This month’s deluxe-sized issue of The Walking Dead serves as a jumping-on point for the long-running series, which is great because I’ve been away for something like three years.
Apparently, a great-big war just concluded, and this issue, “A New Beginning,” is another installment of “Let’s see how Rick and the other survivors rebuild after things got dicey for a few months there,” continuing the cycle of lulls between messed-up things happening in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
“A New Beginning” offers a little outsider POV in Magna, a capable young woman whose small band of survivors encounter horsemen from Rick’s settlement and decide to join up. This gives a chance to see how things have changed in the aftermath of the war and more importantly, how it’s changed Rick. Life is strangely stable for Rick’s community in The Kingdom of Alexandria, somewhat fortified against the walkers while establishing reliable supplies of food along with organized security.
If you’re reading that last sentence and thinking “strangely stable until,” you’re not the only one. In any other medium, where Rick is mentally, where Carl is mentally, where the community they’ve helped build and establish is would be the prelude to some kind of finale. What more is left to say? The big battles between road warrior, warlord ideology and peaceful agrarian coexistence are over, the zombies are the same threat as they ever were, and everything else is just soap opera.
But Kirkman and Adlard have conditioned readers (even lapsed ones like myself) to stick it out for the cycle of crisis and recovery. That’s what this book has always been and it’s unlikely to change course. It’s not that the book has lost any emotional heft or sense of consequence (I mean, it kind of has for this lapsed reader since the last time I picked it up, Dale was on his way out), but that it’s difficult to imagine that it has any surprises left outside of which of the remaining plucky survivors you’ve grown to love will die by accident, walker, or malice.
Seeing Rick at peace with his community, the outside world, with his son, and with himself feels like the culmination of a decade and more of storytelling that constantly tested the former lawman’s conscience, strength, and even his will to live. What we see here is a book at a turning point: one that has exhausted the storytelling possibilities of its lead character.
And that’s why I’m betting Rick isn’t too long for this world.
The Walking Dead #127 is available now from Image Comics.