The Walking Dead episode 5 review: Wildfire
The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead's first season keeps the standard sky-high. Does it really end for a year next week?
The review contains spoilers.
The bodies are stacked up like cord wood in the aftermath of last week’s zombie attack on the survivor camp, and those who were lucky enough to escape unscathed are counting their blessings and trying to figure out just how to handle the deaths of their friends and loved ones.
For some, like battered wife Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), it’s a chance to vent some frustration via pickax to the brain. For others, like shattered big sister Andrea, it’s a chance to do one last good deed for a departed sibling.
Unfortunately for Rick and the merry band of remainders, not all of their party escaped the events of the zombie attack unscathed. Not only were some of them killed, one of them was injured. That would be Jim, who spent last week’s episode digging graves and this week’s episode filling them, at least until eagle-eyed Jacqui spots some fresh blood on his shirt and alerts the others. Jim’s been bitten. Now it’s up to Rick to figure out what to do next.
Fortunately, Rick’s got a plan. Granted, Shane and the others might believe it’s a dumb plan, but it sure beats waiting around outside of Atlanta for the walkers to head out to the country for a picnic. After the attack last episode, the survivors realize just how precarious their position is. A moving target is a harder to hit target, and according to Rick’s reasoning, the Center for Disease Control building outside of Atlanta might be the most secure government facility this side of Fort Benning, Georgia (which is about 125 miles outside of Atlanta). Plus, Rick is holding out hope that somewhere out there is a safe, well-armed, secure facility where some sort of power structure remains (and where a cure for Jim’s zombie-itis can be found). Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja) and his family will not be making the trip, opting to head for Birmingham and some dead family members.
Well, they’re partially right. The CDC building is a safe, secure facility. However, where Rick’s gamble is wrong is the idea that it’s well armed. In order to be well armed, there have to be people alive who know how to use the armaments, and while the CDC does have a tank on its doorstep, the enormous pile of bodies in the area around the facility suggests that hope of survivors is useless. Well, besides one researcher who is a little on the loopy side due to stress, isolation, and lack of sleep, among other problems.
This might be more of a problem than a solution for Rick, Lori, and the gang.
Speaking of the gang, there are some very interesting tensions bubbling under the surface, namely the question of which survivor is the alpha dog of the pack, Rick or Shane? Daryl is behaving himself, for the most part, but it’s only a matter of time before that tightly wound bundle snaps and starts picking off the people who he’s blaming for leaving his brother to die in Atlanta, and Carol isn’t exactly a shining example of mental health. Oh yeah, and there’s also the issue of the love triangle, or rather the married couple and the pseudo-suitor.
I also like that this week’s episode put some explanation into the issues involving the dead. Namely, how long does a person have after being bitten/killed before they come back? The Walking Dead‘s zombie universe seems to be pretty generous with the time until return, unlike the Romeroverse. This fits in nicely with the efforts of the nameless CDC scientist who tries to figure out the reason behind the outbreak, known as Wildfire in CDC speak.
This episode was really well done, both in terms of writing and direction. Director Ernest R. Dickerson is another TV veteran, working on shows like The Wire, Dexter, Heroes, and even an episode of Masters Of Horror (The V Word). He mixes in wider shots with tighter, more traditional television shots to good effect. There’s some very impressive special effects shots in this week’s episode, particularly when the survivors use a pickax to ensure the zombies remain dead, rather than becoming undead again, but it’s not excessive (as some have said about the use of guts in Guts). It’s a zombie show, there’s going to be awful moments, but Dickerson deftly weaves crowd-pleasing gore moments with critic-pleasing acting performances.
On the writing front, scriptwriter Glen Mazzara is another TV vet with a lot of great work to his name, especially as writer on The Shield and Crash. Unlike Crash, this week’s episode was thankfully low on spousal abuse and racial tension, aside from Daryl calling Glenn a Chinaman again. However, Jim got some great material to work with, and the disagreements between Shane and Rick were awesome (and the teased moment in the woods was phenomenal, especially Dale’s expression).
The Walking Dead, aside from a few missteps, has been a spectacular show. Even the episodes that didn’t quite work have had enough good content within them to make the show worthy of an hour a week. This week’s episode might actually be the best one since the pilot episode. All the moments that have made the show great, from the zombie violence to the conflicts between survivors and the human drama elements, were united in a single episode. My few quibbles are simply that. No major issues, and my few problems are related to decisions made by the special effects team (shooting day for dusk, the blinding white light) than any real, rightful complaint.
It’s hard to believe that there’s only one episode of The Walking Dead left to show. I’m not sure I can handle waiting an entire year for new episodes. If only there was some way to get AMC to move the next season ahead so as to get more zombie action on TV sooner than next August.
Read our review of episode 4, Vatos, here.
US correspondent Ron Hogan would love to go to the CDC building and take a tour. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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