Scott Garfield/AMC
February 27, 2015 at 08:12 PM EST

The Walking Dead aired the penultimate episode of its first season last night, entitled “Wildfire,” and recappers Dan Snierson and Jeff Jensen excitedly chased after it like soft rockin’ homesteaders chasing after a wilderness ghost chasing after a runaway magic horse. “They ran callin’ Wiiiiiiildfire/Callin’ Wiiiiiiiiiildfire/Callin’ Wiiiiii-iiiiiii-iiiiiild-fiii-iiii-ire!” (Ahem.) Here now is their report.

DAN: Jeff, if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, we certainly won’t be having a calm discussion about this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, which proved to be a startling, emotionally rich, game-changing hour of TV. It was teeming with tension (Andrea! Step away from Amy NOW!), soaked in sad sacrifice (R.I.P. Slim Jim), goosed with gory (see: Ed’s head), and packed with possibility (so many questions for you, CDC Scientist!). That go-to-the-light cliffhanger was an intriguing capper to an episode that tickled our imaginations and showed that this is a series (wild)firing on all cylinders.

JEFF: This week, EW declared The Walking Dead the year’s best new drama; “Wildfire” convinced me of our rightness. We opened at sunrise, with Rick vainly trying to walkie-talkie his Good Samaritan pal Morgan like a supplicant lobbing prayers to a distant deity. “It’s not what they promised,” said Rick of the false-paradise Atlanta that Morgan had told him about. “It belongs to the dead now.” Later, when he changed his mind, he evoked a faith-shaken man giving God one last chance. “I hope you were right about this place,” Rick said. “I need you to be right.” “Wildfire” had the survivors seeking signs of life and hope in unlikely places–including the cataract eyes of zombified siblings.

DAN: Besides Rick’s Terror Tank visit to Atlanta, has there been a more stressful moment this season than Andrea holding vigil over Amy’s dead body? There she was, mourning in stunned silence, while the others tried to figure out a humane way to get her away from Amy so they could destroy Amy’s brain. (The gravitas was broken up with a darkly comedic moment; when Rick confidently said, “I’ll tell her how it is,” he wound up with Andrea’s gun in his face and an “I know how the safety works” warning.) The show effectively toyed with audience expectation, as we kept bracing for zombie awakening. Knees bounced anxiously as Andrea placed a necklace around Amy’s neck, explaining to Dale that it was Amy’s birthday—an event Andrea usually muffed. Nothing. And then slowly, we witnessed the birth of a zombie (gentler than you expected?), with Amy feeling her sister’s face (or sizing up her meal?), and opening her mouth like she was trying to speak (or to chomp?), while Andrea soothed, “I’m sorry for not being there… I’m here now…” With tension and danger redlining, she unloaded a bullet into Amy’s brain. Gasp. It was as if Andrea needed every second of that interaction with Amy to achieve her grieve.

JEFF: Initially, I thought Andrea was being cruelly sentimental, but I like your grieving take. She got to look death in the eye, got to get her hands dirty with Amy’s blood, with the dirt of the grave. What visceral catharsis.

DAN: Which is not to say that made it any easier for Andrea. Death sucks. No dodging that pain. Take the story Dale revealed about his late wife, Irma. Zombies didn’t get her—cancer did. Even though it took her away in bits over time, even though she was “ready to go” by the end, it was still so sudden, too soon for Dale. He felt “cheated.”

NEXT: Mercy delivered via pick-axe.

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