Friday, December 3, 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode 5 (Wildfire)

Spoiler Warning! This post contains spoilers for episode 5 of The Walking Dead.

Episode Synopsis: The camp counts their casualties from the previous night's zombie ambush, and discuss what to do next. Rick suggests a visit to the CDC, but what they find there is little hope and a lot of the dead.

Discussion: Please welcome my friend Scott, who is joining me for a discussion of the episode.

Q: What were some of the highlights of the episode, in your opinion?

zharth: Definitely the scene where Andrea pulled a gun on Rick. That totally surprised me, and really scared me. And also the Wildfire project. When they introduced it, it was so much different than what we'd been seeing that I wondered for a second if it was the same show. And then when the group made it to the entrance to the CDC. You could see that night was falling on the city, and the zombies were closing in, and it was getting really tense. You knew the group was going to get inside - they had to - but I still thought it was a tense scene. I can't wait to see the interaction between them and the sole surviving member of the CDC.

Scott: I think the best moment of the episode was when the group found out that Jim had been bitten; I had been waiting for this kind of thing to happen. It's almost inevitable, given a group in a zombie situation, that a friend will get bitten.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this is because it represents a slippery slope. They've already used violence twice against group members (they didn't like) who seemed to threaten the group, and sort of used violence against someone they did like who seemed like he MIGHT threaten the group, and here, they're presented with a friend who WILL be a threat to the group. How will they handle it? How do they feel about it?

It's a really slippery slope and could lead to a "kill all zombies at all costs" or "protect the group at all costs" mentality, which is where Shane seems to be right now... and he's not exactly a perfect human being at the moment, considering how he seems to be on the verge of giving in to all of his animal urges!

Q: Do you think it was irresponsible for Andrea to wait until Amy reawakened as a zombie before "neutralizing" her?

zharth: I think it's obvious that the entire rest of the group thought it was an unnecessary risk, and I also think it's obvious that Andrea's fragile emotional state was creating something of an exceptional situation. I was really shocked when she pulled the gun on Rick. Although Rick, as usual, handled that situation admirably.

I think Andrea just wanted to tell Amy her feelings while she was in a conscious - if not entirely lucid - state, and that's something that I think most of us can sympathize with. We often take our feelings for granted, but then when a loved one dies, we realize that it's too late to say all the things we wanted to say, and we yearn for a second chance. A zombie resurrection is a twisted - but clever - opportunity for that second chance.

Though I still think this was a case of idealistic emotionalism getting in the way of the survivors' safety. Andrea did appear to have the situation completely under control, and it was clear how strongly she felt, so I'm willing to forgive her, but I still don't think it was a good idea. Even coming back as a zombie, it's just not the same person anymore.

Scott: I don't think it was irresponsible, but I don't think it was an especially wise decision, either. But given the situation -- she's lost her only family member at the end of the world -- it's understandable. These aren't the zombies of 28 Days Later, given super-strength and -speed by a viral Rage; they're just shambling hunks of flesh that can win through numbers.

Andrea dealt with it well enough.

Q: Recall that tense moment when Shane had Rick in the sights of his gun out in the woods. Firstly, do you think his motivation there was pure instinct, or was he fully conscious of what he was doing? Either way, do you think he is capable of crossing the line and actually doing something to hurt Rick?

zharth: I'd like to think that he hadn't premeditatedly decided to aim at Rick, and his response when Dale came up on him seems to suggest that he was taken by the moment. Even so, that was a frightening moment. At that point it became startlingly clear to me just how fragile these survivors' lives are. But particularly Rick - seemingly invincible, always knows exactly the right thing to do. The thought that he could be killed by something as simple as a single gunshot. It was an intensely vulnerable moment.

I really hope Shane doesn't do anything to screw Rick over. I understand his feelings of resentment, and like Scott has said, he does seem to be largely motivated by an alpha-male instinct. I don't think he could live with hurting Rick, and I don't think it's something he'd allow himself to do with a cool head - but I fear that one of these times, the moment might take him, and he may end up doing something he'll deeply regret. Only time will tell.

Scott: I don't think it was either; I don't want to say it was instinct, but it was a more primal urge in him. I keep referencing this with respect to Shane, but it feels like Shane is really giving in to his Freudian id more and more as time goes by. He's just got all of this stress piled up on him and then there's someone challenging his alpha-male leadership position in just about every way possible.

The animal-like look in his eyes and the way he was grinning at Dale were very worrying.

