In season 1, episode 5 of The Walking Dead, we see Dr. Jenner at the CDC recording a video journal, which, it is implied, he intends to send to his superiors (although he clearly suspects that they are no longer there to receive it). He says:

It's day 194 since Wildfire was declared and 63 days since the disease abruptly went global.

We are never told what "wildfire" means, but it obviously has something to do with the outbreak. However, it seems strange that the disease wasn't brought under control if it took several months to spread around the world. It also seems strange that Rick doesn't appear to have known about the outbreak when he was shot.

Is "Wildfire" some sort of established epidemiological terminology, or is it unique to the show? Is there any way to determine what it means?

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    en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildfire_(The_Walking_Dead) - Wildfire = The point at which a disease runs out of control.
    – Valorum
    Jun 28, 2015 at 8:10
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    The name appears to be an homage to the Michael Crichton film "The Andromeda Strain"'s 'Operation Wildfire'
    – Valorum
    Jun 28, 2015 at 8:12
  • 2
    How is a question about a show for which we have a tag not on topic? I don't understand why this got a close vote.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 28, 2015 at 8:16
  • 2
    "I feel you. If it gets closed (for this reason), I'm minded to reverse it" So much for not defying the will of the community.
    – phantom42
    Jun 28, 2015 at 13:13
  • 3
    But I've said it before and I'll say it again - the existence of a tag should not be used to determine whether or not something is on-topic. There is no strict review process for the creation of tags. Anyone with 300 rep can create any tag.
    – phantom42
    Jun 29, 2015 at 2:05

3 Answers 3


Near the end of Season 1, in the episode "Wildfire," Dr. Edwin Jenner of the Atlanta CDC transmits reports from "WILDFIRE MSB3417 ACTIVE." Jenner reports, "Day 194 since Wildfire was declared," and "63 days since the disease abruptly went global."

  • "Wildfire" is a reference to the Michael Crichton novel, "The Andromeda Strain." In the novel, Wildfire was the special government-sponsored team that counters extraterrestrial biological infestation.

From the Andromeda Strain: A military satellite returns to Earth. Aerial surveillance reveals that everyone in Piedmont, Arizona, the town closest to where the satellite landed, is apparently dead. The base commander suspects the satellite returned with an extraterrestrial organism and recommends activating Wildfire, a protocol for a government-sponsored team that counters extraterrestrial biological infestation.

  • The fact that "Wildfire" is apparently the code word for the initial manifestation of the zombie disease, may be a strong indicator that scientists in The Walking Dead believe the disease is of an extraterrestrial origin.

  • This fits with Kirkman's statements that he is broadly adhering to the "Romero zombie" tropes, which speculate the disease originated from viral infection and/or "radiation" from a NASA probe. Indeed, a great many details of "Romero zombies" appear to match the zombies depicted in The Walking Dead.

  • Zombies within The Walking Dead universe are Robert Kirkman's version of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead zombies. Robert Kirkman wrote that "Romero's evolving zombies are his spin. Mine just keep rotting." (REF: Editorial pages - Letter Hacks, Issue 47.)

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    Is there any proof of the Andromeda Strain reference, and even more specifically that in-universe there is a belief that the source is extraterrestrial? There is no mention or suggestion of any alien source in any of the material that I'm aware of (or can Google), and the name "wildfire" could easily have been a reference to the common English saying "spreading like wildfire" - which also fits better with "Wildfire was declared". You don't declare an infection or an event, but you do declare that you've lost control over it spreading.
    – Flater
    Aug 12, 2020 at 23:57

@Richard: the page you link to does mention the connection to Andromeda Strain, but I don't see where it says "Wildfire = The point at which a disease runs out of control"

Wildfire is not established epidemiology terminology. I believe that the precise meaning is thus known only to the episode writer, Glen Mazzara, and whomever he communicated it to. Given that we are more than four years out and the best I can find is an unsourced, unofficial list of possibilities at http://walkingdead.wikia.com/wiki/Episode_Title_Meanings, I don't think there is going to be an authoritative answer until someone asks Mr. Mazzara directly.

