Episode 5: Wildfire
So I’m going to start my essay about episode 5 with a minor rant. I hope this doesn’t detract my piece, but, as a reader of the Walking Dead comics, I feel it necessary. The show is riffing along a different tangent at this point, taking elements from the comics, shaping them into a different beast altogether. This isn’t a bad thing. For a devoted reader it gives suspense. Nothing is predestined at this point and anything’s possible. Am I one of those people who dislike when liberties are taken with a quality text? Yes. Do I condone and even enjoy when liberties are taken? Yes. It’s not how unfaithful an adaptation is, it’s when the integrity of feeling of the original source disappears, like Robocop 2 or 3 being devoid of Paul Verhoeven’s dark brand of social comedy. A faithful representation isn’t important; it’s capturing what the original manuscript imparts. Any adaptation demonstrating this sentiment seems valid.
That said, this episode of The Walking Dead was quite intense and traveling into interesting territory. Picking up the morning following the zombie invasion, we find Andrea crying over her dead sister Amy. The rest of the camp is disposing of bodies – axing their heads, burning the living dead, and digging graves. There’s an argument between Daryl and Glen over funerary rites, Andrea pulls a gun on Rick about Amy disposal, and Joe was bit by a zombie. Eventually the group decides checking out the CDC, amidst protest from particular group members, which leads to a new character and a new perspective.
Beginning, there’s a man alive at the CDC – a scientist (Noah Emmerich from The Truman Show), living along underground. Like Will Smith in I am Legend, he’s looking for a cure. His introduction is given through a digital recording, displaying a log or broadcast from his lair, distorting often. Here’s another issue I have with the television adaption: I believe they’re setting up the zombie holocaust as a disease, a mutation, or virus. The comics don’t follow this pattern, instead treating is as unexplained phenomenon. Like Romero’s Dawn or Day of the Dead, leaving the cause mysterious works in its favor. It argues the limitations of humankind, saying there are some things we can’t comprehend. Placing a distinct source of the epidemic doesn’t work for me; instead I enjoy the ambiguity. Is it god? Naturally occurring or human made? These kinds of questions are part of the journey. An unexplained zombie outbreak isn’t so final; like any series with sexual tension (The Office or Arrested Development), the zest dies when this tension does.
This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy zombie films with a concrete explanation. I really like 28 Days Later (Rage virus), Night of the Living Dead (satellite radiation), and Return of the Living Dead (experimental government gas), but there’s just something about uncertainty. The Night of the Living Dead remake directed by Tom Savini doesn’t reveal anything, calling it “hell on earth.” Dawn and Day of the Dead approach the phenomenon from a variety of perspectives (virus, act of god), with character motivation in Day of the Dead coming from scientists researching the pandemic. These are all great zombie films and in the post-modern world indecision works. While the original Night of the Living Dead uses radiation as an allusion to Cold War nuclear fears, no set path defines post-modernity and in a world where stable institutions are under scrutiny an unexplained outbreak reflects our environment, our fear, our hopes, and our ideologies. Placing a definite explanation on this situation is a modernist device, restricting the show’s possibilities. Then again, it’s possible we’ll never know what’s going on.
This episode was particularly depressing at times, especially Joe’s situation. Originally he tries hiding a bite he receives during the attack, later succumbing to the illness associated with bites. Moving back and forth between fever and lucidity, Joe finally decides the crew should leave him under a tree at the side of the road. After the group breaks camp, heading for the CDC, Joe reveals every bump on the road feels like “glass,” in his body. Joe faces death with nature, feeling the breeze on his skin and enjoying the world for a few brief moments. He “wants to be with his family,” which is a multi-faceted statement since his family’s dead but most likely zombies by now. He accepts the experience awaiting him. This made me think about this perspective: what it’s like to be a zombie. Is there any consciousness left? Is it like being stuck in some kind of status, experiencing without any control? Is what he is gone, leaving only an automaton bent on murder or is it a living hell – stuck in a prison, forcefully watching events in a bizarre Burgessian fashion?
This week’s episode reveals a good deal of this fantasy world’s mythology, a necessary point in any well crafted science fiction or horror piece. I’ve always had difficultly seeing zombie films as strict horror, placing them in a science fiction category also. Science fiction author Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, A Scanner Darkly) says science fiction uses contemporary reality as a launching point, creating a fictitious world from where we are; everything else is fantasy. The main characters aren’t necessarily the human protagonists, but the world they inhabit. Flying cars and androids are a little more believable than zombies, but the sentiment is still there. The only fantastic thing about The Walking Dead is the walking dead. The characters, the sentiments, and the violence – all pretty realistic. The show takes a few improbable leaps occasionally, but everything else is highly believable; otherwise we wouldn’t watch the show and find it so captivating and horrific.
Between Joe’s slow demise and Amy resurrection, this week’s episode gives a good chunk of The Walking Dead’s mythology. Seeing Amy reborn in Andrea’s arms, breathing again for the first time, opening her dead eyes and glimpsing her surroundings, Andrea, and the camp, we see the pains of becoming a zombie. It’s not instant; we don’t see Amy jump up and start killing. Instead it’s like she’s realizing all the faculties under her control, then realizing her instinct when she grabs Andrea’s hair and beings pulling herself towards her prey. Like Roger’s rebirth in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead the character awakes confused before it finds its target.
Andrea and Amy’s scene was very intense, displaying all the anxiety The Walking Dead has to offer. Amy’s coming back and Andrea’s refusal to turn the body over was frightening. Waiting for Amy’s revivification seemed endless. Even though Andrea’s a primary character, the suspense was killing me. Everything about this scene worked: the music, Andrea’s reaction, Amy’s zombification – all were well played and highly effective. The scene avoids any sentimentality exhibited in earlier episode, even when there’s a sentimental attachment between the two sisters. It displays raw emotion instead of banal exploitation.
This episode, like the third one, only contains limited zombie killing and instead relies heavily on character development. The relationship between Dale and Andrea is continually growing – with Dale relating to Andrea the details of his wife’s death – and will hopefully tastefully mirror the comic book version. Tension between Shane and Rick is rising also. At one point when Rick and Shane are patrolling the perimeter Shane secretly targets Rick with his shotgun. His clandestine murderous desires are quelled, but also seen by Dale. I still believe a confrontation is eminent.
There’s still a good deal of violence in the episode, but zombie killing takes a back seat. One extremely violent shot contains Carol taking a pick axe to her dead husband Ed, obliterating his face. The camera picks up two quality shots, with blood splattering on the lens at one point. Later at the CDC Darryl shoots a zombie in the head with his crossbow. However, that’s not the most disheartening portion of the episode: the massive amount of decomposing bodies outside the CDC is. Like the pilot episode, a litany of flies surrounds the bodies laying outside, imparting an idea of the place’s smell. An actual smell isn’t necessary and the visual and aural representation conveying the situation soundly. Dozens of bodies litter the area, creating doubt and fear. Who knows which bodies are actually dead? How many walkers surround them? Luckily the CDC gate opens for the group, concluding the episode.
Unfortunately there’s only one episode left, with possibly a year until next season. I’m confident the show will end on a cliffhanger; most televised serials do. Next episode may answer any questions regarding the cause of the zombie outbreak and will drive the plot for the next season. The CDC scientist seems a little unstable, indicated by his logs seen throughout the episode’s third act and making me questioning what he’ll do next week. The show could still potentially derail and become a parody of its source material, delineating into absurdity. Since this week’s episode’s called Wildfire and the scientist references this term regarding the original spate, my suspicions regarding the outbreak’s source seems viral. I hope, for the sake of the show and my continued viewership, it’s not.
Here’s the trailer