Hoo boy, it’s an emotional issue this month. With recent events going poorly for our heroes, Kirkman and Adlard take a step back to say goodbye to one of the series’ most beloved characters in a hallmark issue for a book that has been running for 14 years.
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Publisher: Image Comics
It’s hard to review a book like The Walking Dead #167. While I’d like to spend some time talking about the technical side of the issue, the real crux of this book is the emotional journey we go on alongside series protagonist Rick Grimes. If you haven’t been following the last few issues, you’ll probably want to skip this review because it’s going to get pretty in depth into things and there’s not even a panel we can include in this review that won’t massively spoil the story, so–social contract–you’ve been pretty heavily warned thus far.
Still here? Ok.
This is the issue where Andrea dies. Though last month brought along the added WTF moment that was Rick accidentally killing the leader of the Saviors (Dwight’s ex-wife, Sherry), all but the briefest of moments are dedicated to the ramifications of Andrea’s death on our central and extended cast and it is beautiful. Kirkman’s strength with this series has always been his firm understanding of the characters and how the gruesome and often unthinkable events that befall them can break them or reinforce who they are. You get the sense that he really feels an emotional connection to his creations, and that’s without reading the apology letter he includes at the tail end of the issue.
The first half of the issue is the series’ goodbye to Andrea, and it is immensely satisfying. There’s a full page sequence where the secondary cast each takes time to visit the dying woman in her bed and say their goodbyes. From the emotionally poignant comments of characters like Michonne, to the brutal honesty of less integral players like Heath, to the abject gallows humor of Negan, it’s an amazing sequence that shows what she’s meant to the community at large. It’s small potatoes compared to the flooring sequences with Rick and Carl, but it speaks to the robust world of characters Kirkman has created here.
Full disclosure, I always thought it was a little weak that Carl started calling Andrea “mom” when the series made the time jump a few years ago. It felt like an unearned closeness that, yes, stemmed from the two years that passed unseen, but never really seemed to make a ton of sense in context. Yet, while that was showing not telling, this issue showcases just what these two mean to each other. It speaks a lot to the strength of the character that much of Andrea’s final moments are spent building up the Grimes men, both of whom are destroyed by her loss. With Carl, she takes the approach of speaking to the value of work in relationships. As she imparts tidbits like “If you love someone, you’ll make yourself happy and that will make them happy,” you genuinely get the impression that this is a dying mother speaking to her teenage son. It’s a great speech, and combined with her knowing goodbye to her adopted son (“I’ll see you in the morning.”), you grow to understand her weight in his life.
Of course, the heavy emotional lifting comes from her interactions with Rick. More than even the loss of his wife and infant daughter all the way back in the prison escape, the death of Andrea has destroyed Rick. At the beginning he’s able to stay strong for others, even having a moment with Eugene where he absolves the man’s guilt for the accident that led to Andrea being bitten. Yet as the book goes on and Andrea’s health deteriorates further, you see his mental state break. For her part, Andrea has made peace with her fate and uses her last moments to try and inspire Rick to move on. Now, having a strong female lead spend her final breaths to inspire her spouse to do well in the world skirts the line of fridging, but it’s to Kirkman’s credit that this never feels exploitative. The secret there is in Rick’s reactions, which are heartbreaking, and seeing the community come together to prop him (and each other) up at the end is another emotional segment that shows this is a loss that (at least in the short term) will definitely be felt by the survivors.
Perhaps the most remarkable sequence comes around the moment when Andrea actually passes away, as Rick struggles with the fact that he’ll have to put his lover down before she reanimates. The choice is too hard on our protagonist though, and he actually spends a considerable amount of time welcoming her inevitable turn as a form of suicide. We see him struggle with not wanting to live in a world where he has to see the people he loves die so often, especially one in which he needs to be strong for everyone else. He goes back and forth on this decision to the very end, ultimately ending Andrea’s reanimated state before she can bite him. He tries to clean her body but breaks down and just lingers over her corpse until he thinks he’s strong enough to look for Carl. Once he steps outside and sees the forlorn looks of his fellow survivors he learns that he was wrong. This inspires a shared moment of loss and communion among the survivors, members of the Saviors included. What follows is perhaps the most optimistic final page of the series’ 14-year run, a sun-kissed Rick stating simply “There is still much to do.”
Adlard’s art here is top-notch. Sure he has a lot of experience portraying sadness and loss with this book, but this issue is just wall-to-wall grief, lovingly rendered–as much as one can lovingly render this sort of thing. Rick genuinely looks broken at times, and the side-eye we see from Dwight discovering the body of his ex-wife tells a wordless tale we know will probably bear fruit later. There are a number of splash pages throughout the story that also tell amazing stories without any words. The image of Rick holding Andrea’s hand as she passes away is particularly haunting and beautiful.
The Walking Dead has had many emotional issues centered on loss over the years, but this one is perhaps its most affecting. Between Kirkman’s words and Adlard’s subtle art, we get a true sense of the feeling of loss experienced by Rick and company. This is an issue fans will be talking about for years to come.