Rick and the gang are approached by Paul (Jesus) from the Hilltop Community - a group of 200 people in their own settlement. And he comes in peace. While it takes Rick a long time to actually trust Paul, he eventually works his way with the gang to the Hilltop settlement to see the large, organised and ordered community; in many ways superior to the Alexandria especially with their food supplies.
But all is not well - as we hear of The Saviours lead by Nagan, a travelling violent gang extorting supplies from Hilltop and their allies.
This week was somewhat of a slow week as we transition to the next storyline. Like last week, the theme is one of moving beyond mere survival. Surviving is something they can now do - we even had a scene where Rick, Michonne and Andrea take down a crowd of zombies without even breaking a sweat. The zombies are background noise, no longer and overriding threat, merely something to deal with like harsh winters or summer storms.
With immediate survival no longer an all encompassing obsession, Rick & co can focus on living and building their community and establishing a long term presence. They can now think about long term plans and more mundane - but more dangerous - threats like other people, the canned food expiring, needing to produce their own weapons (and manufacture ammunition) and their own food supply.
And part of this involves meeting with other, larger, communities that are apparently thriving and forming a network of co-operation and trust. In many ways we are seeing the birth of a nation; a new way of living and building a new country. The challenge that Rick sees now is not surviving the zombie attacks but ensuring his community is dominant and powerful (for their long term survival). Which involves bartering their main asset - Rick’s group’s travelling gave them considerable combat experience; they will act as mercenaries lacking the large supply stores that Hilltop has.
Which also introduces The Saviors, lead by Nagan, the next big bad to tackle.
Again, as we’ve seen in the past with Alexandria, there’s a strong impression that Rick’s group’s experience of travelling rather than hunkering down has exposed them to far more than most of these static groups - and hardened them. So we have Paul’s repeated shock at how cold Carl is, Gregory complains about the pain of his stab wounds while Rick looks on with his missing hand. But equally we’re seeing another side to this - we’re seeing Rick and Andrea’s almost contempt for these sheltered groups. Andrea openly derides Hilltop and Rick is confident that his small group can take down the 200 Hilltoppers. This contrasts with their reaction to Alexandria when they wanted so badly to be accepted and Andrea actually told Rick not to screw it up for them - now they have the security of Alexandria (and the experience of the herd in which they excelled - especially compared to the Alexandrians) they have the confidence to be contemptuous.
That also translates to Rick - he doesn’t have leadership thrust on him, he is now actively seeking it and even assuming it; the idea that he and his group should be the backbone of the network of settlements seems obvious to him. They have an assumption of superiority over the Hilltoppers - and the Alexandrians and not entirely without merit given how they saved Alexandria.
That confidence can be parallelled in both Rick’s grandiose ambition but also in him willing to pursue a relationship with Andrea; he begins the volume saying he loses everyone he loves, by the end he is confident in their surviving and thriving.
Moving on to issues, Rick’s speech at the end of the volume is dramatic (if long winded) but has some unfortunate implications. Firstly, Rick asserts his special vision as why he is leader openly contrasting to the “flawed” or “limited” vision of Glenn, Maggie and Michonne. The problem with this is not just The Walking Dead but genre wide. In near every dystopian we’ve seen - and certainly all the televised ones - the groups are always saved and lead by a straight, white man. Always. It’s a rule, the white will save us all. So to have him make this speech about how super special a leader he is to an Asian man, a White woman and a Black woman cannot help but carry unfortunate implications.
The speech itself also lists their losses - but all the losses he mentions are female. Wives, daughters, sisters - Michonne lost her boyfriend, Andrea lost Dale - but the losses are all female. Victims are assumed to be female.
There’s also an ongoing problem with Michonne. Rick running into zombies and just saying “Michonne” and expecting her to take care of it feels like a man setting his dog on something. Michonne is reduced to weapon too often and she has no greater role in the book. And, again, we have another scene where someone tries to get Michonne to open up - this time Abraham. She laments that she hardly knows anyone and he asks whose fault that is - well I’ll tell you, it’s the writer’s fault. It’s the writer’s fault for never ever having her depict any emotion than rage, It’s the writer’s fault for continually having her talk about how she can’t talk about her emotions as some kind of stand in for actual emotional development. It’s their fault for writing Michonne as completely silent and spending more time actually making excuses for her silence than actually developing her character.
Another issue that felt dubious was Andrea’s little aborted conversation with Dale’s hat, justifying being with Rick. It seemed to retcon her relationship with Dale as less important and less vital and she always loved Rick really. It feels like for her to have a relationship with Rick, she has to undermine or de-legitimise her past relationships - while Rick is allowed to have had a legitimate relationship with Lori and then move on and find someone else.
On the better side, Glenn and Maggie are briefly in the field - while I cannot abide the idea that they dragged Maggie along to placate her and calm her down at least she was out in the field and not cowering in a corner as has been her habit of late.
Carl and Sophia both continue to be interesting characters. Sophia shows a level recovering with the security they have to actually admitting her pretence of Maggie and Glenn being her parents. Carl’s childhood has well and truly fallen by the wayside - he insists on being part of the decision making process, he refuses to let Rick make decisions for him and he refuses to be protected and sheltered. In turn, Rick seems to finally be accepting this - refusing keep Carl away from the hard discussions, much to Paul’s shock.
Alive: Rick, Michonne, Carl, Andrea, Glenn, Maggie, Sophia, Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, Gabriel.
Aaron, Eric, Heath, Spencer, Olivia, Barbara, Nicholas, Paula, Mikey, Holly, David, Erin, Denise and a whoooooooole buncha Alexandria people
Gregory, Paul (Jesus) and a whole buncha Hilltop people