"All Out War" ends with a relatively brief skirmish, punctuated with a broken leg and the quick assistance of a doctor to save everyone. After months of expectations, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's "The Walking Dead" once again goes in a different direction. Instead of the wholesale slaughter many expected here, the issue downplays the physical violence part of the story, dealing with it in the first half dozen pages of the issue. The dirtiest parts of the storyline, as it happens, occurred earlier in the arc. Don't expect a repeat here. This last chapter is more about wrapping things up so that the next stage of the series can be set. The real conclusion to "All Out War" is about attitude, and that's something that is sold very strongly in this issue.
But it also brings the moment this entire storyline has been leading up to: Rick and Negan in final hand to hand combat. While the larger story has been of communities at war and "armies" attacking one another, the real core of it has been the chess match between Rick and Negan. It could all only end with those two together. It might not be the final ending many wished for, but it's still a satisfying one.
Rick's final solution to the Negan problem is a highly idealistic one. He spares the man so that he can set an example for a brave new world of togetherness, peace and prosperity. It makes for a great political platitude, but I can't see everyone buying into it as much as this issue might lead you to believe they did. There's plenty of fertile ground here for future stories. In the meantime, the high points of this issue aren't in the grand plot, but in the quieter character moments. Rick is still dealing with Carl, whose mind is more screwed up than perhaps anyone else in the series. It's only a matter of time before something snaps there, but Rick keeps talking him down. Rick's final exchange with Negan is the final victory that we wanted to see in this story all along, and it happened with a sneer and a final "f" word on the last page.
But, still, Rick is writing checks he can't guarantee he'll be able to cash. The most interesting part of this issue might not be the issue, itself, but rather the consequences of it down the road.
The good news of the issue is that Stefano Gaudiano is staying on as inker for the series. He was a smart addition to the creative team when this storyline started. He keeps the style and energy of Charlie Adlard's well-practiced zombie artwork, but adds a slightly smoother line. Adlard's inks had gotten rougher and looser over the years. Gaudiano taps into that confidence with his inks and presents a final image with a familar, yet distinct look. Facial expressions, in particular, can be quickly lost to an errant ink line, but Gaudiano maintains Adlard's wide variety of emotions seen throughout the issue, and not just the obvious ones.
The conclusion to "All Out War" may not be the most exciting and tense issue of the storyline, but it serves the purpose well. What Kirkman, Adlard, Gaudiano, Rathburn, Wooton, et. al. have up their sleeves next is the big question, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to enjoy in this issue first.