Sunday, June 23, 2013

Season One - Episode Five: Wildfire

There are two themes that are worth discussing in this episode, even though it is not as deep as the others because it acts as a transitional episode.  The characters are going to get on the road and go to the CDC to see if a cure is being developed for the Walking Dead plague.

Before they leave though, there is much work to be done with burning the Walkers who attacked the camp and burying those among their group who were killed in the attack from the last episode.

The characters are once again faced with being forced to define what is human and what is not human; they distinguish between the two in this episode by whether or not the body is burned or buried and when is the appropriate time to kill or abandon one of their own. This is the primary theme that runs throughout the show: what are qualities that we want humans to continue to have for the sake of the human race?  And what are qualities we do not want?  Time and again, the characters will be forced to kill off others for the sake of preserving and honoring those characteristics and the ideas that made that person human.

Andrea is a perfect example of this because she waits for Amy to turn before she kills her.  Although Amy has already died, Andrea won't pull the trigger on her until she has turned into a Walker.  This makes the group uncomfortable and Shane and Daryl want to put a bullet in Amy's head before Amy becomes a danger to anyone, but Andrea won't let that happen.  She threatens anyone who comes near her with the intention of taking her sister away prematurely with a gun.  She wants to preserve Amy's humanity as long as she can.

Glenn has a similar breakdown when he sees Morales and Daryl drag the body of one of their group to the burn pile.  He yells at them and says, "We don't burn them!  We bury them!" And although it is hard work, they obey the plea to keep this boundary line officially sacred.

The second theme I must address is the reoccurring theme of Blame and Guilt which occurs twice in this episode and throughout the next two seasons.  At what point is someone allowed to feel guilt for a decision that has been made and who is to blame for its outcome?

For example, Jim has been bitten and when that is finally addressed, the group must figure out what to do with him.  Daryl wants to kill him immediately before he becomes a threat to the group, but in the interest of mentioning the first theme addressed in this post (about "what is human?") Rick nips that idea in the bud with a draw of his gun and says, "We don't kill the living." (Daryl is sharp enough to point out the irony while he has a gun pointed at his head).  Anyway, they decide to care for Jim and take him along to the CDC and maybe he can be the first person cured of this illness.  He is more or less quarantined in the RV.

Along the way though, he becomes more and more delirious and he asks Rick to pull over and leave him there.  Rick tries to convince him that he won't do that because then he will have Jim's blood on his hands.  Jim has to tell him that it is his decision, there isn't any guilt or blame on Rick and none of this is his failure.  It's on me, Jim insists.  They do as they are told and everyone gives their goodbye to Jim.

When they show up at the CDC, they bang on the doors and at first it appears that nobody will respond to their cries for help.  But Rick looks right at the camera and exclaims, "If you don't let us in, you're killing us!"  To which, the guilt and blame would be on Dr. Jenner.  He has the power (in this episode and the next) to keep these people alive or to kill them.

It's important to point out that Jim takes complete control over his life and his situation so that nobody can feel guilty for his death.  He doesn't want anyone to feel blame for his situation.  Had he remained on the RV and even made it all the way to the CDC before turning, he would have known there was no hope and he probably would not have been let in to the building.  Rick would have carried that guilt with him forever.  Jim was too good of a person to allow this.  At the same time, Rick pulls that card on the man in the CDC because they are totally powerless and at his mercy.  He puts his life and the guilt in Dr. Jenner's hands.  He has no choice.  It shows that we are all connected by these invisible lines of balancing out blame and sharing guilt in crisis situations.  Dr. Jenner opens the door for them.

It further emphasizes that they all must help each other and show compassion and carry those traits into the next generations.

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