Volume 26 starts off very slowly. A large part of the problem with this volume is that there are still too many characters. Yes, I know that they just slaughtered quite a few, including poor pregnant Rosita, but there are too many to keep track of. It's so bad that I had to google a few characters to figure out who they were in relation to the different communities and their history. It's clear with things heating up between Alexandria and the Whisperers that there is a big slaughter on the horizon. I wonder if someone big will die, or if the writers will simply use this as an opportunity to trip the fat from the cast of characters?
One interesting development this volume is the fact that Eugene made contact with someone on the radio. He's clearly despondent with the loss of Rosita and her child that he is reaching outside for something. Eugene tries to be crafty but being Eugene gives away far too much information about Alexandria, the challenges the face and even the number of people they have. Both Eugene and the person he is speaking with agree not to tell anyone in their respective groups about their little chats until both are satisfied they can trust the other. This could really go down one of two ways: Eugene is talking to someone who will later pose a threat to Alexandria, or Eugene is actually having a mental breakdown and speaking to himself. We have seen the later when Lori died and Rick supposedly spoke to her on the phone. Given the fact that The Walking Dead seems to at the very least be rehashing things (see Negan), we might very well be seeing a mental breakdown.
For much of this comic, I found Rick to be pretty insufferable. Due to the challenge to his authority , Rick is determined to create a strangle hold on his power and to place people he can trust (read: manipulate and order around) in positions of power. His first order of business is to place Michonne in charge of the Kingdom in the wake of the death of Ezekiel. This is disturbing given that for a time, The Walking Dead seemed to want to shift the relationship between Rick and Michonne and remind us that they are indeed friends. Now that Rick is threatened however he wants Michonne in a leadership position. They make this work by having Michonne claim that she was thinking of taking over the Kingdom and simply needed a kick in the ass to do so. At this point, I really want to see Michonne get out from under Rick and come into leadership and power on her own accord. I want to see her make her own decisions without always waiting to see what Rick thinks or wants. Finally, I want her to be so much more than Rick's favourite weapon of choice.
In furtherance of his goals, Rick wants Dwight to take over leadership of his newly formed militia. Dwight left the Saviours precisely because he didn't want to lead anyone but his objections mean absolutely nothing to Rick, who declares that it's too late. When we later see Dwight take to zombie training wielding the infamous Lucille, it really is a declaration as to where his head is at. He uses Lucille because he sees it as a symbol of oppression and by not being given freedom of choice to decide what role he will play in the various communities, it's clear that Dwight is once again living under a strongman who simply has the appearance of being kinder.
Somehow, Rick even finds time to be magnanimous while he is having Alexandria covered in propaganda. In the last volume, we saw that the people responded to the attack by the Whisperers by blaming Rick and questioning his leadership. Now that Rick has redirected the community's anger by having propaganda posted, he's more than happy to accept thanks from Vincent for not exiling him. It's absolutely gross to read as Rick tells Vincent that he's giving him the chance to do good in the future and make up for his actions.
Rick's next attempt to be magnanimous doesn't go nearly as well. Rick decides to offer his condolences to Brandon on the death of his father Morton. It's important to note that Rick is the one who killed Morton. The very idea that Rick could offer condolences and believes that it would be accepted shows how out of touch Rick really is. It's far from surprising when in grief and anger that Brandon attacks. Instead of maybe considering where Brandon's rage comes from, Rick retaliates against the child and goes as far as threatening him. Were it not for the intervention of Michonne, it probably would have escalated.
