Burner Foes

This Dispatches from the Macabre Republic blog has lain dormant for too many months now. With the approach of October’s high holiday season, though, it’s time for me to start posting again…

Admittedly, I approached the latest Walking Dead spinoff, Daryl Dixon, with tempered enthusiasm. I wondered (based on the post-Rick seasons of TWD) if Norman Reedus’s Daryl was too stoic a character to function as a series lead. The transplanting of the renowned Southern tracker to France also seemed terribly random–a facile excuse to incorporate famous French landmarks into the post-apocalyptic mise-en-scène (the series premiere, “Lâme Perdue,” eventually explains Daryl’s curious expatriation as a shanghai situation). Mostly, though, I feared that the spinoff would recycle the same superficial, suspense-less spectacle that has plagued The Walking Dead universe since its early years, with the zombies reduced to cacophonous clay pigeons existing to be struck down systematically by the show’s deft and deathproof protagonists.

Just such a lukewarm rehash seemed in store in Daryl Dixon‘s cold open, in which the eponymous badass battles a building full of stirred walkers. But the scene, to my pleasant surprise, didn’t prove to be another formulaic and low stakes (the viewer knows Daryl isn’t getting killed off his own show before the opening credits even roll) action sequence. Instead, a bizarre new zombie variant gets introduced. Dubbed “burners,” these walkers aren’t just toothy adversaries; their very touch sears and potentially infects flesh. The requisite suspension of disbelief here (the notion that such putrescent specimens could–like some posthuman offshoot of an Alien xenomorph–contain blood that sheds with the same effect of an acid spill) borders on the mentally herniating. Nevertheless, the idea that a would-be walker dispatcher can now end up “burned” without even venturing close enough to be bitten provides an unnerving twist. Not since the Whisperer infiltration/manipulation of the zombie horde has there been such a game-changer, and I for one, am très intrigued to see how this development plays out over the course of the spinoff series.


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