Sunday's The Walking Dead — "Wildfire" — added a major twist to the survivors' saga that we have yet to see in the comics. Spoilers way on.
PRO: The episode immediately launches into the aftermath of last week's monster mash. The episode opens with Rick telling Morgan to stay the heck out of Atlanta and Andrea refusing to leave her dead, soon-to-be zombified sister. Rick goes to "tell her how it is..."
PRO:...and Andrea pulls a gun on him. Rick's been a bit of a white knight lately, so it's nice to have another character tell him to STFU. As a side note, the use of ambient sound (cicadas, wind) in this scene raises the tension like gangbusters.
PRO: Despite his hayseed gruffness, I like Darryl because he's the wild-eyed pragmatist. He wants to shoot Amy in the head and bury everyone ASAP. When we find out that Jim's been bitten, Darryl starts getting ridiculously cavalier with the pickaxe.
CON: To fix Jim's zombie bite, Rick gets the idea to relocate the entire camp to the Center for Disease Control, which is smack dab in the middle of God-knows-where. For a guy who's so preoccupied with finding his family, Rick sure concocts some crazy schemes. Here's a snapshot of Rick's poor decisions by Grickle cartoonist Graham Annabelle:
PRO: Carol adds +5 to her pickaxe proficiency when she smushes her dead (and deadbeat) husband into Manwich. This is a PRO because Darryl finds this incredibly awkward.
PRO: This is heartbreaking...
CON:...until the "no gunshots policy" goes out the window.
PRO: Everyone starts wigging out. Jim starts hallucinating about boats and mangroves, and Shane sets his sights on Rick. He's totally abashed about almost killing his best friend, so he acquiesces to take Jim to the CDC.
CON: After that random family leaves for Birmingham, Rick and the survivors head out to the CDC. This is the biggest change we've seen thus far from the comics. This sequence sort of nullified all the tension that had been the building the last four episodes. Where's Merle? Will Shane blow up at Rick? Will we see Lori and Rick spend more than 5 minutes together? Also, the scene uses John Murphy's (admittedly superb) score to Sunshine. I've been enjoying Bear McCreary's score, and it was kind of a bummer to see "Surface Of The Sun" cribbed for the show.
PRO: The shots of the survivors driving through rural Americana make the otherwise bucolic landscape something sinister.
CON:Like in the comics, Jim wants to be left by the side of the road on the way to the CDC. In the comics, his zombification was touching, whereas now it's just kind of a downer and a testament to Rick's pollyanna-esque attitude.
PRO/CON: THE SHOW THEN CUTS TO A FELLOW ALIVE IN THE CDC. This is the biggest deviation we've seen from the comics.
Apparently this fellow ("Jenner") resides in the CDC. He notes that it's been "194 days since Wildfire was declared and 63 days since the disease went global." Jenner spends his restless days underground, researching a way to reverse or to eliminate the zombie infection. This sequence somewhat confirms the roots of the undead outbreak — the infection is either bacterial or viral. The Walking Dead comic book is notoriously cagey about revealing where the zombies came from, so this is a big deal.
PRO: Jenner accidentally blows up his research, which involves ogling psychedlic DNA. Yay, the show isn't over in one episode!
PRO: A frustrated Jenner gets drunk and "is going to blow his brains out." He's celebrating the end of civilization with panache.
CON: The survivors discover the CDC. It's a meat market. Everyone realizes that the CDC is shuttered, and the survivors begin overacting. This guilt-trips Jenner and he opens the gates. Cut to credits.
VERDICT: Like the series as a whole, "Wildfire" was pretty entertaining, but the show's suffering from Lost syndrome at this point. Procuring supplies and marching off on go-nowhere quests was a large part of Lost, and these side journeys ended up eclipsing character development. The pilot of the show was focused, and this episode just felt rushed and scattershot.
Similarly, The Walking Dead was doing just fine parked on the outskirts of Atlanta — there were enough simmering survivor rivalries to play out Season 1. Furthermore, it feels like all the drama with Merle is for naught. Unless he followed them to the CDC, their next encounter with Merle may come across as too coincidental. Could we see Merle become the Governor? After the introduction of the CDC, it feels like anything's fair game.