The Walking Dead has debuted to smashing numbers, based solely on CHUD.com’s business-altering preview piece.

We
kid. Frank Darabont is the man and television is the better for having
him creating horror shows for it. We will be doing Tag Teams of the show
(as we do with Boardwalk Empire and possibly more shows) as we go onward…

Previous Episodes
Days Gone By
Guts
Tell It To The Frogs
Vatos


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Episode 5: Wildfire
Directed by Ernest Dickerson

Alex Riviello: Bye bye, comic.

With the fifth episode, the series that offered a few significant changes to the comic’s continuity has finally completely jumped tracks, and I couldn’t be happier. While it touched on some of the strongest material from the books (Jim longing to be left alone to find his family, Amy getting taken care of by her sister, Shane’s first confrontation of Rick) it’s drastically improved every beat. Amy’s death, for one, is genuinely heartbreaking. It’s something that feels unique about the series as a whole, in fact- it’s hard to think of another zombie property that’s done such a great job humanizing the creatures the way this one has, making you sympathetic to their plight.

But like every episode so far this one is all about the characters, although there’s still some nice bits of gore. Jeffrey DeMunn is fast becoming my favorite actor in the whole piece. He just plays the witty, good-hearted-yet-meddling old bastard perfectly, and Norman Reedus continues to surprise with his depth. We’re shown how all of the characters deal with their ever-present mortality and one of the things I’m loving over the comic is that they don’t cope with loss so easily. They’re dwelling, still getting used to this world, still worrying about seemingly trivial things like burying their dead. It’s going to be great to see how this evolves over the show’s lifetime.

But then there’s the ending of Wildfire, which is sure to raise contention. While the cheesy video journal of CDC man Jenner certainly does a fine job to quickly introduce you to the character and what he’s been through (all alone, no less) the ending almost feels rushed. But man, that shot with the light streaming through the door redeems it all…

It’s pretty obvious at this point that they’re not going to end where the first trade did and that we can expect some intense action for the end, and it might be just what we need to tide us over till next October. What say ye, my fellow nitpickers?

 
Jeremy G. Butler:  You know what, I’ll actually start with a nitpick:  When they pulled over to leave Jim behind, Dale’s Winnebago was about as dead as Li’l Amy, but after they said their goodbyes it was magically fixed!  The hell?

Naw I’m teasin’ (but really – the hell?).  I’m on board with this episode.  Every bit of it.  This is what I was so excited about with the pilot – taking the things we’ve seen a million times but capitalizing on the time allowed to flesh it out.  Damn near everything in this hour of television was a great little moment – Carol’s little bit of grief-stricken revenge on Ed’s corpse, Dale actually taking the time to pay his respects to Amy (I thought that was a nice touch with everybody else just wanting to get rid of her, even if it, and Dale’s speech, was a teency bit stilted), their insistence that they bury and not burn…a lot of great character moments here.  And maybe I was just tired of seeing it in promos aaaallll weeeeeek looooong, but I really liked Daryl’s little call-out of Rick’s “We don’t kill the living” line.

And speaking of Rick – some damn fine (if not a little clumsy) tension between him and Shane this week.  Shane having Rick in his sights out in the woods was one of the first bits of real acting Jon Bernthal has done all season long.  He could taste our hero’s blood, he wanted it so badly.  I didn’t particularly like how he just pulled the effortless 180 once Dale caught him in the almost-act, but it is what it is.

Jenner’s video-diary was a little hard to take right offhand but I grew to like it and the character with what little bit we saw and, from what little they showed in the “Next Week On…” promo, it looks like they’re making the finale a small, group in-fighting affair, which I really REALLY like…if they can pull it off.

The bad part of that?  It looks really Andrea-centric and Laurie Holden is the worst.  “I know how the safety works.”  Getthafuckouttaherewiththat.


Elisabeth Rappe: I imagine the comments are going to have something to say about some of us reversing our negative stances, and being positive. But I’m just a girl who copies everything the leader says, so I am totally following Alex and Jeremy here by giving “Wildfire” a thumbs-up. I have no independent thought whatsoever.

