Like a great song building towards a powerful crescendo, “The Walking Dead” has always had an impressive ebb and flow when taken on the whole. But sometimes, with a long month between issues, the ebb can feel a bit too long, so it’s nice when even an issue with a lot of ebb still resonates so powerfully.
In this issue, a stranger has come to the community and offers a lifeline in the form of introducing Rick’s community to a larger network of communities which could include trade routes and who knows what else. Rick is naturally suspicious and handles the stranger violently. After kidnapping and questioning him in semi-secret, a small group sets out to see if he was a scout for a raiding party of some kind. When the group comes up empty, Rick is forced to consider that the stranger may be telling the truth, and their whole world might be changing.
The juxtaposition between the man that Rick has become (a calculating killing machine bent only on the survival of himself and his son as well as a general commanding an entire community) and the man he wants to be (the leader of a functioning and healthy community, father to his son) is well done in this issue. After some horrible miscalculations that resulted in some deaths and his son being shot in the face, we’ve watched Rick come to the realization that he wants to do more than just survive; he wants to live, to thrive, and he wants it for the friends and adopted family around him too. But confronted with a stranger that poses who knows what kind of danger, it’s hard for him to hold onto that idealism. He quickly falls back into his learned survival patterns of caution and distrust. It’s hard to disagree with his actions, but it’s nice to see within this same issue, Rick beginning to doubt himself, to wonder if this stranger offers him the very thing he was looking for: hope for a different and better life for his son and his people.
A double-page spread view from a hilltop, showing the surrounding areas, is a great moment both visually and as a metaphor for Rick’s shifting attitude. A different Rick might look out across that hilltop and see only danger and obstacles, death around every corner. This Rick is trying his best to see potential and opportunity, life. It’s well done character work, and subtler than I gave it credit for on a first read.
Charlie Adlard, with strong assistance from Cliff Rathburn, continues to deliver a consistent and compelling story with his art, all the more impressive for how long he’s been doing it. Adlard has to contend with a large cast and in black and white, which in lesser hands would be limiting, but he manages it all with grace. His storytelling is always easy to follow and emotionally investing, and his action sequences brutal and realistic. In this issue, the aforementioned expansive landscape as we get a look at the surrounding area from a hilltop, is a rare treat. It’s a stark reminder of the massive world in which our characters live, despite the small personal battles they face daily.
There’s a lot to like as we watch what a well-oiled machine Rick has turned his group into. He operates like any general in a war room, delegating as necessary and placing people where their strengths will be best put to use. It’s cool to see what these characters have become on this long journey, and as always it’s Kirkman’s strength with these characters that carries us through one ebb and into the next flow.