Review: The Walking Dead (EP05) – “Wildfire”


[Some Spoilers Within]

We’ve now come to the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead‘s first season. If there’s been one thing about this tv adaptation — of the Robert Kirkman comic book series which it’s based on — has proven it’s that the show is willing to go off the reservation when it comes to following the source material. The show has made some interesting storytelling and character choices right from the start. Scenes which occur later in the comic book have been moved up and combined with others. New characters, both recurring and disposable ones, have been introduced to the original numbers from the book.

Some of these changes have been welcomed by old fans of the book, but there’s a vocal minority who don’t see why there’s a need for such changes and additions. To new fans whose experience with this franchise has been just through the show the changes don’t mean a thing. They’re coming into this fresh and with open eyes. For long-time fans this need to watch this show with open eyes instead of clutching at the strict canonical material that are the books it would be a hard time going. I’m one of those who have been reading the books since the beginning and for the most part I’ve accepted these changes. Even the major departure introduced to end this episode I find quite interesting and with guarded optimism that it will lead to a surprising season finale and set-up season two properly.

We begin the show the very morning after the zombie attack on the camp which ended the previous episode. The survivors are cleaning up the bodies of both the “walkers” put down and those people they lost. The scenes showing how both Carol deals with her abusive husband’s corpse and how Andrea deals with her younger sister Amy were quite powerful in their own way. In one scene, we see an abused and beaten down wife taking out her anger and relief on the source of her problems with a pickaxe. In another, we see an older sister remembering past regrets of never being there for her much younger sister despite promises to do so. The scene with Andrea goes against much of what most zombie survival aficionados would do, but it brings to light just how much the Andrea loved her sister and even if it means seeing her come to a semblance of life just one more time to say her goodbyes she would do it. Knowing what she would need to do in the end just made her tearful final goodbye that more powerful.

The third farewell doesn’t happen until 3/4’s of the way into the episode (though we do see Morales and his family go their own way. Going to miss him going for the fences with that baseball bat) and involves Jim. An injury incurred from the fight during the night leaves him and the group with a problem that gets resolved in one of the more poignant scenes in this series, so far. As Morgan Jones from the pilot episode instructed Rick the “walkers” and their bites are a death sentence. The two competing leaders of the group in Rick and Shane want to solve their Jim problem using different methods. Rick wants to take the group to the one place he thinks could still help Jim and that’s the CDC near Atlanta. While Shane, with enthusiastic support from Daryl, wants to put Jim down before he becomes a dangerous liability.

In a scene reminiscent of a similar one from Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, Jim makes the final and ultimate decision about his life. The goodbyes made by everyone to Jim after he’s made his decision to be left behind was very heartbreaking. Jim might have been a secondary support character but the last couple episodes have fleshed out his character enough that we care what happens to this man who has lost everything and thinks his predicament will reunite him with those he has lost.

The growing schism between best friends Rick and Shane gets a few more nails added to it as we see Shane gradually losing his command of the group. The group looks to be gravitating towards Rick as their leader now and even the wildcard in Daryl seem to look to Rick for the answers. The scene between the two as they patrol the woods near the camp definitely widens the gulf between the two even if Rick looks to be unaware of what’s really going on with Shane. The sudden appearance of ever stalwart and ever watchful Dale sure thinks something is amiss.

It’s the final ten minutes of the show where we finally know why the episode was titled “WildFire”. In another departure, one that would be called huge by fans of the comic books, we see the lone surviving researcher within the CDC sending video reports on what’s being called “Wildfire” and how research on the so-called “disease” has remained useless with no answer in sight.

The whole entire sequence reminds me of the early parts of Stephen King’s own apocalyptic epic novel, The Stand, as scientists desperately try to stem the tide of the approaching apocalypse to no avail. It’s little subtle references to other apocalyptic stories and tales like this which keeps some of the changes and departures from the source material bearable and, at times, even welcome.

It’s this major departure that will send some long-time fans of the comic book apoplectic. The vocal minority will definitely get even louder as to why Darabont and the writers are messing with the timeline and the stories in the original comic book. As one of those fans I should be screaming just as loudly, but the zombie and apocalyptic genre fan in me actually like how this show has gone off the beaten path of the original source material.

If they had stayed word-for-word and panel-for-panel true to the comic book then there’s no surprises to be experience. Knowing how everything unfolds right from the start could get boring even if it is about something read and re-read with love. There’s still no guarantee that the final pay-off of this particular major detour from the comic book will end in a good way, but the possibility of not knowing how this story-arc will end this first season is both exciting and tense-inducing. It could succeed in the best way, but also fail in an epic one. Either way the path now is not set in stone and everything moving forward will be undiscovered country.

Extras

* Quote of the night: “I think tomorrow I’m gonna blow my brains out, I haven’t decided. But tonight, I’m getting drunk!” – nameless CDC researcher.

* For once Glenn doesn’t have a witty quip or remark which just highlights the somber mood of this episode.

* There’s still no news on the whereabouts of one Merle Dixon though he gets name-dropped a couple times.

* A sneaking suspicion that Merle will not appear again this season, but may in the next or later ones.

* Bear McCreary’s score and choices of music for the episode the best in the series, so far to date. Especially, the use of John Murphy’s  Adagio in D Minor from the sci-fi drama Sunshine which was recently used in Kick-Ass.

6 responses to “Review: The Walking Dead (EP05) – “Wildfire”

  1. I have this odd feeling — and it’s just a hunch that comes from several years of watching TV and zombie films — that Merle will show up in the 2nd season but he’s probably going to have transformed himself into the TV equivalent of the original book’s Governor. It’s just a hunch and some of it, to be honest, is probably due to the fact that, in my own reading and catching up, I’ve only recently reached the Governor’s 1st appearance.

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    • Ahh, it’s good to know you’ve been doing your homework. 🙂

      What do you think of the book version, so far in regards to the show?

      And, yes I have a suspicion that Merle may end up taking the role of the Governor down the line. Which would make for quite the interesting detour from the comics.

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  2. After reading your review of last night’s episode, I think one of the reasosn I might be enjoying the Walking Dead so much is because I’m coming into it having never read (or really even heard of) the original comic book and I’ve never been a huge fan of zombie movies. I guess the advantage of being a “zombie virgin” is that I can watch the show without any preconcieved expectations and just get caught up in the story without having to worry about how it compares to other zombie stories. So far, I’ve stuck the show because I care about the characters and not because it’s a “zombie” show. Last night’s episode, especially in the start where they were burying and shooting their dead, worked because I bought into the characters.

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  3. I thought this episode was well-balanced. The oppressiveness of the situation was apparent throughout, but we didn’t see much of the zombies themselves. Instead, the characters were dealing with the aftermath of an attack – struggling to reconcile ethical and practical concerns, and to cope with the unrelenting stress of the situation, especially having had it strike them directly. Some characters now had to deal not only with personal loss, but the trauma of having witnessed their loved ones horrifically killed.

    This would be a good episode for a curious non-zombie fan to pick up with the show (though they may be startled by the reanimation prevention scenes). As Erin observed, there was a great deal of pathos involving a few of the characters in different contexts, so a viewer would be inclined to become invested in the characters’ fates.

    This episode reinforces the sense that “The Walking Dead” can be a good show in a number of different ways. Maybe a revolving team of writers can keep the show fresh by infusing a variety of elements and styles that will attract and keep fans with disparate preferences interested.

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    • A revolving door of writers will probably not be in the stars for next season as my latest post explains. Who knows it may change again, but it looks like it’ll be Darabont writing (Kirkman probably will do an episode or two as well) and then freelance writers to spruce things up.

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