Kidding.  In all seriousness, I did like “Wildfire” a lot.   If “Guts” didn’t already convince you that Kirkman’s book was essentially just a template, “Wildfire” really drew the line.   And I’m fine with that.  I don’t necessarily WANT to know everything that happens ahead of time. I don’t want to count the story beats.  And I want them to change the story for the better, which isn’t something I’ve felt happened between “Guts” and “Wildfire.”  This episode finally gets back to what made the pilot so enjoyable. It was tense, sad, and believable.   I do think it’s a little silly how every episode has been some kind of major quest.  I’m sure someone will attack me about that, but there is something to be said for the simplicity of Kirkman’s group.  It was “Let’s find safety — shelter — supplies — keep moving.”  This Rick doesn’t seem to be happy unless it’s a major undertaking. Let’s rescue Merle! Let’s find the CDC!   It’s exhausting, but I can understand how this group keeps holding out hope for authority being i ncontrol, especially in the persons of Rick and Shane.  They really believe someone’s getting shit together.  I only wish the survivalist redneck might pop up and say “We need to take care of ourselves!” I feel like SOMEONE should be saying that at this point since it’s obvious all institutions have failed.

But what I dug most about this episode was that the people acted like actual human beings. They spoke as you and I speak. They did things you or I would do. Andrea clutching Amy’s corpse? Yes, I can see someone doing that. (Not the gun safety line, though. But even that’s a relief after that awkward “Dad taught us to be in fishing unison!” convo.)  Glenn sobbing about needing to bury, not burn, their people? Yep, basic psychology there.  Dale offering what comfort he could? Yes!  Everyone being bewildered and afraid as to Jim’s condition? Yep, that’s what people in a perilous and upsetting situation would do. Carol smashing in Ed’s head? Totally!  Shane’s bloodlust as he looked down the barrel of that rifle? The most believable moment of this lusty love triangle yet.

Ok, there’s one exception, and that’s Lori.  It was a bit rich of her to stomp her foot and say “We need time to mourn!”  Really? Mourn? Yeah, that IS what people do when they find out loved ones are dead.  They don’t immediately fuck his best friend and then go “OMG, you told me he was dead!!”   And yes, I will keep harping on her character until they quit making her an erratic and drippy caricature.  Though I did appreciate that Rick and Shane are putting her in the middle of their games of leverage, though it rings a bit odd when Rick does it.

Even the Jim moment rang real.  So touching.  Though yes, I am wondering how they fixed the motorhome.  But it was a technical quibble for a scene that wasn’t handled with some kind of awful symbolism or stereotype. Why couldn’t all the episodes have been handled as deftly as “Wildfire”?  I’m actually angry that this is the last gasp before a screeching story halt.


Joshua Miller: I’m certainly with you on Jeffrey DeMunn, Alex. He makes anything better. He’s just nice to have around, even when he isn’t doing much. His absence from the two groups that entered the city in previous episodes hurt them both (as did shit writing, of course). That look he gives Shane when he catches Shane pondering pulling a Dick Cheney on Rick was the best piece of subtle acting I’ve seen on this show – which could be taken as a backhanded compliment, given the utter lack of subtly we’ve previously been treated to. But DeMunn’s been topnotch all along, though skirted off to the sidelines while the series has been treading water with its time-killing city exploits.

Goddamn. It felt SO nice to see some forward movement here, to have our characters tackling a fresh mission and finally leaving their fucking camp. This was far and away the best episode of the series we’ve had thus far. I think we’ll all end up agreeing on that one. But here’s the thing I am wondering now…

Alex, as our resident WD fan, did you think this episode was WAY better than its predecessors? Cause this frankly felt like a different show to me at times. While I still had some minor issues with character moments here and there, like the CDC guy’s video journals and the corny exiting of the Latino family, these are the kinds of things I expect and can gladly overlook in a genre show. I agree with Rappe that the show FINALLY managed to gain a bit of traction for believability. But what do the people who already found the show believable and the characters relatable think? Does it all seem the same to y’all? I feel like if I had already been digging the show, suddenly I’d be over the moon, declaring this the next Sopranos now (proportionally speaking, I mean). I thought the last episode was a 4. This one a solid 7, maybe 7.5.

Case in point, you said, “But like every episode so far this one is all about the characters.” I don’t think it is a coincidence that us haters suddenly started enjoying the show the moment they got rid of like half of our characters via death or exiting. The previous episodes felt incredibly flabby to me, like the later seasons of Lost, where are characters were just aimlessly traversing the island to-and-fro acting like important things were happening that never quite felt as legitimately important as they should. This episode felt leaner and meaner and like it had a true purpose. It kind of pisses me of to finally see that they are in fact capable of making this show work, given that we only have one episode left. This is more of a mini-series than a TV season. If you only have six episodes going in, you have no excuse to fill the first four episodes will time-killing bullshit like they did.

