S1:E5 The reason a show about zombies continues to make waves in the television world isn’t because the undead characters are so realistic and it isn’t because the gore and violence are intense – those are just the prerequisites. The Walking Dead hit a home run when it moved beyond the expected brain-munchers and the ensuing hysterics from the living and delved into the idea that survivors are protecting more than just their lives. As The Walking Dead’s survivors continue on, they’re faced with challenges that not only threaten their lives, but their humanity as well. They struggle with the eradication of the rules and the ability to decide what is necessary and what is right in a world where your best friend could become a mindless zombie at any time. It’s these psychological journeys that take AMC’s risky show from pure gore and frivolity to something you can’t help but watch.
The fifth episode of the season brings us back to the story that was abandoned after the first episode: Morgan and his son. Rick finds his special thinking spot in a field that overlooks the Atlanta skyline and attempts to reach Morgan on his hand radio. As he speaks into the radio, he tells his story of survival, warns Morgan not to go to Atlanta, and tells him to find the camp but warns him that walkers are everywhere. It’s almost like he’s leaving a voicemail, but it’s more like his little moment of therapy – sending his thoughts out into the open air and hoping that some of them might reach his former rescuer.
Back at the camp, Andrea is still holding her dead sister, unable to let go. Lori, who’s apparently the matriarch of the camp, tells Andrea they have to “take care of” Amy and she promises they’ll be as gentle as they can. In case you weren’t sure what “take care of her” meant, the shot immediately cuts to Daryl hacking up bodies and burning them. Rick has a little insight on this sort of thing after experiencing the devastation that Morgan and his son suffered when their loved when turned grey and groaning, so he approaches her in hopes of talking her down, but she immediately points a pistol at him. There’s no manual for how to deal with the loss of your loved ones as it is, but it’s even trickier when they don’t just die, they die and come back to life as the walking dead.
The campers want to find a way to speed up Andrea’s grieving so they can take care of it, but Lori maintains her humanity and demands that they leave Andrea alone. Glenn is also struggling to maintain the human element and when he witnesses Daryl attempting to throw one of their dead comrades on the fire, he breaks down. They can’t burn their own; they deserve proper burials. Just then, one of the campers notices Jim is bleeding and makes him lift his shirt. He’s been bitten by a walker which means he’ll eventually become one. And the dilemmas keep coming. What do you do with a man who’s doomed to become the bloodthirsty enemy? They can’t kill him because he’s not undead yet, but it’s only a matter of time before he comes after their tasty flesh. Daryl wants to finish Jim off right there and then, but Rick thinks they can find some way to cure the bite before it overtakes him.
Dale, who’s been acting as a surrogate father to Amy and Andrea, attempts to talk sense into Andrea, sharing a story about his wife’s battle with cancer and how she was ready for death, but admitting that he didn’t let go for years. Andrea gets where he’s going with the story, but loss isn’t her only issue. It’s Amy’s birthday and Andrea’s got incredible guilt for missing all of Amy’s birthdays in the past, and now she’s finally there for it but her sister is no more. As she lays the looted mermaid necklace on her dead sister’s neck, the scene cuts immediately to Daryl hacking another body to bits. (Nice juxtaposition – the lack of lag time between moments practically made me jump out of my chair.) Daryl comes to Ed’s body and his wife insists that she be the one to take care of her husband. She grabs the pick axe and works out a little of her unkempt rage on his skull, pounding into it with the axe like it’s a watermelon. If you were hoping for more guts this episode, there you have it.
As Daryl takes care of more dead bodies, Amy is reanimating as a walker. Andrea’s still holding her sister as her glazed over eyes open and she begins to growl and grab for Andrea. Despite the fact that Amy is quite literally becoming a monster, the scene is handled with such delicacy and even Amy’s grunts and growls have a certain level of humanness to them. It harkens back to a previous episode when Rick reads a walker’s ID in his wallet and acknowledges that he was, at one time, a person with friends and family. The other survivors approach Andrea hesitantly, thinking that she’s lost it as she continues to stroke Amy’s hair and apologize for her mistakes, but just as Amy’s about to chow down on her sister, Andrea lifts the pistol she threatened Rick with to Amy’s head and pulls the trigger. She battles her emotions and the necessary action wins.
