Captains of Burning Boats: Jenner & Rick Parallels in TWD105
On the surface, it’d be hard to find two characters more different than Edward Jenner and Rick Grimes. One is a man of science and thinking. The other is a man of the law, one given to action. By the end of The Walking Dead 106, one has given up on life and is ready to opt out and see the end of days. The other desperately wants to fight on.
The contrasts between Jenner and Rick are striking when you look back at Episodes 105 and 106 as a whole, but when you view “Wildfire” in isolation, I’m struck by how similar the two are.
Jenner knows that there is likely nothing left in the world. Yet, we see him recording a report, discussing his progress, even talking about his problems sleeping as if it’s important for prosperity. He puts on his suit and toils in the lab, looking for a cure. Although he says later he was just an employee of the CDC without the genius of his wife, he keeps trying to find a solution.
Back at the camp, Rick knows in his heart that it’s unlikely any of them will survive out there among the walkers. He tells Jenner so in 106. Deep down, he must know there is no hope for Jim, but still he insists they try and take him to the CDC for help.
There is a moment when Jim begins to have delusions, and he says the following to Rick:
While the words seem to be said simply to placate a feverish, dying man, there is significance to them. Rick is assuming the helm. He is the captain of the proverbial ship that the group in Atlanta is sailing in.
We see him taking responsibility now even though inside he lacks hope that everything will be alright. Although he is responsible for more passengers than Jenner, he is still in the same boat, making a futile attempt to keep going.
Both Jenner and Rick have taken on the role of captain for the same reason–love. In “Wildfire,” Lori asks Rick to tell her something with certainty, and he says:
Rick loves his family so much that he refuses to give up, to let go and surrender. Jenner, similarly, continues his research because he promised his wife he would keep up the work even after she died.
But then it becomes impossible.
After a slip-up in the lab, the decontamination system destroys all of the samples. There is no way to continue, no way to keep his promise. In a fiery explosion, Jenner’s boat has burned, and its pieces will sink to the bottom of the ocean.
While we don’t know it in “Wildfire,” the vessel Rick is guiding is destined for the same fate. The CDC is not the place of refuge he hoped for. It is destroyed, and he, his family and his fellow survivors are cast back out into the world.
The only difference between Jenner and Rick is that Jenner doesn’t have a reason to keep going. Without his wife, without his work, it’s time for him to go down with the ship.
But Rick has to patch his boat and try to keep sailing, to try and make a plan to survive for the sake of his family.
Still, as Jim said:
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