“Wildfire,” the fifth episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead spends most of its first half doing something that no zombie movie has ever had time for—mourning. In the aftermath of the walker attack, bodies need to be disposed of and brains need to be splattered. But for Andrea, one of those bodies is her little sis, and she’s going to make sure no one comes near her. And for Jim, who was bit during the attack, the future is nothing more than walking death.
With only two zombie kills, it’s the slowest episode we’ve seen. Lots of arguing and crying and quiet moments waiting for your sibling to reanimate further differentiate the show from its zombie forebears. When Carol hollows out her husband’s brain with repeated blows from a pick-axe, it’s with a mixture of sorrow and anger that she sends bloody bits flying into the camera lens—okay, so maybe it’s not completely free from zombie tropes.
But the scene with Andrea apologizing to her awakening sister for not always being there while Amy starts stroking her hair and getting that hungry look in her glazed, soulless eye? And the other survivors sense what’s going on and start unbuttoning holsters, but the audience wonders if Andrea is about to become a first supper? That was an original zombie kill.
Unfortunately aside from that and maybe Jim’s zombie premonitions and final goodbyes, there’s not much happening until the final act, when things get much more interesting. With the camp no longer feeling like that safe haven in the mountains, the survivors decide to head to the CDC (after much debate). That’s when we find out… there’s a hatch. At some point during almost every episode I’ve been reminded of Lost—the survivors, the others, the camp, the infighting—but never moreso than when we meet the lone CDC scientist in his bunker. Like Desmond pushing his button, Jenner has been on his own, trying to save the world. But when his samples are destroyed, his purpose is sapped, and his will is gone. “It’s Day 194 since ‘Wildfire’ was declared,” he tells his Captain’s Log, “and 63 since the disease abruptly went global. ... I think tomorrow I’m going blow my brains out.”
So Rick’s arrival is good timing. You get a sense they’re not the first visitors pleading for entrance into the locked-down research facility, but Jenner no longer has anything to protect thanks to a clumsy spill in the lab. Plus, he’s a little drunk.
The show ends with a dramatic door-opening that might as well have been to a spaceship (one of the few moments that remind you of the show’s comic-book origins). The cliff-hanger is once again significant, and the scenes from next week don’t look promising for our heroes. But I’d guess the freshest sample is just down the road with Jim, and the quest for local survival might also become the quest for a global cure. Next week is the finale of the short first season, and there are enough loose ends (a one-handed redneck, a father who can’t put his zombie wife out of her misery…) that there can only be more cliff hangers ahead.
• Having the series set in Atlanta has been cool, but the CDC is five minutes from my house. If the Walkers hit Downtown Decatur, I might not sleep very well after watching.
• Daryl: “Hell, I can hit a turkey between the eyes from this distance.” Random fact: Kids in Pennsylvania have the day off school today to celebrate the opening of hunting season.
• The words, “We’ll be as gentle as we can,” were followed by a shot of a pick-axe to the head of a dead walker.
• Rick: “We don’t kill the living.” Daryl: “That’s funny coming from a man with a gun to my head.”
• Shane is getting more and more psychotic. Two weeks ago, he was pummeling Ed. This week he looked downright hungry as he trained his gun sight on a still clueless Rick.
• Dale got to be the wise man again, with the right words for a grieving Andrea and a compassionate practicality when it came to Jim’s fate.