The Walking Dead – a heartbreaking work of staggering genius…..
The Walking Dead – brutal and breathtakingly bloody….
The Walking Dead – the finest comic book on the stands….
The Walking Dead – proof that you can make a human drama from an undead apocalypse….
The Walking Dead – 5 years of consistent high quality storytelling….
The Walking Dead – the despair and hope at the end of times….
The Walking Dead – a modern day classic
Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlards Zombie opus ‘The Walking Dead’ takes the unreal and fantastic and tries to place it into a real world context. The unfamiliar and fantastic is the event that overshadows the cast of this book – that being a zombie apocalypse that appears to have wiped out the majority of the worlds population (if the part of the USA where the book is set is taken as a microcosm of what is happening in the world at large). There is no explanation as to what caused this tragedy, and no reason given as to why there are human survivors. The real world context, and main plot driver, is how a group of ‘unremarkable’ individuals (policemen, ex basketball players, clerks, lawyers, farmers, housewives and children to name a few) cope indrastically changed world. Despite its comic and serial format, the writing and artwork elevate this from standard comic book fare. Sometimes it plays out like a soap opera, other times like an action movie, and sometimes like a horror movie and disaster movie. It is never less than excellent, its consistency is astonishing considering it is soon to reach its 50th issue (at the time of writing issue 43 has been out for 3 weeks, issue 44 to follow soon).
The events leading to ‘No-one is Safe’
To explain the events of issues 43-48 requires some background. Rick Grimes, a Kentucky policeman, is in hospital recovering from shotgun wounds, wakes to find the world changed. Zombies are everywhere, humans appear to be decimated. Finding another survivor who plunders to stay alive (a young man called Glenn), and who is adept at avoiding the undead, they eventually find another group of survivors, including Lori and Carl, Ricks wife and son. Also there is Ricks police partner, Shane, who was with him on the day he got shot on duty, and it was Shane, who helped get Lori and Carl to safety. Shane cannot accept the Rick has com ‘back from the dead’, and, because he believes that he and Lori would have a relationship if Rick was dead, attacks his former partner. Carl intervenes by shooting Shane, killing him.
As time goes on they pick up more survivors such as Tyrese, a former Basketball player and his daughter and her boyfriend and Hershel Green, a farmer and his family. They find a maximum security prison and quickly establish a base there, clearing out zombies from the grounds and the facility itself, and find a handful of surviving inmates, all of whom die or flee within the space of a few issues, with the exception of Axel, an institutionalised ex-biker, who strikes up a relationship with the troubled Patricia, a daughter-in-law of Hershel. Rick is regarded as the leader, though the likes of Herscel, Tyrese and Dale, a traveling salesman who has an RV that the group initially used as a base and shelter, are also seen as leaders and decision makers.
The group are safely ensconced in the Prison, and are protected from the undead. After finding riot protection suits, it is decided that some of the group can go out and gather fuel from abandoned cars in relative safety. It is then that a chain of events occurs that leads them to the town of Woodbury. What they find is a well organized, well armed and well resourced community led by a man only known as The Governer. The reason the community is so well armed is down to the fact that there was an abandoned National Guard outpost nearby. Once inside Woodbury it is clear that The Governer is a brutal and ruthless man, whose idea of keeping the population entertained and under control is to stage Gladiatorial contests between leashed Zombies and human opponents. What also becomes apparent is that ‘outsiders’ are fed to the zombies. Also, The Governer wants to know where Ricks camp is, and tortures both him and Michonne, a former lawyer with a potential multiple personality disorder who is adept with a Katana.
Rick, recovering after his torture at the hands of The Governer befriends Dr Stevens and a nurse called Alice, and it becomes apparent that Rick needs to escape Woodbury. With the help of a Woodbury guard, Rick makes an attempt to flee with Alice and Dr Stevens. Although the Doctor does not make it out alive, the others make it back to the Prison to find the grounds seemingly infestated with the undead. Once that is dealt with and the grounds secured it becomes apparent that the Woodbury Guard, Martinez, is missing. Rick tracks him down, heading back to Woodbury, and kills him, despite the pleas from Martinez that it is ‘selfish’ not to allow the Woodbury people the security of the prison compound. Meanwhile, back in Woodbury, Michonne, in retribution for her rape and torture, carries out a prolonged and severe physical attack on the Governor, leaving him barely alive.
