TV Review: The Walking Dead – Wildfire

Please note: these reviews will contain spoilers for both the show and the comic, so be forewarned.

In this week’s cold open, Rick is trying to raise Morgan (the father from the first episode) on the radio. He tells him what’s going on, and advises the man to stay away from Atlanta, cautioning that “it belongs to the dead”. While this is another invented aspect of the show that was never in the source material, I really enjoyed it. It gives Rick a chance to talk outside the group of survivors, giving us a candid assessment of what’s going on and a little peak into his own personal issues. I doubt Morgan will respond, at least anytime soon, so Rick talking to the radio acts as a sort of diary.

In camp the survivors are still recovering from the previous night’s attack. Andrea is the hardest hit, having sat dutifully by her sister’s body all night. While the others sympathize, Amy is now a time bomb waiting to go off and everyone is freaking out about it. When they come by to try to help, and to get Andrea to realize the obvious, they’re sent on their way. Out of earshot, Rick, Shane, Daryl, and a few others talk about how to handle the situation. Daryl, always the pragmatist, suggests taking Amy out from a distance, but Rick thinks he can talk some sense into the grieving woman. He gets a gun in the face for his trouble, and quickly withdraws.

The scene takes a while to play out, as we keep checking back in with Andrea and her sister, each time expecting to see a zombified Amy stand up and attack Andrea. It’s a nice way to build tension, and the show plays it out well. When Dale stops by to pay his respects, he tells Andrea in the nicest way possible, to get over it and let Amy go. He wraps it in a nice story about accepting death as part of life (his wife’s specifically), and not spoiling the days you have left. Andrea tearfully confides that she was never really around for Amy, missing all Amy’s birthdays because she was too wrapped up in her own life to care enough.

Eventually the inevitable happens, and Amy starts to twitch. Andrea hold her close, almost as if she’s contemplating suicide by zombie. When Amy’s eyes open, she reaches up for her sister, almost tenderly for a moment, before grabbing her hair and trying to pull the woman toward her teeth. Andrea looks at her undead sister lovingly, and then blows her brains out.

Elsewhere, other survivors are going about the grisly work of cleaning up. Daryl seems to find some catharsis in knocking holes in the heads of corpses with a pick-ax. In a moment of frustration he loses his temper, shouting “You reap what you sow”, assigning all guilt to the survivors for leaving his drug addled brother chained to a roof in Atlanta. I have to say, for a fairly one-note character, Daryl is really growing on me. Sure he’s a violent hillbilly stereotype, but he’s entertaining, and gets to act as the audience surrogate on occasion by offering practical, if extremely insensitive solutions to the problems the group is facing.

While lugging bodies to the fire, Glenn interrupts, angrily yelling that deceased group members should be buried, not burned like common zombies. I really liked this scene, and it revealed a lot about Glenn’s sensitivities. In the comic, survivors were buried in the camp without any real discussion, but later on when there were a lot of zombies to worry about, Rick makes a big deal about how a certain character (who doesn’t appear to be in the AMC series) was buried instead of burned, and how important that is to him.

On another note, Glenn says “geeks”, which is the show’s preferred nomenclature, instead of zombies. Characters have been using the term since the second episode, which I find slightly irritating. In genre writing, characters usually don’t refer to the monster by its actual name, saying “walkers”, “creatures”, or “the dead” instead of zombies. There are a lot of silly examples of this, like the recent adaptation of I Am Legend, in which they inexplicably referred to the vampires as “dark seekers”. It’s a trope that the comic version of The Walking Dead always avoided, so it’s disappointing to see the TV show not following suit.

As they dig graves, Rick and Shane silently stare each other down. Eventually, Rick demands that Shane just say whatever it is he wants to say. Not pulling any punches, Shane lays the blame for the attack squarely on Rick; had he not left his family to go back into the city, he would have been there to stop the zombies. Rick responds by pointing out that, if he hadn’t returned with guns the situation could have been even worse. When Rick storms off to seek comfort from his wife, all Lori will say is that neither of them is entirely wrong. She’s absolutely right, of course, but her candidness makes her character seem cruel and petty instead of honest and scared.

As cleanup continues, Carol gets a moment with the dessicated corpse of her abusive husband. She borrows Daryl’s grisly pick-ax, and stoves in Ed’s skull, again, and again, and again. I was waiting for this scene, and, while cliché, it was handled about as well as it could have been. I also checked the comic to see whether there was ever any reference Carol’s husband being an abuser, and to my surprise there absolutely was. I don’t know that this makes up for depicting Ed as little more than the antagonist in a Lifetime Original Movie, but I did appreciate that this was something that did exist in the source material. Of course, the comic also mentioned that he was a great salesman, which doesn’t come through on AMC. I can’t imagine a great salesman not keeping a level head in public, no matter how much he loves beating the tar out of his poor wife in private.

