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The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead’s first season was the best since the premiere, having no significant issues with the story or characters like those that plagued the last few, and moving the plot along in an exciting way. I’ve noted before how the creators are clearly willing to change the details while keeping the comic’s general outline and some of its more memorable moments, and that’s plenty clear here with a development that shows how much the series is forging its own path.
But first, is it just me or is it ridiculous that this show is only rated TV-14 with all the violence that happens? I get that there’s a bit more leniency since the victims are usually mindless monsters instead of real people, but things like Carol slamming a pick axe into the head of her dead husband are easily some of the most grotesque things I’ve ever seen on television. I was worried before the show started that the harshness of the violence might be compromised a bit, but that’s clearly not the case as far as zombies and corpses are involved. We’ll see how they handle some of the other stuff down the road, though.
Anyway, the episode. It begins with the camp’s survivors mourning the dead, as a few with superior constitutions set to destroying the brains of the fallen and burning the dead zombies. Andrea is still in a state of shock over Amy’s death, and pulls a gun on Rick when he tries to talk to her. I was expecting the show to throw in a little jump scare when Amy finally turned and awoke, but they actually played it an unexpectedly touching way. Andrea can’t really say anything, but when her sister starts breathing again and slowly returning to life, she takes the opportunity to say her final goodbyes, give her the birthday present she took from Atlanta, apologize, and blow her brains out.
After the bodies of the fallen are buried in Jim’s conveniently pre-dug holes (oh and by the way, he got bit too and is lying feverishly in the RV), there’s a disagreement between Rick and Shane about the best course of action. Rick thinks a Center for Disease Control location just outside the city might be a good bet for shelter and maybe even a cure for Jim, but Shane is sure it’s a waste of time and if there’s hope anywhere, it’s at a military base a hundred miles in the other direction. They’re starting to really butt heads, and it’s obvious Shane is not dealing well with no longer being the only man claiming authority, even aiming his gun at an unaware Rick when they’re in the woods before the presence of Dale makes him reconsider.
Lori isn’t sure about Rick’s idea, but she eventually agrees with him because he’s her husband, and the camp decides to head for the CDC. Not everyone’s coming though, the Hispanic family of four that’s been on the outskirts of relevance for a few episodes announce that they want to look for nearby family, and they bid the rest of the group farewell. So the convoy sets off, with Rick leaving a note and map behind for Morgan, who he’s been attempting to radio at dawn as promised, attached to a car. The vehicles don’t get too far though, as we’re reminded that Dale wanted a part from the van a couple episodes ago to replace in his RV, and since Merle left with the van (Where the hell is he? I can’t imagine they’ll end the season without tying off that loose thread.), the RV breaks down.
It gets repaired off screen though, as it’s at this moment that Jim tells Rick that the trip to the CDC will kill him in this weakened state, and that he just wants to be left behind so he can turn in peace and see his family again. The group is reluctant but they do as he wishes, and there’s another moment of profundity and Jim experiences what will be among his last moments of natural living on this planet. It’s not a very action packed episode, playing heavily on the emotion of watching loved ones or even yourself slowly pass away, in a way that most zombie fiction just doesn’t bother with. If there’s one thing this show does better than the book and that works a lot better than I thought it would in general, it’s that.
In a nice surprise to kick off the final segment, we see that someone actually is still alive and working at the CDC building. He makes video journals with a camera, and is still doing research on some samples of zombie meat. Things get bad though when he accidentally spills acid all over the sample, and the lab automatically destroys all of his work with fire to contain the contamination. It was the only decent sample he had, so he becomes despondent and drunkenly makes a final journal while announcing his intention to commit suicide the next day. But just then Rick and the crew show up, low on fuel and food, and desperate for help. Rick is the only one who thinks anyone’s inside, and after hammering on the door for a while and finally being convinced to turn away, the CDC agent finally relents and opens the door. It’s an interesting way to end the episode, as I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen in the finale (and I make it a policy to avoid watching the previews that would give me a hint). This is definitely new territory we’re treading here, and I look forward to seeing how everything goes wrong.