Rick returns back to the Prison and calls a meeting. He proceeds to tell of the ordeal at Woodbury, and that the group should prepare for a battle as the Woodbury community would be coming sooner or later to try and take the Prison. The group begins to prepare, including a mission to a military stockpile where they encounter Woodbury people again, but these people are defeated by the likes of Tyrese, Michonne and Axel, who go back to the prison with weapons and supplies. At the prison, Lori gives birth to her baby, Judith. However, the parentage of Judith is unclear as Shane and Lori made love in the early days of the Zombie outbreak (when Rick was believed dead). For a while there is peace at the Prison, with some semblance of normality, alongside the joy of the safe birth of Judith Grimes and other relationships forming (such as Glenn and Maggie, Hershels Daughter, who plan to have children). However, at the end of issue 42, this peace is shattered when The Governor (minus an arm, an eye, an ear and a penis, the result of his suffering at the hands of Michonne) returns with an army of people and a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, declaring that those inside the prison should be eliminated.
No-one is Safe / Made to Suffer (Issues 43 to 48)
We learn what happened to the Governer after his prolonged torture, and after being nursed back to health leads the Woodbury community to believe the Prison is full of savage people who should not be allowed to live, and on this premise he leads an army to the Prison. After clearing the crowd of zombies gathered around the perimeter fences in order to attack the compund, a brief battle ensues but the Woodbury ‘army’ are shown to be ill-trained and not as capable as the likes of Andrea, a former clerk who has become Dales younger lover, who has become a crackshot. She quickly dispatches men of the Woodbury army, and they are forced to retreat and regroup. Amid the confusion, Rick appears, shot in the abdomen and collapses.
In the lull, Dale, Andrea, and three children (but not Carl or Judith) and, at the last minute, Glenn and Maggie, flee the prison in their RV in order to avoid the confrontation and potential los of life. In an attempt to end the conflict, Tyreese and Michonne decide to tail the Governor and the townspeople in the hopes that if they kill a few more it will discourage their attack. The plan goes badly wrong, with Tyreese captured after killing a couple of Woodbury people and we are told (though it is not seen) that Michonne had her head blown off in the fight.
From here on in, the story begins to take shocking turns.
In issue 44, the Governer returns, this time with an ultimatum – leave the compund and spare the life of Tyrese and Michonne. Tyrese is brought out to the horror of those in the Prison. Michonne is not shown, though this contradicts the earlier reports of her death, and is a ruse to cajole Rick and the other survivors to leave. However, they refuse to leave, Rick even commenting that this was down to the stupidity of Tyrese venutring off after the Woodbury aggressors. In a fit of rage, the Governer hacks at the neck of Tyrese, eventually decapitating him and leaving his body at the Prison gates. To kill off such a prominent character is always a shock, but the brutal and undiginified manner of his death is jarring. Tyrese was a strong and atheltic man, and regarded as a leader, and to the reader he was regarded as a ‘good guy’. His death was not a ‘fitting’ end, but in the context of the war waged by the Governer, it is believable. Charlie Adlards art does not shy away from the brutality, a series of panels depicting what would have been a slow and painful, undignified death.
Within a short time the Governer and his army return yet again to the Prison, attacking theose inside. Axel is shot dead, his death a brief one amongst the chaos and bullets, but again, no less shocking as he was another sympathetic character who was likable. The tag line ‘No-one is safe’ desgined to advertise these issues was proving to be a truthful summation of events.
As the attacks become more focussed and intense, there appears to be little chance of enduring the siege. Andrea returns briefly in the RV, but this is no triumphant cavalry charge, as she is mown down, although her fate is ambiguous. Finally, the Woodbury army drive through the fences, as Zombies pour in alongside them, the safety breached. This is where events lead onto issue 48, and the most numbing, awful events unfold.
Rick, along with his family and Alice, attempt to escape to the truck and flee the prison. Elsewhere in the compound, Hershel, Patricia and Billy are trying to shoot their way out. Patricia is quickly shot dead. Hershel, believing that this is a chance to save his only surviving son, and having seen so many of his other children killed, makes a break for safety. Leading Billy by the hand, amidst the streams of gunfire, he does not manage to get his son out of the line of fire. In four heartbreaking panels we see Hershels determination turn to abject despair as Billy catches a bullet and is killed insantly. All the time Hershel holding his dead sons hand. I have spoken before on my blog about the emotion this particular scene raises in me. It is staged in such a moving way – the way Hershel takes Billys hand to lead him out of harms way, doing his duty as a father. The determination on Hershels face, unknowing that his son is already fatally wounded. What follows is heartbreaking, with Hershel just giving up, all his children dead or their whereabouts unknown (but only Maggies whereabouts are unknown). You can see this heartbreaking piece of art at the bottom of this post.
