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The Walking Dead Recap: Episode 1.5 ‘Wildfire’

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There’s a lot of hot fuss over AMC’s The Walking Dead. Critics seem to adore it, though many viewers have pointed out the numerous bone-headed moves of the human survivors. With only one new episode left in the season, I’ve taken the stance that The Walking Dead is in reference to the survivors, not the walkers. Their clock is ticking, and ticking loud. This buys them a few inches of leeway—maybe they’ll grasp their primal side and live as best they can. Maybe they’ll keep choosing the worst possible route and keep themselves in turmoil and anguish. Either way, they have less than sixty minutes remaining to come up with some semblance of an end. Perfection isn’t expected, but some form of resolution would be rewarding to viewers.

Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) opens the episode warning the father and son (from the pilot) via walkie-talkie that Atlanta is a giant hellhole and to be avoided. Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) consoles Angela (Laurie Holden), whose sister was zombie chow at the end of the last episode. Angela won’t leave the body and points a gun at Grimes when he tries to suggest they need to burn the body and find a new camp.

The camp is uneasy about the infected body, and Daryl rightly calls it a “time bomb.” Daryl is more than happy to destroy the bodies but to be safe, they need to destroy all possible undead brains. Jim lets it slip that he was bitten and everyone freaks. But they don’t kill him. Instead they plan to go to the CDC, which like any other government agency during a zombie apocalypse, is going to be shiny, friendly and efficient.

Dale takes a turn at reaching out to Angela. She takes out Amy’s birthday necklace—it would have been Amy’s birthday if not for the whole eaten alive conundrum—and makes her peace. Abusive Husband is dead too, and it is his wife who takes the pick ax to his brain. It looks cathartic. It also looks like she might be wearing scrubs? Was that always true?

When Angela finally says goodbye she hears a tiny breath. Guess who’s back! At first, it is all sweet, and she looks pretty human—she is after all breathing air. But then Amy starts to growl softly and pull Angela closer, so Angela says she loves her and shoots her little sister in the head.

Grimes and Shane dig holes to bury the camp’s dead (what happened to Jim’s holes?) and bicker. After they bury the others, Grimes and his wife debate the cost and benefits of Grimes’ trip for the guns. He brings up the CDC again and Lori avoids answering. Yet Grimes has that look in his eye, the look that says “roadtrip, girlfriend!” He checks in on Jim, who has a wicked fever and Emmy-worthy gory hallucinations.

Shane tries to convince Lori to talk Grimes out of the CDC idea, but when Grimes arrives she takes his side just to spite Shane. The two guys go patrolling in the woods and tempers flare when Grimes says he is just looking out for his family. But remember Shane was angling to move into that territory… thankfully they are interrupted by an ominous snapping branch. As they look around, guns drawn, Shane comes across the perfect shot to take Grimes out. He wrestles with his conscience and doesn’t take it; which was a smart move as Dale chooses that moment to come join them and sees Shane deciding to take the higher path. At camp, Shane concedes and offers the camp a choice: if they want, they can leave in the morning to go to the CDC 100 miles south.

Only one family opts out of heading to Birmingham. The rest start a caravan and hopefully pack extra gas for the road. In stunning news, the roads are clear and there are no transit hiccups other than some longing looks out windows and Jim whimpering. Late in the afternoon, Dale’s RV breaks down and word comes that Jim is almost done for. In a moment of lucidity, Jim asks to be left behind. Only Grimes would try and argue his way out of leaving a walker-to-be behind, but the crew honors his last wish.  Grimes offers him a chance to shoot himself, but Jim declines as the rest of the crew tries to sound calm and say goodbye.  Jim the human dies looking at the sun and feeling the warm breeze, not a bad way to go.

A black computer screen shows a file for the “Wildfire” virus and a camera flickers to life. In front of it is Jenner, a white mid-40s guy who looks exhausted. He kindly counts the hundred-plus days since the virus was first reported and the sixty-odd days since it went global.  Clearly he is a scientist, lamenting his lack of engineering skills to keep the lab running.  He also reports trouble sleeping and has made no progress on the virus.  Then we see him at work in the lab; a delightful geek montage of brain samples and peeking through microscopes. A hose breaks loose and he nearly infects himself. Jenner is not infected, but the lab ‘deconstructs,’ which means it explodes. Back at his video blog he shares that the samples that were destroyed were the ‘freshest’ and their loss is catastrophic to any progress.

The gang finds the CDC, which is littered with dead walkers and stalled army vehicles. Jenner picks up the intrusion signal. The crew tries to enter a service entrance, but to no avail. Panic sets in when they realize they are up the creek and it is getting dark. Grimes makes a desperate plea to the security camera, which Jenner is watching in disbelief. The service door opens, awash in white light, and… end scene.

Bonus Thoughts:

*If you are into the www.amcdead.com “Stagger-On Role” contest, “cadaver” would be the word you want.

*Remember the choice between feral pleasure and existential anguish? The previews for the finale show no epic parties, which is heartbreaking.  They also find out the whole world is destroyed and Angela might be infected.

*In no world should Jim be left to turn into a walker. Some other group of survivors could be gobbled up by him! Here again, Crazy Daryl seems to be the least crazy when he offers to shoot Jim on a variety of occasions.

*It could be considered a cheat to break from Grimes’ point of view and dump Jenner’s story on viewers.  Especially since we’re likely to hear it again when he tells the crew.

*Switching vantage points to Jenner in the CDC introduces a possible saving grace: what if other pockets of survivors are featured? Maybe a gaggle of Catholic school boys are looking for utopia in Michigan; at least a few hardcore survival camps would have popped up in the Northwest. Even if the Atlanta group gets wiped out, there are plenty of stories.