This week’s ‘Walking Dead’ substantially ups the jaw-dropping “Wow” factor of the series several considerable notches. It begins with one of those great touching/gruesome moments that are quickly becoming the show’s hallmark.
One of the survivors felled by last week’s zombie attack lies dead. Her sister hovers above her, knowing that death in this reality is just the beginning. The corpse starts to turn, at first gasping for air and then clawing feebly at her sister, newly hungry for flesh. By the time the newly minted zombie gets her brain blown out, the episode has reached a level of emotional near-hysteria. And this is all in the first five minutes!
The episode, entitled ‘Wildfire’ and directed with added visual oomph by underrated genre filmmaker Ernest Dickerson, isn’t the most stable on the plot side of things. The survivors (led by the increasingly interesting Grimes) offer to take one of their own who was bit in last week’s episode (the dude who did the grave-digging) to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta. It’s the kind of last ditch effort that serves genre fiction well, a fine story engine, but the characters seem to be endangering their entire lot by transporting this yahoo (whose spirituality seems to only increase with his being bitten – witness his scary-flashes of zombies).
Yet the CDC itself opens the doors to an entirely new and interesting plot thread. Noah Emmerich is the guy holed up inside the laboratory, a classic character type that immediately makes me think of Chuck Heston in ‘The Omega Man‘ (and, later, Will Smith in ‘I Am Legend‘). The added wrinkle is that Emmerich seems to be more than a little batty, with his experiments often bordering on the catastrophic. The other wrinkle is that, in ‘The Walking Dead’, things are either just as bad on the inside of the CDC blast doors, or the character may be so morally nebulous as to leave the survivors outside of the doors altogether.
(Did anyone get a vibe of Inman/Desmond and the Hatch in this episode? Me too!)
Like the opening sequence, the closing scene borders on the hysterical. The survivors reach their destination and start beating on the door. We see the CDC guy on the inside, making his fateful decision. Everything comes to a frenetic head until, of course, we’re left with that haunting, borderline unforgettable image: the blast doors open and a flood of light envelopes our survivors. It’s a biblical image – a moment of ascension. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from ‘Walking Dead’, nothing is ever happy for very long. There’s darkness around the bend, for sure.