Anyway, I can’t become a convert until I see the next episode, but for the first time I feel genuinely hopeful. “Wildfire” felt a hell of a lot more like the Frank Darabont zombie show we deserve. Rappe is definitely being proven correct about Andrew Lincoln. The man definitely brought the A-game in this episode. His final moments in the episode, freaking out for the CDC camera were excellent. And Shane even managed to bother me in this episode the way he is supposed to, instead of just objectively.

My only nitpick is – why isn’t anyone afraid to touch infected blood? Everyone seems to touch zombies and those who have been bitten willy-nilly. Andrea was practically washing her hands with Amy’s blood in this ep. Like I said, this is only a nitpick, but it is the sort of nitpick that is going to hinder longterm believability for the show – as I can easily imagine a scenario in a later season where someone will get infected by a single drop of blood, like Brendan Gleeson in 28 Days Later


Renn Brown: Don’t worry Rappe, the commenters still have me if they need someone to chew on.

I can definitely tell why “Wildfire” would turn some fence-toeing viewers around on the show, and would be embraced as a shift to an overall higher-quality level of television- because it is. That said, I can’t just start rolling with the show for finally getting some things right and including some lovely scenes if it remains dedicated to cramming copious amounts of stupidity into important moments.

To start though, I’m with Alex that the departure from the comics is a good thing- “good” in monolith-sized neon letters that periodically explode. I expected the series to zig to the comic’s zag at about this point, and to do so was both wise and well-timed. It appropriately screws with the expectations of comic fans and really frees up the series to elevate itself. This episode felt like an hour of gear-changing that let them selectively acknowledge big important moments from the page, while simultaneously paring down the cast to the more familiar faces, all in preparation of taking them somewhere completely new. The recovery from last episode’s mayhem did indeed allow some solid character work to happen, even if I still think a wonderful, innovative scene such as Andrea witnessing Amy turn can do better than ending with the stone cold relative-capping that pops up in Zombie tales so often. Sure she could reach a place of understanding and closure enough to do what was necessary –all of that is handled beautifully– but if you’re really trying to sell this as the drama of what would really happen when real people are faced with the day-to-day pain of this kind of apocalypse, then goddammit the splattered brains of her sister better tear her in two, I don’t care what kind of strength she built up to pull the trigger. That’s a pretty specific example (“nitpicking” for those commenters that don’t care to be disagreed with, but will cite equally specific moments of awesome), but it is endemic to the show’s tendency to set up cleverness and cap it with cliche.

Hyper-specific problems like that wouldn’t bother me so much if The Walking Dead didn’t feel like a big gory spin-out, but I’ll grant that “Wildfire” is the first episode that demonstrates the show gaining some traction. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens once the group finally sets out to go somewhere as a whole. However, the things keeping me from turning around or getting excited about the show are two-fold, with the first being the obvious problem of it being a short mini-series. The much larger problem is the show’s pattern of completely illogical shifts in tension. Last episode had a pretty baffling series of events that saw the entire camp band together to freak out about nothing that was ever satisfactorily articulated, leading to one of the characters physically subduing the other with the endorsement of the camp, literally because he was digging a hole. The show has a tendency to shift the tension up between characters at the drop of a hat, in ways that aren’t believable, and in ways it doesn’t earn. I felt like there was some of that in the Shane and Rick confrontation, but ultimately that played out well, with the wonderful DeMunn whipping’ out those “ya shouldna dun that” eyes like whoa. What again had me yelling at my screen was the final scenes at the CDC though… Here we have our group of heroes that have picked up and traveled miles and miles to get here, lost companions, and walked through the stench of a hundred dead to get to the CDC building, and they flip the fuck out because the first set of doors they come to aren’t wide open. The appearance of a single (and quickly dispatched) walker sets things into a frenzy, with the group screaming and crying to go back, and Shane doing a full on chest-bumping “it’s not worth it man, it’s done, leave it” deal, trying to drag Rick away. They don’t walk around the facility, check other doors, try and pry anything open, find a window to break, or do anything that even remotely makes any sense. They just freak. the. fuck. out. and before I can blink an eye people are yelling and retreating and none of it feels organic. It’s that kind of Syfy-level handling of unearned tension and conflict that leaves me feeling insulted rather than exhilarated, much less affected. This is the stuff I was looking forward to from a series masterminded by Frank Darabont, the recent master of strike-anywhere human conflict.