Amidst all the other drama during the cleanup, we find out that Jim was bitten during the attack. The camp immediately begins discussing what should be done with the man. Daryl’s suggestion of murdering their friend before he can turn into a zombie is quickly nixed, so the camp is divided between Rick’s plan to seek out the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, or Shane’s plan of heading to Fort Benning some one hundred miles away.

Meanwhile, Jim isn’t looking too hot. He’s lying down in the RV’s uncomfortable looking bed, occasionally spitting up blood and babbling incoherently with intermittent spells of lucidity. If he’s going to be saved, it needs to happen quickly.

Rick and Shane immediately put Lori in the middle. At first she demurs Rick’s request for support, but she quickly changes her tune when Shane comes looking for her to take his side. Instead of finishing the argument there, Shane pulls Rick aside so the two can go on a patrol of the camp’s perimeter. They continue discussing their next move, when Rick tactlessly asserts that Shane would understand Rick’s point of view if it were his family on the line. Shane, already haggard and stressed, snaps at Rick, angrily reminding his partner that he was the one who made sure Lori and Carl were safe.

The tense standoff is interrupted by a noise from the woods. Rick goes to investigate, and a seething Shane lines Rick up in the sights of his shotgun. For a very long couple of seconds, Shane stares at his partner down the barrel of his twelve gauge, contemplating whether he could justify shooting that man. Whether that justification would be to himself or to the rest of the camp is unclear. Before Shane can decide whether to pull the trigger he’s interrupted by a shocked-looking Dale. Shane mumbles something about having everyone wear hunter’s orange before calling Rick back to finish their patrol.

It’s unclear how much Dale has seen, and what conclusions he’s able to draw from anything, but the man isn’t stupid. In the comic Dale is the first to sense the potential problems between Rick and Shane, and it looks like he’ll play a similar role on the series. The standoff is well acted and very creepy. Shane is quickly coming unraveled, and likely to snap very soon. Instead of coming across as evil, Shane continues to be a sympathetic character. I really like how this is playing out, and have to credit Jon Bernthal for his fine acting with this character.

When the camp reconvenes, Shane is now firmly in Rick’s camp and everyone decides to head to Atlanta. Everyone, that is, except for the Morales family who are setting out on their own. I had suspected the Morales family were going to be playing the role of Allen, Donna, and their kids from the comic, but it appears I was mistaken. Before the convoy rolls out, Rick attempts to contact Morgan again, leaving behind a map and directions just in case the man should find their camp without hearing the radio message. It also leaves a very clear trail to anyone else, like the still unaccounted for Merle.

The convoy doesn’t make it far before the RV breaks down thanks to a rotten radiator hose. Shane volunteers to go on ahead to find a replacement, while the rest check in on Jim, who has seen better days. Jim decides, in a rare moment of clarity, that he isn’t going to continue on the journey to the CDC. He would rather stay behind and rejoin his (dead) family. After some argument, the group leaves him leaning up against a tree along the side of the road. Everyone says their goodbyes, with Rick offering the mechanic a pistol to end things more quickly, and then they depart (the RV having been fixed off screen, it seems). It’s a nice little scene that works really well. I liked that that kept this fairly consistent with the comic. Jim deciding how he wanted to die was always something I thought worked really well, so it was nice to see if carried over in the AMC series.

We jump suddenly to a scientist presumable working at the CDC. He does a brief video memo/diary, and conducts some sort of experiment on what appears to be part of a brain. Everything appears to be going well until the man knocks over some vial of corrosive material into his experiment, causing a cloud of noxious looking gas. He quickly retreats to shower off whatever nastiness he may be contaminated with, only to watch his lab destroy his experiment with a violent fireball. He returns to his video diary with a drink in hand, complaining about the lack of fresh material for testing. He wonders whether anyone is still out there, and contemplates suicide.

When the survivors roll up to the CDC at dusk, things don’t look good. Half-eaten corpses litter the ground, while gun emplacements and other army equipment lies around uselessly. The building itself it completely closed off, with heavy metal shutters blocking all the doors and windows. Shane tries fruitlessly to open one as the inevitable zombies start appearing. The survivors needs to leave before they get surrounded, but Rick insists that salvation is at hand. When he sees a camera move, he’s sure someone is inside.

As the zombies start closing in, everyone panics and wants to flee. Shane tries to pull Rick aside, but Rick loses it. Screaming and banging on the door, Rick pleads with whomever is inside to let them in. Just as he’s about to give up and walk away, one of the shutters opens, spilling blinding light outside like a flying saucer in an alien abduction movie.

And the credits roll.

The end of the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead sets up a hell of a cliffhanger. The scientist working inside is clearly on edge, quite possibly crazed (do I smell some vivisection in someone’s future?). The survivors are desperate, and the conflict between Rick and Shane is growing close to boiling over. Next Sunday can’t arrive fast enough.