Q: Assume that, like Jim, you were certain that you had been infected, and had less than 24 hours before becoming a zombie. Given the opportunity, would you take your own life to spare yourself the agony, or would you want to let the transformation happen, and see what it's like to become a zombie?

zharth: First, I want to say that I was impressed with the calmness of that scene, after Jim had been left alone by the roadside, to rest against a tree, and stare up at the sky. Beautiful. But you could still partake of that scene and then blow your brains out in order to avoid submitting to a zombie afterlife. I wonder what religious people would think about it all, since suicide is supposed to be a sin. Would it be "God's way" to let the transformation happen, "God's will" for you to suffer in the afterlife as the walking dead? A purging process? A punishment for your worldly sins?

Regardless, religious opinions wouldn't affect my decision. I'll admit there's a certain curiosity about what it's like to be a zombie - you only live twice, why not try it? But to be honest, judging solely from what I've seen as an outside observer, it doesn't appear to be a very pleasant existence. And anyway, zombies don't seem to have much cognitive functioning, so it can't be a terribly interesting experience.

Still though, it takes a firm hand to take one's own life, and that's one of those things I never want to be in a position to have to do. Could I go through with it if I thought it was highly preferable to the alternative (living as a dead man)? I don't know. It's the kind of thing I'd rather not think about it. I suppose there is a possibility I could chicken out. It'd be nice to know that I'd be capable during any point of the transformation to change my mind about going through with it, if it gets too painful or whatnot, but I guess that's not a guarantee. Gotta take your chance while you've got it. I'm not good at making quick decisions, though.

Scott: I'd want to die.

Q: Jim seemed to have prophetic visions when he was digging graves before the attack; later, when he was talking to Rick, he was hallucinating again. Do you think that Jim somehow "saw" a future where the group would be fleeing by boat?

Scott: I want to write it all off as a fever dream, due to my skepticism... but when he dug those graves, I was all ready for the show to set him up as a mystical prophet; one of those characters where you didn't know if everything was a coincidence or if they were really seeing the future.

I'm glad that didn't happen, though we'll have to see if any boats come out...

zharth: Tough question. I don't really believe in prophetic visions, so it's easy for me to write them off, but who knows, maybe the world of The Walking Dead is a world where prophecy can be real. He does seem to be the type, and the whole natural death thing has almost a religious quality to it. So it's definitely possible. I guess we'll find out.

It would be interesting. They seem pretty convinced that there's no escaping the zombie apocalypse. But even if it's true that it's a worldwide disaster, I wonder what it's like elsewhere in the world - might there be places safer than others? I think it was Tooth & Nail, another post-apocalyptic story (though not zombie-related), that put forth the proposition that the colder climates were better suited for survival, by avoiding the warmer locales where people instinctively flock to. The harsher the environment, the bigger difference having the intelligence of a lucid human being becomes, when it comes to staying alive. Though, the dead have some advantages of their own. I bet there's not a lot of zombies on the sea; then again, there's not a lot of anything on the sea.

Q: What did you think when the sample was burnt up in the Wildfire protocol? What do you see as being the implications of losing the "freshest" sample?

Scott: When that sample was lost and the researcher was ranting about losing his freshest sample, the first thing I thought is that they're going to have to go back to where they left Jim and kill their zombie friend for a brand-new sample.

That situation presents a number of interesting dilemmas, which this show seems to be doing very well. What if Jim isn't a zombie yet? What if he is? Do they kill him, like some random geek? Do they put him out of his misery respectfully? Will they want to take his sample in hopes of finding a cure?

One thing the people have avoided is really trying to pin down the relationship between humans and zombies. Are they The Enemy and only The Enemy, or are they human beings? There are definitely mixed opinions on that front.

zharth: That was a good scene. I love when he jumped against the door when the sample was being purged. That's when I realized that something really bad had just happened. On the other hand, he said that he hadn't made any progress yet, so I wonder just how important that sample was. Then again, he could have just been on the verge of a discovery - or, considering that the sample was "fresh", had only recently been able to get a hold of one of its kind.

I think it's pretty obvious that some kind of sacrifice is going to have to be made in order for him to get another "fresh" sample. I was thinking, it's too bad they left Jim behind, because he might have been the perfect contender. Someone who's infected, but still has living tissue. Reminds me of Pathologic. It's unfortunate if someone's going to have to make a sacrifice - but you have to weigh one person's life against the possibility of finding some kind of a cure. They could just wait around, though, it seems to only be a matter of time before someone gets infected. Then again, having control over the experiment could drastically reduce the casualties and maximize the effectiveness of the sample. I suspect it's going to be exciting, whatever happens.

Conclusion: Thanks for joining me, Scott! Stay tuned for our discussion of the season finale of The Walking Dead!

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