I think there are at least two ways to approach this. The first is taking the Wildfire = Andromeda Strain connection at face value. (developed well at http://www.losttv-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=78356). In the Andromeda Strain, "Wildfire" was a pre-existing government biohazard containment protocol that was activated when a pathogen of alien origin arrived on earth. In this context, "day 194 since Wildfire was declared" would mean 194 days since the government noted the presence of the zombie pathogen and activated its containment protocols. Presumably these were secret at first so the general public did not know about what was going on. "63 days since the disease abruptly went global" would then indicate that is when the government officially lost control of containment and due to multiple outbreaks worldwide the disease became public knowledge, which would have been shortly after Rick was shot and went into a coma. I think the strongest evidence for this is that Jenner is transmitting as "WILDFIRE MSB3417 ACTIVE" which implies he is part of an Andromeda-style containment team.

A less likely but equally interesting possibility is that "Wildfire" is not the containment team but rather the pathogen itself. Infectious diseases have two relevant features: contagiousness (how fast they spread) and virulence (how strongly they affect the host). The most dangerous epidemic diseases are high contagiousness, high virulence. The English colloquial term "spreading like wildfire" would imply the pathogen has a high contagiousness, as does the fact that Jenner tells Rick that everyone in his group has been infected. Possibly wildfire also refers to the virulence, since we know that one of the symptoms of the disease killing its host is high fever (as we saw with Jim in the episode). In this case "day 194 since Wildfire was declared" would mean something like 194 days since the pathogen was discovered and named or 194 days since Patient 0 contracted it.

In this case c. 130 days of spread without the public knowing about it does seem odd. Note that the CDC's "Edwin Jenner" is an obvious reference to Edward Jenner, the pioneer of the smallpox vaccine. Note that the RW Jenner used pus from a different disease, cowpox, to create his smallpox vaccination. And note that the WD Jenner said the CDC facility was designed to contain "weaponized smallpox". Put these together and it may be implied that Wildfire began as a government bioweapons program, attempting to change one disease into something else. In this case, the "day 194 since Wildfire was declared" may have been the time since the disease was created in secret, and the 63 days is roughly the time since it escaped from government labs into the general population.

Update 1/4/2023 This webpage says:

This neatly explains why Daryl would end up in France during his spinoff series, since The Walking Dead: World Beyond revealed this was where the virus was born. If Maggie wants to learn more about the zombie apocalypse, France is undoubtedly where Daryl must go.

while the Wikipedia entry on The Walking Dead: World Beyond Season 2 Episode 10 currently says:

In a post-credits scene, a French scientist is confronted by a man who accuses the woman and her colleagues of causing and worsening the outbreak. The man kills the scientist who becomes a faster, stronger and more aggressive kind of zombie while Dr. Edwin Jenner discusses the overseas variants in a video message in the background.

I haven't watched World Beyond, but perhaps someone who has can contribute to answering this question?

  • Note that if you follow the "spreading like wildfire" idea, then Wildfire might be the day they lost control over the spread, rather than the day it was discovered. "Declaring" Wildfire makes more sense that way, as you don't really declare a disease ("COVID-19 was declared" doesn't sound right) but you can declare that you've lost control over it ("a pandemic was declared" makes much more sense).
    – Flater
    Aug 13, 2020 at 0:01
  • @Flater Agreed, you don't declare a disease - but you can declare a state of response to it, or declare the activation of a protocol for it, or declare that you have lost containment. The fact that Jenner is transmitting as WILDFIRE MSB3417 ACTIVE to me implies that he was part of a team waiting for some disease of this kind to show up - a disease that has the potential to be a global pandemic. "Spreading like wildfire" describes the potential disease that they were created to react to, and "declaring" it might date from the announcement of "this is the one we have been preparing for."
    – Kirt
    Aug 13, 2020 at 6:12

You apparently aren't a long time fan of Science Fiction, or you would have instantly picked up the reference and homage to Michael Crichton's "The Andromeda Strain" in both the episode title and the repeated use of the word "Wildfire."

Wildfire was a declared state of pathogen/biological emergency in "The Andromeda Strain" defining a situation where positive control of a pathogen with the capability to destroy civilization as it's known was lost.

  • I'm not really a fan of science fiction in general, only a few specific franchises/books/movies/shows.
    – Wad Cheber
    Sep 7, 2015 at 21:31
  • You have my upvote anyway, because the downvote was uncalled for.
    – Wad Cheber
    Sep 7, 2015 at 22:23

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