AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 5: “Wildfire”
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by Glen Mazzara; Based on the comics by Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore.
* For a review of the previous episode, “Vatos” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “TS-19” – click here
After the panic and blood of the previous episode’s finale, The Walking Dead lurches on into the zombie apocalypse with penultimate Season 1 finisher “Wildfire”.
This episode begins as Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) tries to call Morgan Jones (Lennie James) on the police radio. Their connection is interesting, and something I found people seem to have forgotten by the time Season 6 rolled around. Sad, they have a great relationship and Morgan is an important figure in Rick’s life in the new wasteland of Atlanta. Rick holds onto this. Because really, there’s nothing making him call to Morgan, trying to help. He does it because Morgan helped him, helped Rick realize what this new world has become.
Then we remember Andrea (Laurie Holden) losing her sister. Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) tries her best to comfort Andrea, but it’s a tough thing this early on in the world of zombies. Death and loss haven’t fully yet become an integrated part of their lives yet. So Andrea is reeling, naturally. Others like Daryl (Norman Reedus), Glenn (Steven Yeun) and T-Dog (Irone Singleton) get rid of the corpses, all the dead walkers. They burn the bodies. Meanwhile, Rick and Shane (Jon Bernthal) talk over how the death of her sister is driving Andrea a little crazy. But when Rick tries to talk with her, Andrea pulls a gun; she isn’t quite done.
Daryl wants to make sure Andrea’s sister doesn’t reanimate. The others aren’t as eager to just put one through her head. Still, they all go on about their business. Glenn insists their people are buried, not burned like the zombies. He even confronts Daryl over it, ensuring they retain some sort of humanity. Although, Daryl’s not happy: “Y‘all left my brother for dead. You had this coming.”
Then Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) discovers Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) has a bite. One of the zombies got to him. When people circle him, Jim gets defensive. They find the teeth marks around his ribs after lifting his shirt. Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), Rick and the others look on, not sure exactly what to do.
What’s interesting, going back through the series already knowing where everything is currently, is seeing the difference between the attitudes of human beings at the beginning, and seeing them where they are now. In Season 1, these people were still struggling with watching people come back from the dead. Despite zombie movies and all that, none of us would react too well witnessing any of that. So there’s a reluctance to simply put one through a person’s head at this moment in time. Later, they’ll begin to figure out there are necessary steps in this new world in order to secure one’s own survival, and the survival of others.
A scene between Andrea and Dale has him talking about losing his wife. She had a difficult, rough bout with cancer. She was able to get through and keep her spirit. He wasn’t and became angry, saying he “felt cheated.” Eventually, Dale tells Andrea she and her sister were special to him. The first people since his wife passed with which he connected. This is an important and emotional scene, as it sets up a relationship that exists between these two which lasts a long while. A friendly, caring relationship. One of my favourites early on in this series. More than that, Dale helps Andrea ease through the death of her sister. As best she can, anyways.
Brings me to something else I love about The Walking Dead: the human component. Yes, a zombie movie or show in this case is going to fixate on the actual undead. Obviously, right? But part of what makes any good zombie film properly enjoyable is that there are strong characters bringing human emotions, troubles and dreams into the mix. So Andrea and Dale, that’s one part of why I love the first season. Not to mention a little later, Carol decides to take the pick-axe from Daryl to finish off her dead husband, and she lays into him, over and over, splashing brain matter everywhere; one last chance to get in her licks on such a despicable, abusive man.
However, the most human of moments in this episode is when Andrea’s sister Amy comes back. The turn. Her almost milky-pupiled eyes open again, then it’s almost as if Andrea gets the chance to both let go and also simultaneously realise how people come back, as well as what must be done when that happens. It’s a semi-beautiful scene until sadly Andrea has to put her down.
Disturbing bits and pieces come with Jim, left alone in a camper. His mind is slipping into the deep darkness of the zombie virus. He sweats and shivers in the corner on his bed, pleading with his own brain: “No, no, no. Not this.” I hope nobody else gets taken because of the lack of willingness to put Jim out of his misery.
More interesting things are happening with Shane creating friction between himself and Rick – part jealousy, part genuine yet too much concern. Then there’s Rick trying to do his best for his family, as well as everyone else in their group. He is a leader. Naturally born that way. Further than that, he was a Sheriff. Before the collapse. Nevertheless, I find it intriguing to see Rick try and juggle all those human problems while dealing with the inhumane terror of their new lives. Lot of weight to carry on one set of shoulders, and it’s all bearing down on Rick, as if he were anointed the supreme leader after he came into the camp.
More and more, Shane is pushing the boundaries into what’s acceptable. He still wants Lori. And I get it, maybe the thought to tell her Rick was dead didn’t come as a malicious choice. But now Rick is back, he is alive. Shane ought to have the manhood to step back and leave everything alone. He can’t, though. Even when he and Rick are alone together he continually drives hard about Lori, Carl. Then, we see a brief moment where Rick is in the sights of Shane’s gun, and he almost goes to pull the trigger. Or does he? Coming up on him is Dale, and I’m pretty sure he understood what was just happening. Shane sweats it silently pretending it’s nothing. But boy, does Dale ever sense trouble.
After the decision to head out for the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Rick calls out on the radio for Morgan. He even offers to leave a map there, in case Morgan comes. Everyone is getting ready to head out. Jim still sits alone, sweating and rocking in bed. Not everybody wants to go, such as Morales (Juan Pareja) and his family. The rest head out together. On the car Glenn stole in the city, Rick leaves his note for Morgan. Onward, and hopefully upward. Though, don’t count on any of that just yet.
These moments are fairly intense, especially with John Murphy’s “Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)” playing in the background. When the R.V. breaks down and the gang pull over, things slow down. And poor Jim sees his final minutes, asking to be left on the road rather than go on in excruciating pain. Tragic scene as they leave Jim next to a tree, where he wants to remain.
The episode’s name comes to us in the form of an Operation Name at the CDC. We’re introduced to Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) on a self-recorded video. He is underground at the CDC, it seems. Things are certainly not going well, as we can imagine.
Here we’re treated to classical music. Jenner goes about his routine, hauling out a sample labelled TS-19— brain sections. He does lots of things in the lab, running a machine and taking out further, smaller cell samples of the TS-19 subject. After knocking over a beaker things go haywire and Jenner has to head into decontamination. Worse than that, his TS-19 sample is compromised and completely ruined – full decontamination all but nukes the laboratory, to Jenner’s dismay. Cut to him recorded again on the small camera. This time, drinking. Those TS-19 samples were valuable, “the freshest“. Perhaps the loss is massive, more than we could know. I like that this is only alluded to, not fully explained. The statement comes heavily after Jenner tells the camera: “I think tomorrow I‘m gonna blow my brains out. I haven‘t decided yet.”
The heaviest part of this whole situation is that Rick and the others arrive right after we witness Jenner and his suicidal thoughts. They believe there’s something at the CDC worth coming for, right as we’re seeing the virtual death of the ambitions of the CDC, or at least that’s the feeling we get. With the survivors stepping up to the CDC’s doors, can Rick find any reason worth staying? Or will this push them further out into the zombified world? Standing at the doorstep, zombies approaching, Rick has to make a decision. Nobody else is really on his side, but he stands firm for the moment. He sees a camera moving and knows someone is inside. Before Shane can tear Rick away, the door opens, the episode ends.Next episode is the Season 1 finale, “TS-19.”