Recap | The Walking Dead: ‘Wildfire’

“Did you save a grave for me?” – Jim

It’s been tough to watch the past couple of episodes without keeping an eye on the ticking clock: With only a six-episode first season, virtually every minute of The Walking Dead has to count, has to push the story forward (which is one of the reasons why last week’s detour didn’t exactly agree with me). While “Wildfire” didn’t feel like the penultimate episode — compare it to last night’s Boardwalk Empire, which masterfully positioned its players for the season finale — it was certainly packed with the kind of raw human drama that the series handles so well.

The Walking Dead also tends to nail its opening scenes, and this week is no different as Rick kneels in a field, keeping his promise to radio Morgan every day. If Rick’s posture isn’t a clear enough indication that he’s doing more than fulfilling an obligation, then his rambling monologues are: Between pragmatic, but grim, messages — “Do not enter the city. It belongs to the dead now.” — Rick wrestles with his conscience, using the walkie-talkie as a confessor.

The burden is heavier back at camp, where the survivors grapple with the physical and emotional aftermath of the Walker attack. As Daryl, Glenn and T-Dog separate the bodies of the humans from the zombies, and ensure the dead remain dead, the others fret over Andrea, who’s held her dead sister Amy throughout the night. Their concern isn’t just for their friend’s well-being, of course; the infected Amy is destined to reanimate, further traumatizing and endangering the shell-shocked group. However, Amy, and the armed Andrea, aren’t the only problem: Jim, who dreamed about the attack on the camp, was bitten, leading the survivors to debate his fate and their own. Although Daryl’s solution is more immediate — “I say we put a pickax in his head and in the dead girl’s while we’re at it” — Rick suggests going to the Centers for Disease Control in hopes of finding a cure for Jim. Shane champions traveling 100 miles to Fort Benning to seek military protection, as it’s clear the quarry is no longer safe. The perpetually angry Daryl, who’s quickly becoming a favorite character, helpfully reminds them: “You reap what you sow. You all left my brother for dead — you had this coming!”

The scenes in the devastated camp are filled with layer upon layer of emotion, from grief and guilt to jealousy and rage. As Andrea laments that she didn’t spend more time with her sister, Carol steps in to prevent Daryl from driving the pickax through the head of her dead, abusive husband Ed. “I’ll do it,” she says, “he’s my husband.” But what initially seems fueled by a sense of spousal obligation quickly turns to an avenue for years of pent-up rage as Carol bashes Ed’s skull again and again. Even Daryl appears to wince. Amy, meanwhile, begins to reanimate in Andrea’s arms, twitching and rasping as she comes back to life. It’s a heart-breaking moment as Amy snarls and becomes aware of her craving as Andrea whispers “I love you” before firing the gun into her sister’s head.

Tensions between Rick and Shane escalate, first with finger-pointing in the wake of the attack — did the expedition into Atlanta leave the camp more vulnerable? — and then concerning Rick’s desire to head to the CDC, before exposing Shane’s jealousy over the loss of his “family” with Rick’s return. As the two patrol in the woods, Shane aims his shotgun at an unaware Rick before being interrupted by Dale, who glares at him with accusing eyes. “Gonna have to start wearing reflective vests out here,” Shane says nervously. “Seriously.”

His rage momentarily giving way to guilt, Shane vouches for Rick’s instincts to the group, emphasizing that whatever course they take, the important thing is that they remain together. Alas, that doesn’t happen, as Morales announces he and his family are leaving for Birmingham, where they have relatives. The remaining survivors form a caravan, with a worsening Jim being cared for in Dale’s RV.

When the vehicle breaks down on the road to the CDC, a briefly lucid Jim asks to be left to die. “I want to be with my family,” he tells Rick. Leaving Jim propped against a tree — “I’m good, the breeze feels nice” — the caravan continues on its journey, setting up the show’s most significant deviation to date from the comic: In a twist that’s already drawing comparisons to Lost, we’re introduced to Jenner (White Collar‘s Noah Emmerich), a suicidal scientist who’s holed up in the CDC bunker, testing tissue samples, drinking wine and recording erratic journal entries that he’s unsure anyone will ever see. He also provides the audience with a time line of sorts, revealing that it’s been 194 days since “wildfire” (cryptically) was declared, and 63 days since the disease went global.

