Friday, May 6, 2016

The Walking Dead, Vol. 24: Life and Death (The Walking Dead #139-144) by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard (Illustrator), Stefano Gaudiano (Illustrator), Cliff Rathburn (Illustrator)

After all of the preparations, it's time for the various communities to come together to celebrate the achievements they've had since they've defeated Negan. Expectations are high, as booths begin to be filled with merchandise and people begin to arrive at Alexandria from The Hilltop and The Kingdom. For as festive as the air seems, a dark shadow is about to fall over the celebrations and not everyone will survive.

A few major events happened in this graphic novel.  In Whispers Into Screams we really got to see Maggie as a leader for the first time in her own right.  It all culminates with Gregory's failed attempt on her life.  Gregory's treachery leaves Maggie with a huge problem.  Now that Gregory has been imprisoned and it's clear that members of The Hilltop knew of his assassination plans and didn't warn Maggie, or try to stop Gregory, Gregory has become a problem which must be dealt with. Maggie decides that Gregory has to die and he is publicly hanged at The Hilltop.  Once Gregory is dead, she does take the time to talk with her people and reaffirm that Gregory's death doesn't change anything and that killing fellow humans is wrong.

This is in great contrast to Rick, who as we know has been keeping Negan imprisoned since defeating him.  Negan is treated humanely but Rick has no intention of ever allowing Negan to have his freedom again.  Maggie decides that she doesn't have to answer to Rick because she is the leader of The Hilltop and and has made the best decision for her community.  It's clear they both have a very different idea of what constitutes justice.  The continuing imprisonment of Negan has been a sore spot between Andrea and Rick for quite some time but Rick explains that Negan's continued existence is proof that they have changed and have created the kind of society where death is no longer necessary. Negan however feels quite differently about his imprisonment which we find out when Rick returns to Alexandria and discovers that Negan's cell was left inadvertently unlocked. Negan chose to wait for Rick's return rather than escaping. Negan believes that Rick keeps him alive to prove to the world that Rick is a good person and that he is the only one who can solve the world's problems.  Negan is at least partially right in his point. There can be no doubt that keeping Negan locked up allows Rick to show his power.  It also allows Rick to keep a separation between him and Negan because though Rick, as the antagonist has been positioned as good, there can be no doubt that in order to survive as long as he has, Rick has done things which were certainly not good, or that would have been acceptable before a zombie apocalypse. Negan acts as a mirror for Rick, reminding him of the kind of man he aspires to be, rather than the kind of man he is.

Not being Carl's parent, Maggie doesn't feel the same kind of responsibility for his safety as Rick would.  She sends out a scout to look for Carl but when he returns after two days saying that he cannot find him, Maggie takes comfort in the idea that Carl got himself into this mess and can take care of himself.  Maggie declares that Carl is on his own.  Maggie's big concern is that Carl's actions will cause some sort of conflict that everyone will have to deal with and that's fair given that they were warned by the Alpha to stay out of the Whispers territory.  Maggie does tell Rick the moment she arrives in Alexandria, but she didn't sentdword to him of Carl's departure right away and even gets her back up when Rick demands to know why she didn't do more.  This new Maggie is not afraid to stand up to the great and powerful Rick Grimes. This new Maggie is also aware that her priorities might not always match with Rick Grimes and she accepts this without question.

When we last left Carl, he had left The Hilltop in search of Lydia. It's not long before Carl finds himself surrounded by the Whisperers.  Carl who proves he doesn't have the sense of a concussed penguin decides to the threaten the Alpha and doesn't realise that he is actually being held captive and not there of his own free will until they decide to release Lydia.

 When Rick comes to rescue Carl, he is surprised to find himself rebuffed.  It seems that for Carl, it wasn't the sex that drew him in but the fact that with Lydia he didn't have to wear glasses to hide his scars.  In fact, Lydia finds his disfigurement sexy.  There's also the fact that to Lydia, he isn't the son of the great Rick Grimes, or Carl Grimes the kid who survived so many horrors.  To Lydia, Carl can just be himself without any expectations. I am really glad that Kirkman expanded upon Carl's attraction to Lydia because in the previous graphic novel it all felt rather twee and shallow.