In danger Rick calls out to him, but he refuses the offer of escape. In short sucession comes the most terrible tragedy. As the Governor and his men open fire again, Alice is wounded and then finished off as she tries to protect Rick, Lori, Carl and Judith. The family together, amidst the carnage make a final desperate attempt to flee the prison carnage. As Rick and Carl flee, they outpace Lori, cradling Judith in her arms. On the order of the Governer, a Woodbury female, Lilly, opens fire on the escapees. It is at this point that the terrible and unbelievable happens – a full page shows Lori blasted in the stomach, her baby also getting the full force of the shot. As Rick continues running he turns to see Lori and Judith fall, his grief consuming him, yet still he has enough self-preservation and desire to protect his son to urge them both on. There is a panel that shows Lori face down, dead, her infant child underneath her, arm raised, fist clenched. It is an arresting, shocking, dreadful scene.
As Rick and Carl escape, past advancing undead, the Governor orders his men to stop firing at them, convinced the zombies will deal with them quickly. Hershel is still alive, a broken man, waiting for death, which the Governer gives to him, shooting him point blank. Even at this point, with the Prison he craved now his, he still displays the cruel and psychotic tendencies that mark him out as one of the most reviled and memorable characters in comicbook history.
There is a payoff. As the Woodbury army moves into the Prison, Lori and Judith’s killer, Lilly, realizes that her victim was carrying a baby, and turns on her leader, calling the Governer a monster. Power crazed, he will not accept such talk from her, but she is no longer in his thrall. Lilly hits him with her rifle, and stricken, he falls to the floor. Lilly puts the barrel in his mouth, preparing to execute him. Just then, intervention saves the Governer as a horde of zombies breaks through the hole in the fence and attacks the Woodbury army. The Governor gets up, takes control again, and shhots a zombie. As he urges that the group remain calm and move into the prison, sticking together, it seems as if he has fulfilled his evil scheme. This proves to be a false hope for him though, as the remanants of his group are overwhelmed by the undead, who are quickly taking over the prison. Lilly gets to her feet and shoots the Governor in the back of the head, gore exploding across the page, and pushes his body into a crowd of zombies, where it is immediately consumed. She assumes control and leads her fellow surviors into the prison, but their guns quickly fall silent. Their fate is not ambiguous, as it is obvious they have not survived and the prison is rendered uninhabitable, a home to the undead now.
The final panel sees Rick and Carl, having run to safety, clinging on to each other, Carl having realised his mother and sister are dead. Both in tears, consumed with their loss, they stand on top of a small hill as Zombies advance towards them. After the ferociousness of the battle, the loss, the violence, this final panel allows the reader to reflect on the tragic events, to observe the grief of a father and son, to witness their bonding in the light of the death of their loved ones. The panel also makes it clear that although they are safe, it is only temporary, as the undead advance. It also suggests that this will always be the way things are – constantly having to move on, stay alert, never being free of the curse of this changed world.
Issue 48 is a landmark. The action is breathtaking, with Adlard excelling in porraying the confusion of battle, the violence, the anger, pain and grief. The death of so many established characters in one issue, let alone in the overall arc, makes this a genuinely incredible moment in comics. There is no chance of a return for these characters, unlike so many superhero titles where characters are resurrected, or parallel universe versions of dead characters provide a rollback for comic writers. The world ‘The Walking Dead’ inhabits is real, as much as it is unreal. Once a character is dead, they cannot return back to life. What is more disturbing is the threat that these people could return reanimated as a revenant. In the very next issue (issue 49) the return of Michonne prompts such a scene, as she returns to the desolation of the prison, and finds Tyreese’s undead decapitated head alongside his corpse. She drives her sword through it, putting her ex-lover out of his misery.
Incredible and moving, staggering and audacious
As an arc “Made to Suffer / Noone is safe” manages to pack in 6 short issues an audacious and gripping story, where the random cruelty of life is exposed, and well-loved characters that readers had invested time in over several years were snuffed out in an instant. This storyline delivered, it truly followed thorugh on its promise – no-one was safe. You may not have wanted to believe it, you may not have wanted it, but Kirkman and Adlard made you watch as the Governer and his hatred destroyed and ruined so many lives, and changed the landscape of this brilliant title forever. It is amongst the greatest storylines in comicbook history, and if you have not read it then I strongly urge you to – it is a comicbook to experience and cherish, and it deserves to be read, to prosper. Spread the word.