellent way to set up the season finale. Lots of great startling jump cuts and twists against horror clichés to satisfy the shoot-’em-up zombie enthusiast and enough emotional depth and psychological stress to please the rest of us. And I haven’t even mentioned the mysterious and suicidal scientist (hello Noah Emmerich!) locked in the abandoned CDC building…or that the zombie goo he was testing in the now-burned-up lab oozed through his gloves. We’re gearing up for the home stretch and all signs point to it being a spectacular finale.

Final thoughts

  • “Do not enter the city. It belongs to the dead now.”
  • “We don’t burn them. We bury them. Our people go in that row over there.”
  • That look on Daryl’s face as Carol pickaxes Ed was priceless. Equally as chilling was Dale’s look of horror as he watched Shane almost shoot Rick.
  • “That sound you hear, that’s God laughing while you make plans.”
  • “I think tomorrow I’m gonna blow my brains out. Haven’t decided. But tonight I’m getting drunk.”
  • “He made a call.” “It was the wrong damn call!”
  • “You’re killing us!”
  • Not only is Bear McCreary’s score just spectacular it’s really creatively interesting how they bring in the theme song over the last few seconds of the cold open.
  • The show is slowly winnowing off the non-comic characters either by turning them into cannon fodder or splintering them off the main group. Once they get rid of Jacqui and T-Dog we’ll be down to the original group.
  • Apropos of nothing, every time someone says “Let’s go,” my closed captioning translates it to “Lego.” My closed captioning also apparently dislikes curse words.
  • Well, there goes my theory that Merle led the zombies to the camp.
  • If you’re going to do spoilers, either for the comic or for clips/previews/pirated copies of future eps make sure to give hefty spoiler warnings.

Speaking of which…

The CDC thing is definitely not in the comics, but I wonder if that note Rick left for Morgan telling them where they were headed is going to play out similar to what happened at the prison…or maybe somehow lead them off to the Governor. At Comic Con Kirkman and Darabont confirmed that he’d show up in the second season, and it’d be a waste to abandon such fertile story ground with the scientist and all that protected space.

Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by trade, Rob Gordon and Randal by moonlight, novelist by passion, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare…


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