After a hell of a cliffhanger that spells an uncertain fate for one of readers’ favorite characters, this issue manages to turn the insanity up to 11. If you thought Rick and friends were boned before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The Walking Dead #166 (Image Comics)
If there’s one thing longtime readers of The Walking Dead have to get used to it’s escalation. When every issue ends in a cliffhanger and you have a 14-year run of a series built around the struggle to stay alive against a threat that never ends, you’ve got to do something to bring readers back month after month–and issue 166 should definitely have readers on the hook. Coming off the shocking final panel of last month’s issue, Kirkman and Adlard somehow manage to top that shocking reveal with storyline developments that make us wonder “precisely how fucked do things have to be for Rick not to be able to come back from this?”
We start this issue still dealing with the lingering zombie horde brought upon the Alexandria safe zone by the Whisperer War. While some scouting parties are riding toward the coast to lure the walkers away, Rick, Negan and a few others are in the process of working through the zombies still lingering about. Just as things start to calm and we feel like our heroes can catch their breath, the other shoe drops as the Saviors betray the rest of the survivors’ network. It’s an event that they’ve been building to for a little while, but while this turn of events isn’t exactly a huge surprise, it does make for some intense melodrama.
When Rick manages to calm things down a bit and get the Saviors’ leader, Sherry, to sit in for a little parlay, negotiations …well, let’s just say they BREAK down. That’s a pun that you won’t get till you read it, but don’t worry, it’s not terribly clever even if you have. So with tensions at an all-time high and a conflict with Negan’s former crew imminent, in walks Andrea and the issue ends on one of the most emotionally tense cliffhangers since Negan emotionally manipulated and then murdered Alpha. Kirkman is in the middle of a good streak on this book, with the new world post time-skip finally getting interesting again. It’s probably the best arc he’s written since All Out War, though maybe that’s not fair to say because it’s been built off all of the stories that came before it.
If I had a complaint about the writing, I guess it would be with the characterization of Sherry. We know that she’s been through a lot (to be fair it’s a few years into the zombie apocalypse, who hasn’t seen some shit at this point?), and her desire to remove her people from the increasingly dangerous alliance with Rick and his communities is somewhat logical. Yet reading her argument with Rick is frustrating as someone who has the third person omniscient POV and knows both sides of the story. We know her claims of Rick being power-hungry and selfish are wrong, but if you take a second to think about things from her perspective, it makes sense that this would be her take on the Grimes regime. In one sense it’s good and believable storytelling, on the other hand it is an awkward and somewhat challenging read.
Still, the build of that face-off to a crescendo was great–and having Rick get hit with the one-two-punch of both the outcome of this meeting AND the fate of Andrea so closely makes me excited to see where we go in issue 167. To give Adlard his dues as well, the whole issue is strongly drawn (I can’t think of another artist with his level of consistency), with Rick’s face in that last panel telling a great story in and of itself.
The Walking Dead is on fire lately, and this issue is going to be a pivotal moment in what looks to be the book’s best run since the time-skip. Seeing the fallout of this latest mess is going to be exciting, and to say that about a linear story that has been been running for the past 14 years is an accomplishment. It’s a testament to the characters that Kirkman and Adlard have created that people have literally grown up while reading this series and are still going today. Now if only they could sprinkle some of that magic on the TV series…