One of the recurring themes in The Walking Dead has been the tension between the characters’ impulse to survive and their desire to hold onto as many of the customs and traditions of their old lives as possible. That tension, which has driven much of the character conflict in the show so far, is placed right at the heart of ‘Wildfire’ as the survivors are forced to decide whether to sacrifice some of their humanity for their own safety.
In the very first episode of the season, we heard Morgan talk about why he was unable to “put down” his wife when she was going through the transformation. In the early scenes of ‘Wildfire,’ it seems Andrea is struggling with similar feelings as she refuses to allow the other members of the group to touch the body of her dead-by-zombie-bite sister.
The group is worried that unless they destroy the corpse’s brain that it will soon rise from the dead and put them all in danger, yet most understand and sympathize with Andrea’s need to mourn for her sister. As expected, her sister’s body does rise from the dead in a strikingly staged sequence in which Andrea is both cradling her zombified sister and protecting herself from its attempts to grasp at her before dispatching it with a quick gunshot.
Having heard the transformation process described, it is fascinating to watch it unfold for the first time on screen. Amy is the first character we have seen both as a human and as a zombie, and it is clear that when she wakes up she is a very different person than we saw in the previous episode. Andrea’s decision to dispatch her is a comparatively simple one.
Proving much trickier is the question of what to do about Jim, who was also bitten during the attack. While Amy died before transforming, Jim is still walking around as the disease gestates inside his body. We know he will transform but he clearly is still a human at this point in the story. While the safest thing to do would be to kill him immediately most within the group would see that as murder. Yet they also know that by not killing him they would be putting themselves and their children in danger.
As we have seen before there are significant splits in the group between those who consider their own survival to be the most important thing (Darryl is the most outspoken member of this grouping but Shane also consistently votes for options that are least likely to involve conflict) and those who are desperate to retain their sense of humanity (Rick being the clearest voice on this side of the argument).
The debates amongst the characters are interesting because they tell us so much about them, their personalities and priorities. For instance, though Lori is clearly worried about the prospect of heading into Atlanta in the hopes of finding someone at the Center for Disease Control, she opts to side with her husband over Shane. Her desire to preserve her marriage is her primary concern.
Aside from revealing aspects of each character though, that any debate is taking place at all is a sign that Shane no longer commands the status within the group that he held prior to Rick’s arrival. Increasingly we have seen him marginalized and signs of a darker side to his personality emerge. In one key sequence in this episode we see Shane almost succumbing to those darker impulses within him as he contemplates shooting Rick in the forest. It is a surprising and highly effective moment and shows just how quickly this character has changed in the course of the series.
As the group makes their way back into the city (albeit without one family that decides they want to try to find their relatives in Alabama), focus shifts to a new character, Jenner, who appears to be the last scientist left alive at the CDC. In a series of video log entries, Jenner reveals more about the state of the world after the zombie pandemic and the time line of events.
Though interesting in the details they confirm, I felt that these scenes dragged a little and, aside from one important scene in which he clumsily destroys the remaining zombie flesh samples, were quite dull. They do however do a good job of establishing that this character is alone and, from the looks of things, is quite unstable. His existence and reveal immediately brings back memories of discovering Desmond Hume in the Lost hatch.
Upon arriving at the CDC, the characters find the building locked up and as night begins to fall zombies begin to appear on the street. The group once again starts to argue about what to do and are about to leave when Jenner decides to open the gates, throwing a bright white light onto the group. Though the characters seem filled with hope when the doors to the CDC open, I was left with the feeling that worse dangers will end up lying within for the band of survivors in next week’s The Walking Dead: Season One finale.
– Aidan Brack