Though horror and tragedy has brought people together that doesn't mean that each person doesn't bring a lot of baggage to relationships. Things were going good for Ezekiel and Michonne but Michonne simply ran scared after he brought up them staying together and having a family.  For Michonne, it's all too much because she feels that she doesn't deserve a second chance, especially given the fact that she believes that her daughters are dead.  Michonne running scared from a relationship, as awkward as it seems is a step forward for her.  Michonne is normally portrayed as a woman of few words - a bad ass with a katana and a weapon for Rick to point.  Michonne running is a sign of her vulnerability and thus her humanity.  It's Rick who pulls Michonne aside when he meets her at the boat where she is dropping of the fish she and her crew have caught.  It's Rick who tells Michonne that she deserves to be happy and that she shouldn't feel guilty.  Despite Rick's best efforts he cannot convince Michonne to go back to Ezekiel but he does make her smile by referring to her as his best friend. Given Michonne's absence in recent comics, this is a reminder that she and Rick have developed a close relationship.

Michonne acknowledges that she loves Ezekiel but she cannot get past her guilt.  From the moment Ezekiel and Michonne got together, Kirkman might as well have painted a dead man walking sign on his forehead because all of Michonne's partners have died quite horrifically.  It turns out, Ezekiel is no exception to this rule. On the search for Carl, Rick's group is stopped by the Whisperers, who take Rick back to their camp to see Carl.  Rick is then taken to a tall building where he is shown a large hoard of zombies and informed that if his people continue to cross the border and interfere with the Whisperers that the horde will be sent against his people.  A horrified Rick returns to the main camp with the Alpha and demands that they leave immediately but Carl still won't leave Lydia behind.

Carl pleads with his father saying that Lydia is raped by her people every night and when an emotional Lydia confirms this, she is slapped by her mother the Alpha.  Though the Alpha gave the impression of being a true believer in terms of humans reverting to an animalistic state, she clearly draws the line at her daughter being raped.  The Alpha whispers to Rick that Lydia is safer with him than her and she banishes her daughter.  The Alpha does however warn Rick that he will find that the border between his people and hers has been clearly marked. A horrified Rick rushes back to where he left Andrea and Michonne and instead finds heads mounted on polls.  Carl actually has the nerve to be shocked at the results of him running after Lydia. Given the warning the Alpha gave about crossing into her territory, her actions were a foregone conclusion and it's Carl's hubris which allowed him to believe that this could possibly end any other way. For anyone else, Carl's mistake could be a simple folly of youth but given everything that Carl has seen and done, there's no excuse for the fact that he recklessly risked so many lives to be with someone he had known for twenty-four hours. Carl didn't try to talk to anyone other than Maggie and he didn't reach out to his father, he just unilaterally decided on a course of action without considering how this might effect anyone else.

The big questions is what is going to happen now.  In the past there would have no doubt that Rick Grimes would have gone after the Whisperers and sought justice but Rick is older now and he likes the world that he has built.  I don't doubt for a moment that Maggie and Andrea will want retribution. Will Rick decide to try and appease the Whisperers and simply stay in his territory or will he demand that they pay for the lives they took, especially given that their culture is not as cut and dry as it may seem. The Alpha preaches a lot of rhetoric but that didn't stop her from handing over her daughter. Is she really in control of this group if she cannot even protect her own daughter?  It's a valid question to ask given that The Walking Dead has a history of being problematic when it comes to female leaders.

Finally, let's turn to Rosita, who finally told Eugene that she was pregnant with another man's child. Eugene decided that because he loved Rosita so much that they should stay together and that he would raise the child as his own.  This was clearly a painful decision for him to make and while everyone was excited about Rosita's pregnancy, he was publicly quiet to say the least, claiming that he was nervous about bringing a child into a dystopian world. The Walking Dead has always tried to push the idea that anyone can die but even in this world anyone doesn't mean anyone, or else Rick Grimes would be dead.  Rosita's death feels so much like punishment for not being faithful to Eugene. Given that there are now so many characters to choose from, it's telling that Rosita was chosen to die.

Deaths: Olivia, Josh, Carson, Tammy, Luke, Erin, Ken, Amber, Larry, Oscar, Rosita and Ezekiel