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'Walking Dead' finale recap: Zombie science and a message about ecology

December 5, 2010 | 11:01 pm

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So, this is the way Season One of "The Walking Dead" ends: not with a whimper, but with a giant, all consuming bang, a massive explosion that sees the CDC go up in huge, shooting walls of flame. Sincerest apologies to T.S. Eliot, but it appears that Rick, Lori, Shane and the other survivors have been delivered back into a zombie-infested waste land now that their temporary refuge has blown up. At least they got to enjoy the facility's many amenities -- hot showers, air conditioning, copious bottles of wine -- for a short while.

Tonight's finale, "TS-19" (the initials standing for Test Subject rather than Thomas Stearns) did yield much insight, though, into the nature of the plague itself, in relative terms anyway. We learned that the disease, which could be viral, fungal or microbial, invades the brain of an infected person much like meningitis; the brain and eventually the other organs go into failure, resulting in death. Although resurrection times vary, from as little as three minutes to up to eight hours, the brain stem begins to work again, causing the new Walker to get up and start moving, but all traces of the person the Walker once was are gone and do not return.

This information comes courtesy of Dr. Jenner, the scientist who has opened the door to the CDC to the survivors, though he insists that they submit to blood tests to ensure that they're not infected.

Afterward, they're all seen having dinner, drinking, celebrating the fact that they're alive and well, until Shane asks the obvious question: namely, where are the other people who are supposed to be manning the facility and just why is Jenner all alone? The answer, it turns out, is that many of them deserted the CDC to be with their families after things "got bad." When the situation "got worse," Jenner explains that the rest either bolted or committed suicide, but he continued to work, hoping to do some good.  

Later, an intoxicated Rick thanks Jenner for allowing them all in, finally letting down his guard and admitting what he really thought, what he could never tell anyone in the group -- that he was convinced they would have died in the outside world unless they had managed to find a safe haven. Of course, it's only the illusion of safety they've found. 

While Rick is away, Shane, who's also quite drunk, violently confronts Lori about the way she's spurned him since Rick's return, swearing to her that he had sincerely believed Rick to be dead (a flashback sequence at the opening of the episode underscores his claim) and that in any case, she owes her life and Carl's life to him: If she'd known Rick was still in the coma, Shane argues, she never would have left and likely would have died.

Shane insists he loves her, even as he attempts to force himself on her, and it appears that only Lori digging her nails into Shane's neck to injure him stops him from raping her in the CDC rec room. When Rick crawls into bed with her after the altercation, he tells her she doesn't have to be afraid any longer, but he does so without knowing the real reason she's crying. 

The next morning, Jenner shows everyone his research, which was conducted on that fateful subject, a woman, who we learn, was actually Jenner's wife. It's Dale who notices the large clock on the wall, which is counting down, it turns out, until the time the basement power generators run out of power and fail, and a master computer goes into "decontamination" mode, which will detonate high impulse explosives that will wipe out the building and everything in it. Jenner, who's resigned himself to his fate, points out that he's been unable to communicate with any other facilities for nearly a month. The French, he says, seemed to be the final holdouts, and they believed they were close to finding a solution to the global pandemic. But when their power grid went down, that was the end of it all. "The world runs on fossil fuel," he shouts. "How stupid is that?" 

Jenner locks everyone in the central area, telling them that the only thing waiting for them in the outside world is a "short, brutal life and an agonizing death," but Rick insists that there's always hope. His argument is convincing enough for Jenner to eventually agree to unlock the doors -- with just four minutes until "decontamination" -- but first Jacqui and then Andrea decide to stay with Jenner and die. Dale refuses to accept Andrea's decision, reminding her that her sister would have wanted her to escape, and she does finally agree to go (though only after Dale tells her that if she's not leaving, then neither will he).

As to how the survivors actually escape the building, well, that's courtesy of a very conveniently remembered hand grenade that Carol has carried in her bag since having found the item in Rick's uniform when she first washed it back at camp. The device blows open the CDC's otherwise impregnable front windows and they all make a narrow, harried escape. As the giant fire burns in the background, the five-car caravan pulls away onto the highway and toward an uncertain future.  

What happens next? Where will the survivors wind up? Will we see Walker Jim? Will Merle Dixon come back to wreak havoc? You'll have to wait to find out until next Halloween, when Season Two of the AMC series will premiere.  

-- Gina McIntyre

Photo: "The Walking Dead" Credit: AMC 

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