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The Walking Dead Watch: Episode 5, Wildfire

I'm looking at the spout of my beer bottle, and I'm thinking it isn't as rounded as this week's episode of The Walking Dead. A lack of zombie swarms was unexpectedly welcome, as more interesting routes were taken to draw suspense and emotion. If I had one corny and overused complaint to make, it would be that it wasn't longer. One episode left? Come on!

If you can imagine, this was a somber episode on many fronts. After the mini-massacre in last week's episode, "Wildfire" begins with destruction and burial of the dead. All bodies are pickaxed through the head; zombies are piled for fire, and the group's former members are laid to proper rest. When Daryl and Morales go to toss some ex-campers in the zombie pile, Glenn gets as ballistic as he can, assuring they're justly buried. Daryl is (to me, justifiably) angry such a distinction is being made, as graves are expensive in energy. Lori notes they need to be mourned, as if people aren't mourned when cremated, or pyred. There's a great moment early on as Carol takes a pickaxe from Daryl, suggesting she should do Ed's head in, being his wife. She then gets her mental therapy out, whipping that metal point down until Ed's brains are fertilizer.

Andrea causes unrest due to her unwillingness to leave her deceased sister Amy's side, brandishing a gun when bothered. She allows Dale to get in a few words out about his cancer-ridden wife, and the angst that followed her death. Andrea and Amy, he confesses, are the only two females he's cared about since. The inevitable soon occurs, as Amy begins her turn into the undead state. I stayed tense when Amy was onscreen, awaiting just this event, all for naught. It was effective nonetheless. Andrea cried through Amy's breathy re-emergence, and then put a bullet in her head before things went further. An "ohhh" moment occurred as I realized this was the reason she'd stayed as long as she had. Amy is then buried.

In the midst of things, it's found out that Jim was bitten during the battle, though he tries to hide this information. He's kept inside of the RV for the most part, having odd visions, being dehydrated, and talking eccentric mess about his dead family.

Rick's been busy sending radio messages to Morgan from the pilot episode, never knowing if they're actually reaching him. I'll give Andrew Lincoln a temporary apology for my near naysaying of his effectiveness in past episodes. He wears emotions on his cop sleeves throughout, delivering a harried performance that suits each situation. Promising Carl he’ll never leave him again, Rick asks Lori if she shares Carl's convictions that the "gun bag rescue team" are to blame for the camp attack, even though they brought the weapons that were able to save them. Lori is uncertain. This directly influences her resistance to Rick's plan for the group to trek to the Center for Disease Control; it's mostly for Jim's sake, but the bigger idea is to find help within a larger population.

It's Shane's idea that the nearest military base, a hundred miles away is the best option. He emphatically relays this to Lori, who hears none of it, giving Shane hell. Rick interrupts this argument, and Lori chooses then to side with Rick, which pisses Shane off. Is this what Lori wanted? Duh. Rick and Shane soon hunt for walkers into the surrounding woods. A heated conversation is interrupted by a crackle in the brush, splitting the men up. Shane takes a long, long look at Rick through the sight of his gun before putting it down, surprised to find Dale watching him suspiciously. Shane tries playing things off, saying they should get reflective vests out there. Perhaps feeling guilt, Shane tells the group that they're headed to the CDC in the morning. Morales, Miranda and the kids will not be attending. They're left with a gun and a vehicle.

The RV soon breaks down. As some walk to a gas station for supplies, Rick talks with Jim about his impending doom. Jim asks to be left as the group continues. After a non-existent RV fix-up, the group does just that, leaving Jim next to a tree. There's a heartfelt goodbye involved. Cut to commercial.

When it comes back, we're watching a video taken by a surviving member of the CDC, Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich). It's been 194 days since "Wildfire" was declared. He mentions the troubles of living underground, and we see him performing various experiments with different specimens; he sometimes falls asleep in the process. An accident occurs and as the scientist finds safety, the lab is decontaminated, meaning everything is set on flash fire which destroys all of the test subjects. Depressed and isolated, he tells his video camera that he's going to get drunk and kill himself.

But wait, what's that noise? It's Rick and the group, walking through a massive amount of hideously decomposed corpses. I mean really, guys, these are some of the nastiest make-up jobs I've ever seen, and most of them are tiny and blurry. I'm thinking DVD extras here. Anyway, a random walker alerts the group, who get immediately desperate upon seeing the metal doors barricading each entrance. Everyone argues much too loudly, though Rick is insistent that someone is inside, particularly when Jenner moves the exterior cameras from inside. Rick's correctness is challenged, until one of the doors opens up, dousing everyone in a bright white light.

How can you not get into this? Beyond the great pacing and character writing, this is by far the best looking episode so far. Ernest R. Dickerson, he of quality television and black horror fame, has directed the shit out of it. There were multiple times where I audibly praised shots and scenes, as if my wife gave a crap. Camera placement and movement are all spectacular, adding quirkiness to the drama. The character moments were there. The impending clash between Rick and Shane is there. The set-up for the finale is there. I'm as baffled as any anyone as to what's going to happen. Whatever it is, I'm going to be there, sitting a little closer each week. Season 2 can't come soon enough already.

Nick Venable
Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.