Broadcast Date: 28 November 2010
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Writer: Glen Mazzara
Cast: Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeffrey DeMunn, Laurie Holden, Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs, and Steven Yeun
Rick: “We don’t kill the living.”
Every time I hear that line in a promotional spot for AMC’s The Walking Dead by AMC because you’re watching AMC, I get a slight case of the giggles. The sentence is six kinds of absurd, somehow both an oxymoron and a tautology, or rather it would be if Rick lived on our side of the multiverse. Instead, he lives in a world where the dead become flesh-hungry monsters, where leaving the sick by the side of the road can be viewed as an act of compassion, and where a man can lose his mind in a secluded bunker without Fox calling it reality programming.
Like “Tell It to the Frogs”, this week’s episode doesn’t present us with a cohesive story but a collection of subplots designed to transition our heroes to the next set piece. The difference is the threads have a unifying theme this time: the way we deal with death as a reflection of our regrets. Also, each plot comes with its own payoff, making for a happy Dimitri (I’m all about instant gratification). Still, “Wildfire” features three separate tales, and I suppose I ought to review the episode accordingly.
I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Girl
The most effective storyline focuses on Andrea, who had me cringing all through the first act as I watched her stubbornly wait for Amy to turn into a zombie before shooting her in the noggin. Her actions are motivated by neither shock nor delusion. She just needs to speak with her sister one last time, leading to an exchange (if you can call it that) so gut-wrenching my eyes are puffing up as I’m writing this: new fave scene so far. It isn’t Andrea’s words that got to me so much as the siblings’ silent intimacy. Even as a ghoul, Amy looks so gentle…
This makes for a stark contrast with Carol’s own mourning process, though it’s worth noting both characters express thoughts and feelings they couldn’t when their loved ones were alive. The battered woman’s final interaction with her late husband consists of repeatedly bashing his head in with a pickaxe until even Daryl gets uncomfortable. I hope her daughter didn’t have to see this. Still, the splatter shot with the brain bits hitting the camera is pretty neat.
Who Died and Made You @#$! King of the Zombies?
While the women mourn, the men try to control death by fighting over Jim’s fate without bothering to ask how he might feel about the whole thing. Despite the widower’s noble sacrifice, the subplot leaves me somewhat indifferent. Maybe I got distracted by the campers’ overreaction, given Jim might have been able to hide his bite mark but not his debilitating fever. Maybe I was turned off because a variation of these scenes appears in almost every other zombie flick out there. Maybe my heart is made of cold, cold ice.
More intriguing is the growing conflict between Rick and Shane, to whom I’m starting to warm. Conflicted as the character may be, his love for our hero strikes me as genuine. I mean, if not for guilt, why would he capitulate to Rick’s awful, awful plan? Of course, one might ask instead why Shane aimed a gun at his friend in the first place. Rick’s insensitive comment about his not having a family is what set him off, but I don’t think envy truly factored in.
Shane’s rage stems from desperation, not ambition. His partner’s return has robbed him of everything that gave his post-apocalyptic existence meaning. First, he lost Lori (love), who then took Carl (legacy), and now Rick’s natural charisma and stubborn disposition are inadvertently usurping his authority (purpose). Shane needs these spiritual resources as much as the others need food and shelter, so raising his gun might well have been survivor’s instinct kicking in. I feel sad for the man.
Send More Paramedics
The final act of “Wildfire” sees a dramatic shift in tone. In fact, the subplot feels more like an extended trailer for next week’s instalment, as we’re introduced to Jenner, a CDC scientist who relates to the dead only in terms of his research. From this, we might surmise his biggest regret is his failure to halt the zombie plague, but I’m not sure his scenes are meant to follow the same thematic scheme as the rest. Also, I’m wondering if placing the first half of this segment at the beginning of the episode might have helped create a sense of cohesion and narrative progression. At any rate, the ending inspired me to whistle the X-Files theme for some reason.
Bits and Pieces Hitting the Camera
- The episode starts and ends with Rick praying to a communication device: his speech on the walkie-talkie felt more like a confession than a warning message, and there’s some ambiguity as to whether he was pleading with God or the person at the other end of the camera over at the CDC.
- It was so sad to see the children say goodbye to each other.
- The track used for the road trip montage is John Murphy’s “In the House in a Heartbeat”. It was originally composed for Danny Boyle’s zombie classic, 28 Days Later (2002).
- So have our heroes abandoned their Quest for Merle? I doubt Daryl would be cool with that.
- The campers’ fuss over Jim’s bite mark indicates we may be dealing with contagion after all. Whether it’s a straight virus like in Resident Evil (2002) or something more ethereal like in Return of the Living Dead (1985) remains undetermined.
- Death toll so far: I’ve decided to count only named characters, so that’s three, including Jim, who doesn’t have long to go.
Rick: “If it was your family, you’d feel differently.”
That was cold, dude.
Andrea: “I know how the safety works.”
And that was hardcore.
Lori: “All I can says is neither one of you was entirely wrong.”
Daryl: “The Chinaman gets all emotional, says it’s not the thing to do, and we just follow him along?”
It’s worth noting that, for all his posturing, Daryl chose to go along with Glenn’s request all on his lonesome. No one forced him. The man just can’t bring himself to admit he quite likes the Chinaman, can he?
Jim: “That’s on me, okay? My decision, not your failure.”
The man saw right through Rick, didn’t he?
Jenner: “I think tomorrow I’m going to blow my brains out. I haven’t decided, but tonight I’m getting drunk.”
Andrea: “Amy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not ever being there. I always thought there’d be more time. I’m here now, Amy. I love you.”
Okay, so it’s a little bit Andrea’s words.