By Combat Jack
Ever since I watched George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead when I was four years old, frozen in terror as I viewed the black-and-white death tale unfolding on that Zenith screen, I've loved zombies (and been effed up in the head). I picked up the first black-and-white issue of The Walking Dead back in 2003, and it was nothing less than banana bread and horse meats, meaning very dope. I've been bigging it up since way before it became AMC's hottest show ever, and when the Complex boys—for whom I spilled true stories about classic rap songs—peeped my zombie swag on Twitter, they invited me to do a weekly review of the show. So here I am, getting all up in your brains. If you're not watching the series, go kill yourself, come back to life, then kill yourself again. Or just catch up and walk with me as I walk with The Walking Dead... [Note: This review contains spoilers.]
PLOT: In the aftermath of last week's zombie attack on the camp, the survivors are left trying to pull their shit back together again. Rick is still attempting to communicate with Morgan (from episode 1) via walkie talkie. The campers have their hands full burying the recent dead (right after they've been de-zombified by way of pickaxe blows to the cranium). Andrea mourns the death of her sister Amy, who bought it by way of zombie bites to the forearm and neck. It's revealed that Jim was bitten on the abdomen by a walker in that same campsite attack. Rick decides it's way too risky to wait for rescue by the quarry and strongly suggests the crew head 100 miles away to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which he figures will be heavily guarded by totally smart and well intentioned human people. Shane, who starts losing it, is totally against the move, totally against Rick, almost to the point where we see him contemplating offing Rick in a Dick Cheney-ish type of duck hunt shooting "accident." Tension escalates as Andrea and crew wait for zombie Amy to wake and still living Jim to turn zombie. Glenn goes head to head with Daryl, demanding that the freshly dead receive a proper humane burial. After a change of heart, Shane backs up Rick in heading to the CDC. The Latino family headed by Morales opts to go it alone and leave our merry group. On the way to the CDC, Jim, obviously turning, decides to man up for the greater good and asks to be left on the side of the road. At the CDC, a lone scientist named Jenner is recording his research on the zombie outbreak in vlog fashion. In Jenner's vlogs, we learn that the zombie outbreak is termed "Wildfire," and also that the outbreak has hit globally. As the group arrives at the CDC, there's a moment of Jenner sizing them up via surveillance camera as they have walkers closing in on them. The last shot is of Jenner opening up one of the shuttered entrances, all bright lights and climactic, reminding many of the hatch scene from the finale episode of the first season of Lost.
ACTION: Minimal. Other than Daryl going Green Arrow on a zombie. But the lack of action here is a very good thing.
EFFECTS: AMC's The Walking Dead continues to serve up visual goodies in the form of superb make-up artistry. Amy's flesh wound, repeated pickaxes to the dome, dead looking dead bodies littering the streets, a bonfire of charred corpses—it's so refreshing to see a network like AMC supporting a show that does not, will not pander to the screamish.
GORE: Last episode, we saw Carol's abusive husband Ed get murked by a couple of nasty zombie bites. Here, as a precautionary measure, all newly dead must get pickaxed in the head—you know, kill the brain, kill the zombie. Carol decides to handle Ed's corpse on her own and commences to hack at dude's head-piece like it's nobody's business. It's as touching a scene as it is gory, Carol releasing all types of pent up emotions from what looks like years of abuse from her husband. One thing I learned in this episode is that, when the dead come back, and there are no shrinks in sight, bashing out the skull of those you love/hate is the new therapy.
SCARINESS: There were several tense moments that were incredible but they in no way ranked high on my scariness meter.
COMICS VS. SHOW: Prior to this episode, the differences between the show and the book were pretty minimal. In "Wildfire," the whole CDC thing was the series' first major departure from the book. As I mentioned above, the end of this episode was very reminiscent of Lost and the buildup leading to the hatch reveal. I don't necessarily think said departure was a bad or good thing. One thing it definitely is is interesting. If you've never watched Lost, don't feel left out, just nod and act like you know what the eff I'm talking about.
COMBAT JACK'S FINAL ANALYSIS: "Wildfire" was all about great zombie drama, and ended up being my second favorite episode of the series, my first being the pilot episode, "Days Gone Bye." Having the luxury of being a long, drawn out series as opposed to a two-hour-and-change movie, The Walking Dead actually brought something new to the zombie genre table with "Wildifire," and that is how exactly humans will react in the aftermath of a crazed zombie horde attack. Confusion, sorrow at the passing of loved ones, the heartfelt hours of mourning while at the same time awaiting said loved one's ghoulish return. The scene with Andrea waiting by her dead sister Amy's side, reminiscing on her life, celebrating her birthday, watching for her dead eyes to gain a flicker of dead life before recognizing that her reincarnation won't result in any types of love fest, and Amy, body twitching, fingers caressing Andrea's hair briefly before turning into claws of the dead looking for a meal, Andrea ending the moment with a well placed bullet to Amy's brain... That scene right there was nothing less than an exercise in brilliant zombie drama. And Jim, infected with the virus, waiting to turn, as his friends pity and distance themselves from him, while they also struggle with handling his situation with some semblance of compassion, Jaqui kissing him goodbye, it doesn't get realer than that. There have been some slow episodes this season, mainly because of the great deal of character introductions. It all came together in "Wildifire." This episode made for great television. This was the kind of Walking Dead episode that I signed up for.
BONUS: The director of "Wildfire" was Ernest Dickerson, longtime friend and cinematographer of famed movie director Spike Lee who directed several episodes of The Wire, including the famed "Hamsterdam" episode, as well as the classic hip-hop movie Juice, which starred the late, great Tupac Shakur. Word to Bishop.
• Combat Jack Reviews The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 2 "Guts"
• Combat Jack Reviews The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 3 "Tell It to the Frogs"
• Combat Jack Reviews The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 4 "Vatos"
• Complex's Interview With "The Walking Dead" Creator Robert Kirkman
• The 15 Best Ways To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse
• Combat Jack Presents: True Stories Behind 25 Rap Classics