Small things like the two-bit webcam effect, the misjudged regurgitation of a an already overused film cue, and all the other little “nitpicks” could seriously melt away into the overall fun of the show if it weren’t for moments like this that unfailing spoil key moments. I take nothing away from an emotional climax and a bright shiny light of a denouement if they happen only because they have to, and because it’s page whatever of the script.


Nick Nunziata: This episode was better. And the 2nd year Yugo was better than the 1st year Yugo. Congrats to everyone involved. I put a lot of the success of this episode to Ernest Dickerson’s direction. Here’s a lifer who just does the work. Nothing too spectacular, but he busts through it and does it lucidly. It’s still loaded with stuff that doesn’t click for me, but it has its moments. It also has some really second rate (dare I say fan flick-esque) stuff keeping the balance still a little short of good. Better, but not worthy of anything approaching a genre standout.

The dead sister thing went on too long, though DeMunn classed things up considerably with his calming scene but I think the show has done a very poor job of making the characters worth these ‘heavy’ moments. The comic was guilty of this as well; slowing things down for these human character moments that lose their weight because of how shoddily the characters were treated leading up to the big moment. The exception is Jim the gravedigger, because while that whole idea and execution was terrible, the actor sold it. The sadness in every fiber of that guy was evident from day one and his fate was obvious from the jump and I think they handled it well. That’s an example of good casting making up for bad writing. DeMunn and Rooker and Reedus also fit that bill.

Andrew Lincoln’s taken a few steps back for me and it’s a shame because of how thankless his job is. The guy gets his mind to do something every episode that his wife disagrees with and we’re tugged along for the ride. It’s gotten old, and the guy is too bland on his own to completely make it work. It’s obvious this actor and this character work best when they have someone at his side helping him execute, whether it be Rooker or Reedus or whatever.

It’s great seeing Noah Emmerich added to the mix, though once again… here we are emulating The Stand miniseries almost to a “T”. The last shot to me felt like a low rent science fiction show. Really with the bright light? Wasn’t the door opening symbolic enough?
 
Alex Riviello: Hey, I thought it was a good way to show them get a little hope back in their lives, however momentarily!

But yeah, completely forgot to mention that Ernest (motherfucking Demon Knight) Dickerson is a champ here, and it’s no surprise that this episode was my favorite since the pilot. Yes, Joshua, I’d agree with you there. Although really, I’m just happy to see you all eating crow!

But without the buildup of the characters over the last few episodes, it wouldn’t have had nearly as much impact. We needed that time to establish everyone, and I don’t see a problem with them getting rid of the more disposable characters. It’s not like that much of the runtime of the show thus far has focused on them, anyway. But yes, now we have a lean, mean, zombie-survivin’ group and it’s going to hurt a lot more when characters are taken out.

I’m actually with Renn on the ending- hence my “rushed” comment before. The group seems to give up too easily with just a couple of zombies coming after them. They could have easily snuck a few shots of a horde on the way to make things a bit more tense and believable, but I’ll give it a pass anyway just because Rick’s seen what can happen in the city in the matter of seconds and plus, he has his family with him this time.

The one thing I’m really hoping they don’t do next is have Jenner start explaining exactly what the zombies are and what makes them do what they do. It’s rare to like that thankless character that explains all the rules in zombie movies. Morgan already managed to dodge that bullet in the first episode, let’s hope Jenner doesn’t take it.


Jeremy G. Butler:  As much as I liked the episode as a whole, I gotta admit I’m with Nick on Andrew Lincoln.  He’s good, passable even, and he has his moments, but that last little bit at the CDC kinda hurt my estimation of his ability.  That moment should have been extremely powerful – full of self-doubt about his choice to go get Meryl, desperately needing people to back him for the trip to the CDC, he’s a man who’s lost his confidence – he’s lost his ability to make a clear, confident decision and when they get to the CDC and everything is shut down that should have broken him.  I get it, his meltdown was a moment of sheer desperation, but Lincoln played it by the book, “scream here, bang the door there,” throw in the requisite, squeaky “YOU’RE KILLING US!”  It was a bit painful to watch, and not in the good way.  It didn’t totally undermine the character but with the buildup that we had with that character in a thematic sense, a more seasoned thesp would have knocked that shit outta the park.  At best, Lincoln managed a stand-up double.  Also, I didn’t mind the light so much, I thought it was a nice little moment, but I watched the episode a few times last night during its various repeats and the one thing that caught me each and every time was how choreographed everything looked.  When the crew is walking away from the door and it opens and they freeze for a moment then turn around?  It felt so staged as to be artificial.  Did it kill the episode?  No, but the less of those little moments that we have in the future the better.