Brandon does the only thing he can do in this situation - break Negan out of jail in the hopes of setting up a confrontation between the people of Alexandria and the Whisperers. To be clear, Brandon didn't have a lot of options and no one thought to reach out to this child who in a short space of time had lost both his father and mother. Yes, everyone has lost someone in the apocalypse but this is a child we're talking about. In many ways, Brandon was let down by Rick and the rest of the adults. What bothered me most about the arc of Brandon's story is that he was called a "pussy" by Negan for mourning his mother and then promptly stabbed to death. When Aaron and Michonne come across his body in their search for Negan, they don't even stop long enough to make sure that he doesn't turn, let alone bury him. It sends the message that people who go up against Rick aren't worth any effort. The fact that the impetus behind Brandon's actions are ignored suggests that it doesn't matter what reason people have to be angry, they cannot be angry with the great Rick Grimes.
In minor character news, I suppose I should bring up Carl because he started this whole mess. Carl is back at the Hilltop and is fast at work at his apprenticeship. When he learns that he can return to Alexandria with Lydia and Andrea, Carl makes it clear that he is not leaving. It seems that Carl has decided that he's grown now and can make his own decisions about what to do. It's typical teenage nonsense that I for one don't really care about. I do however think that it would have been nice for Carl to at least be somewhat reflective because his charging into Whisperers territory was the catalyst for the death of a lot of people. I suppose the Grimes men don't do the heavy thinking, they only want what they want when they want it.
Okay, let's get to Negan. At this point, he's pretty much become the mustache twirling antagonist. Because Negan's been locked away for a little while, I'd pretty much forgotten how irritating I find his character. We did learn in this volume that Negan lost someone and that since then, he hasn't been quite right and is detached from his emotions. That being said, it wasn't enough for me to turn him into a real character. It's almost like he's made out of cardboard, pasted together with every trope you can think of for an evil antagonist. Would it kill them to give Negan a little bit of nuance to make him interesting?
I know that everyone probably got caught up in the supposed surprise ending between Negan and the Alpha but did anyone really expect anything different from this character? Granted, Negan seems to be just as obsessed with Rick as Rick is with him but no act of violence which Negan commits really surprises me any more. I simply expect the worst from him. That being said, I will admit to being surprised that Negan tried to stop a young woman from being raped, given that he himself is a rapist. I'm sure Negan doesn't quite see it that way but when he ran the Saviours, he really gave women no choice but to become one of his wives and as far as I am concerned, that makes him a rapist. That he is disconnected from his own acts of violence against women doesn't really surprise me at this point.
After Negan's prison break, Rick sent Michonne (his favourite weapon) and Aaron off to find him. Along the way, Michonne decides to play matchmaker and suggest that Aaron get together with Paul. Aaron is not into this suggestion at all and believes that Paul is playing with Alex's emotions. I see this as a problem of The Walking Dead not having enough GLBT characters. What reason did Michonne have for suggesting Paul and Aaron beyond the fact that both men are gay/bisexual? To me, the whole thing reads like she was trying to set them up on the infamous gay date. With straight characters there are so many options for relationships because of their sheer overwhelming numbers but that is not the same for the GLBT characters. Normally, I might have left out this small tidbit in the review but I think it's necessary to point out given that Aaron was gravely wounded in this volume. If the writers should decide to kill off Aaron, this will mean that we are down to only 2 GLBT characters. Killing off Aaron is quite literally reducing the GLBT characters by 1/3. This is what happens when writers don't have a decent representation size of marginalised people. I really hope that Aaron makes it out okay and that he continues to resist efforts to put him together with Paul. In fact, I want them to bring in someone new for Aaron altogether and increase the number of GLBT people.
The Walking Dead has really felt like it has been on standstill for awhile, even with the introduction of the Whisperers, the most interesting antagonists that we've seen to date. As aforementioned, at least part of the problem is that the cast of characters is too damn large. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that there seems to be no nuance left to the story anymore. Rick is like a blunt weapon in all of his interactions with people and rather than really challenging him, everyone around seems to just fall back on Rick the saviour narrative (something I could really do without). It's clear that The Walking Dead is setting up for an epic showdown between Rick and Negan, the problem of course is that we've seen that already. At this point, I've given up on anything new coming out of this interaction and I just want them to get it over with already.
Died this volume: Brandon, Alpha