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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

a few thoughts on ‘The Walking Dead’: “Wildfire”

Hey, I finally didn’t hate an episode of this show. I actually kinda liked it, in fact. Here we have, finally, some genuine emotional realism to how people are coping — or not coping, really — with the world going to hell around them. Laurie Holden refusing to leave her dead sister’s side, for instance, and then being the one to put the bullet through her zombified brain… that was all emotionally plausible and nicely performed by the actress. I have a real fondness for Jeffrey DeMunn as an actor, and I loved his little bit about how the sisters were the only real human connection he’d had since his wife died. It’s a shame, however, that we never really got to see them interacting as characters prior to this in some way that could have let us see that. I feel like he’s been mostly wasted on this show so far.

Nice stuff, too, with the guy who was bit and was hiding it, and the arguments that erupted over how the rest of the survivors should deal with him. In these bits, at last, came a sense of the show acknowledging that yes, some people are assholes and those assholes aren’t suddenly going to turn nice just because the apocalypse arrived, but without seeming to condone or at least gleefully revel in the assholes being assholes. I mean, there was some nuance, finally, some shades of gray in everything, not cartoonish black-and-white-ness. The sheriff’s wife telling the sheriff that he and the deputy were both a little right and both a little wrong in their actions leading up to the walked attack was just perfect: because there’s no real way to know what the best thing to do is in a situation like this, with no precedent.
And there’s also no morality to guide us in how best to deal with something like a guy who’s been bitten by a zombie, whose fate is inevitable, who will hurt others eventually no matter what kind of person he is now, but who is still human for the time being. Watching the survivors try to navigate this conundrum was the first really compelling thing I’ve seen on this show. This was the first time I made any kind of connection to these characters, when I finally started to feel something for them. That connection is absolutely essential in a TV series, which is all about whether or not you want to spend time with the people whose story it is, no matter whether it’s a story about doctors in a hospital or outlaws on a spaceship or cops on a beat or survivors of a zombie holocaust.

I’m so glad, as well, that that poorly conceived camp has been left behind. The show had been doing nothing with that, when we might have expected more of people trying to cling to familiar things of the old world. (The woman who insisted on ironing everybody’s clothes was a nice touch, but there could have been so much more like that. Not that the drama had to focus entirely on it, but it could have been a prism through which to explore the new dynamics the characters were creating for themselves.)

Now I’m actually looking forward to tomorrow’s season finale, to find out more about the CDC guy, and what’s been going on there…

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