I also agree with those who have said that the placement of this episode is a disappointment.  As good as it was, quality and pacing-wise, this should have been an episode 3, maybe a 4.  No way in hell should this be episode 5 in a 6-episode season.  It doesn’t bother me so much in a “We only have one episode left and I want more!” capacity, but more in a “You guys should have been giving us this from the beginning.”  This is a foundation to work from – this is an episode to build a season off of.  It’s kinda sad that they only finally gave us this just now. 


Joshua Miller: Sorry, my lips remain firmly closed to that spoonful of crow until next episode. Frankly, considering that thus far the show has gone out of its way to prove that given the opportunity it will go for easy melodrama and on-the-nose dialogue, even if the season finale is great I probably won’t finish all my crow until next season shows its mettle.

Huh. I don’t see what bothered you guys with Lincoln’s performance there at the very end. Although, I must confess, it was past 3am by that time (for me) and I was starting to nod off. So admittedly nuance wasn’t what my brain needed right then. Either way, I remain increasingly interested in Rick. His best moments are when he gets a little angry about what he’s doing. He’s growing on me like a fungus.

“The dead sister thing went on too long, though DeMunn classed things up considerably with his calming scene but I think the show has done a very poor job of making the characters worth these ‘heavy’ moments.” Aside from obviously agreeing about DeMunn’s ability to sell anything, this remains the show’s biggest problem. Aside from DeMunn and Lincoln, they could literally kill any character in the sixth episode and I wouldn’t actually care. What Alex calls “build up” with our characters in the previous episodes, I still call wasting time.

The Walking Dead best achieves its goals through action, even the character bits. When it needs to use dialogue it generally flounders. I couldn’t have cared less about the relationship between Andrea and Amy, because the writers tried to fill up their emotion-bank with hacky moments like that dreadful fishing scene. The relationship between Daryl and Merle on the other hand is proving significantly stronger for me, even though we’ve yet to see the characters together, because the show has successfully shown us that Daryl will do anything for his brother and has plenty of built up resentment for Rick and the others. Maybe it helps the Rooker isn’t around, I don’t know, but I never truly bought Adrea and Amy’s relationship beyond the inherent amount of projected empathy I give any fictional siblings (because I have siblings of my own).

I’m glad to hear that the show is getting better proportional to how far it goes off book. If we can chalk up its mediocrity thus far to being handicapped by the comics, I’m optimistic then.


Elisabeth Rappe: See, I’d argue (and it’s a hideously unpopular argument) that the show doesn’t get any better when it strays from the comic.  Much of what we’ve had problems with — the Merle story, the Vatos “gang”, the fishing scene, the wife-beater, the worst of the dialogue, the mermaid necklace, the laundry, etc. — wasn’t in the book. People keep saying “The comic was terrible!!” as if that makes the show’s flaws any better. They had clunky material to improve upon and with the exception of the pilot, they made it even sillier at every turn. The comic had at least sold me on most of the characters at this point.  While Amy was still a “Why should I care?” moment, there was at least a charming build-up that she, Andrea, and Dale were all sharing the camper and the group believed it was a raunchy three way.  The only concession we have to that wider relationship net is Dale saying “You two are the only things I’ve cared about since my wife died.” Whoa, back up! It would have been nice to SEE that, not be TOLD. Storytelling 101. A scene with the three of them interacting would have been ten times more moving and interesting than the fishing clunker. It would have served the story better than Shane beating up Ed, or tying poor Jim to a tree.

I’ll stick up for Lincoln, because I still think he sells even the crudest scene.  Swap Lincoln with Jon Bernthal, and I think you’d have a Rick you honestly didn’t give a shit about,  regardless of a wife and son tacked on for pathos.  Rick, Dale, Glenn and the late Jim are the only characters I’ve liked, and I think it’s purely a testament to the actors.

I’ll be blasted as nitpicking or that my negativity overshadowed what I liked. Again, I LIKED this episode. I believed in just about everything it sold me with the exception of CDC guy’s video blog, or the CDC idea in general.  I’m worried about the show writing itself into another confined space — and one that seems awfully hard to write back out of — when what I really want to see is them scrabbling on the open road.  That was one of the most convincing and scary points of the book for me, but then I dug that about The Stand (and its miniseries!) too. And my favorite part of this episode was them chugging along in that motorhome, trying to take care of Jim, all tense as to what could happen if they stopped.

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