While tensions with the Saviors have seemingly been put to rest, things are looking up for the allied survivors. Yet just because the dead are at bay and Sherry’s planned insurrection has been avoided, that doesn’t mean everything is copacetic in the Alexandria safe zone.
With Andrea’s burial in the previous issue – as well as a stirring call for peace from Negan of all people – things are starting to get back to normal in the world of The Walking Dead. Longtime readers will know, however, that nothing is ever calm or easy for our cast, so you know Rick is dealing with shit on all sides. Obviously the man is still haunted by the specter of his fallen wife, whose grave he has taken to sleeping on – if he does indeed get any sleep. Though he is mostly functional in his day-to-day responsibilities in this issue, even exceptionally sharp at points, you can tell that his loss is still affecting his daily life.
Carl is similarly taking things hard, relating the sad tale of Ben, one of the two boys who lived in the survival camp outside of Atlanta with Carl near the beginning of the series, to Lydia. If you don’t remember that far back, Ben was unable to understand the new zombie-infested world and butchered his twin brother Billy thinking that the other boy would simply come back to life. Seeing this unhinged boy as a potential threat (and hearing the adults mull over what they’ll need to do with him) Carl takes it upon himself to kill Ben before his mania claims another victim. Though it was something of a poorly kept secret in the books, Carl had never admitted it on panel before. That he does so by relating the time he eventually told Andrea (who had briefly adopted Ben and his brother Billy before their untimely demise) is one of the best character moments for the youngest Grimes in a while.
While Carl’s growth is great, this book is about Rick – more specifically, Rick’s place in the changing world. His biggest challenges come from two people with whom he’s had close and productive relationships in the past – and funny enough, Negan’s at the heart of both issues. Up first we have Maggie, who is far from okay with the man who murdered her husband in front of her not only roaming free, but having some level of authority in the new world she’s helping to build. It’s a real rock and a hard place situation for Rick because, true to his word, Negan has been a helpful and meaningful addition to Rick’s inner circle, helping to deal swift defeats to both the Whisperers and the would-be rebellion of the Saviors. At the same time, dude caved in Glenn’s head with a baseball bat in what has sort of become the series’ defining visual event, so one can imagine his widow not being entirely cool with Negan wandering the countryside.
On the other side of the coin is Dwight, who isn’t happy that Rick instigated issues with the Saviors and needed Negan to resolve it and is looking to supplant the elder Grimes for leadership of the cross-settlement union. Now while Dwight was very direct, highlighting that he could have forcefully taken control of the settlement instead of approaching Rick man-to-man, I think Rick really handled this interaction poorly. I get that he was facing a threat, but telling Dwight – the man your military respects above all – that you could always dig another grave for him stokes the fires of an already irate opponent. Long term, I imagine this will lead to some sort of coup attempt from Dwight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Negan was the one to put a stop to it.
On a more positive note, Rick has now spoken to Eugene’s long distance ham radio pal and has arranged for a meeting between our survivors (lead by Michonne) and theirs. The implication seems to be that this new network may be even larger than the Alexandria alliance, and I’m fairly certain the outcome of that interaction will set the next major arc of the series in motion. I imagine the issues with Dwight will come along first, but whether they’re friend or foe, this new community will help define the direction of the book moving forward.
Overall this is a decent middle chapter. The stuff with Carl (and a brief scene with Jesus) provide some great character moments, and the promise of meeting Eugene’s long-distance girlfriend has led the story in an interesting direction. Add to it the simmering conflicts between Maggie and Negan, as well as Dwight and Rick, and you’ve set the stage for some interesting developments in the coming months.