Shane and Rick are still battling for the alpha male role, delving into a chicken-and-egg sort of argument as they dig graves. Shane accuses Rick of ruining their chances of survival during the attack by taking men into the city and Rick retorts that they wouldn’t have survived if they didn’t have the guns they brought back from the city. Of course, Lori points out later that neither one of them is wrong – but it’s hard to know what the right decision is when everything is so uncertain and they’re losing survivors left and right. The rest of the campers join them and Daryl still thinks they need to burn the bodies, but Lori (who is constantly the voice of reason) is adamant – people need time to bury their dead and to mourn. They must hang on to those items that make them human. It makes sense; they can’t lose their humanity to survive. If they lose those elements, they won’t be hankering for brains, but they’ll be another kind of soulless, walking dead.
Back in the RV, Jim’s already having visions of his zombie self and it looks like he’s nearing death. Lori’s decided to support her husband’s plan to search for the CDC center where there may be a cure for the virus, but it seems that there won’t be enough time to save Jim. He’s already making plans for his departure, asking Rick to watch his boat. While Rick’s talking to Jim, Shane asks Lori to talk some sense into Rick. Shane sees her decision to support Rick as selfish, saying that she’s more focused on fixing her marriage than keeping everyone alive. The truth is that she probably is just agreeing to Rick’s plan out of guilt for her past transgressions with Shane, but Rick’s our hero so it makes sense that someone would support his daring plan. Shane almost slips up and divulges his past relationship with Lori just as Rick returns, but quickly covers his tracks. He’s clearly not over the fact that Rick’s miraculous survival stripped him of his little family fantasy he was living out.
The best frenemies walk into the forest to check for signs of walkers and Shane is on the defensive, bringing up the fact that he took care of Rick’s family the whole time Rick was gone. As Rick walks away to scout, Shane aims his rifle at Rick’s back until Dale catches him and stops him. Of course Shane just acts like he couldn’t tell the difference between Rick and a walker, but Dale seems to know what’s up. Shane finally comes around (perhaps out of guilt for almost shooting him) and agrees to Rick’s idea. They decide to leave the next morning.
Before they head out, Rick returns to his thinking field, sending his correspondence via walkie talkie to Morgan. He’s still talking as if someone or something is recording his messages and says he’ll leave a red car with a map to help Morgan reach them. He deplores the non-present Morgan to be right about the CDC’s existence. Morales decides he and his family won’t join the group to find the CDC, and though they don’t think it’s a good idea, Rick hands them a pistol and everyone says goodbye. Rick and company move out and Jim is getting worse, but he travels with them in their caravan as he nears death. They drive away from the quarry all terrified and uncertain of their futures – they could be marching straight towards death, but the camp wasn’t safe anymore either. The RV breaks down and a few men go to look for something to repair it as Rick decides to check on Jim. Pale as can be, Jims says he’s dying and they should leave him in the fields and move on. They wrestle with the decision but ultimately they know that they must do what Jim asks – it’s the most humane option. They leave him against a tree with no pistol (in case his pain becomes unbearable) because he says they’ll need it more and they drive away as his breath slowly peters out.
The scene abruptly switches to a new character, Dr. Jenner, who lives completely alone in the CDC facility and studies samples of undead brains. But there’s no crack team solving the mystery; it’s just him. Cut to him conducting experiments, spilling samples, setting off facility alarms and setting into motion a cleansing process that destroys all of his research in one fell swoop. He’s clearly losing it as he announces to the empty facility that he’s going to blow his brains out, but he hasn’t quite decided.
Meanwhile, the survivors have reached the CDC building and the buzzing flies grazing decomposed flesh is only a fraction of what they must be encountering as they walk past piles of dead bodies in an attempt to find the entrance. They’re out of food and fuel, walkers are hot on their trail, and they’re running out of daylight. They reach a shuttered door and Rick sees a camera above it move and swears there is someone alive inside. He desperately screams at the camera as the others try to pry him away so they can run for their lives but just as Shane grabs him and drags him away as he yells “You’re killing us!” at the door, Jenner opens the shutters and the survivors are bathed in an excess of fluorescent light. There’s only one episode left this season, but this show is obviously far from running its course.