The caravan arrives to find the CDC surrounded by countless flyblown corpses, and the complex seemingly deserted. As the other survivors panic at the idea of being out in the open at dark, Rick comes unhinged, banging at the building’s door and screaming at the security camera. Although Jenner appears ready to ignore Rick’s pleas, he quickly changes his mind — Out of scientific curiosity? Necessity after the accidental destruction of tissue samples? A desire for human contact? — and the door opens, basking the survivors in unearthly white light.

Grade:
A

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Comments

  • Winston

    Thank goodness that the series is deviating away from the comics. As long as the show and the comics meet up in the same place, how they get there is moot. The TV show facinates me just as much as the original comics way back when. It’ll be sad to see season one come to an end. From what I understand, we’ll have to wait until Halloween 2011 to see them pick up wherever they may leave the story off next week.

  • MIKE

    Not that I want them to rust the next season out, I think waiting another year might kill all the momentum them have right now. I’d love to see this come back next summer or even mid spring.

  • http://khiaao.blogspot.com Khiaao

    Good Episode

  • http://billso.com/ Bill Sodeman

    Why do I have the feeling Andrea is about to become a guinea pig?

  • Mhawes1973

    ONLY 1 MORE LEFT , NNNOOOOOO!!!!!!!!, Ok this show continues to have me sitting on the edge of my seat, this emotional rollercoaster keeps finding new ways to keep the avivid readers and the new viewers guessing at whats coming next. A few people who have read the books balked lastnight when they mentioned the CDC and going to it. To me im not sure Id want anything to do with going to the city and I think the Army Base would have been a better idea, but for the sake of the story it fits better for them to be near Atlanta. This show continues to develope the relationships of our cast as we start to see them coming closer together as things continue to get worse. Now with half of their camp eaten and the rest deciding what to do next the internal stress begins to build between our leaders Rick and Shane, Rick leading with his heart and morals , and Shane seemingly with his head , and some what of his cowardess, but that does nt feel quiet right , shanes not a coward , but he isnt so eager to put people in harms way. This lends way to an intresting situation, to stay or Go, now Rick doesnt want to sit around on their hands, he wants answers and he wants help, Shane wants to gather who he can and protect that and to hell with anyone else. The story is about the Living and about the difference between doing whats right and doing what has to be done. The writing continues to amaze me, we can feel the peoples turmoil and pain we want them to live and push on, and deep inside all of us are just waiting to see who gets picked off next.

  • Mhawes1973

    Im afraid you may be right but with shows like Royal Pain and White Collar doing the whole summer series on USA, and the way series air on HBO , people have become use to i. that Does nt mean that I dont want it back on alot sooner, and i am hoping that they will have a kick ass DVD set for season 1 out by summer to keep us tided over

  • http://twitter.com/Nikitorookie Ryan

    Ya I hope also that the dvd will be awesome and be able to tided us over till season 2 starts. Can’t wait for the dvd.

  • Definitive

    They lost me at the last episode, Vatos, really if anyone who has been down south, Atlanta, Georgia…have you seen any east Los Angeles gangster type Vatos walking around? There might be like one in lil five points, maybe in Buckhead acting tough, but sorry that city is cut in dry a black and white city with some asians sprinkled on top. C’mon and Kirkman wrote this episode? and he’s from the south? Very wack and made the whole show seem tacky. Was it a lame excuse to get more hollywood? Or just ignorance? Totally threw me off and now I can’t take this show seriously, now. If it was the studio that said hey lets have some hombres with real tough gangster look and have em square off with rick and crew, ok producers are dummies. But, Robert Kirkman, just made me sad. Another great creator that has great ideas but insulated by his own experience bubble, hope it doesn’t bleed to much into his comic work.

  • Anonymous

    The “don’t judge a book by its cover” morality lesson was definitely ham-fisted, this latest ep was great though.