Slowly marching towards the big payoff.
There was a Greek philosopher named Zeno of Elea who became famous for concocting nine paradoxes. One of those is known as the Dichotomy paradox, which envisions movement as an infinite series of actions that halve the distance between two points. If you’re perpetually halving the distance, you can never actually reach your destination. That seems like as apt a metaphor for The Walking Dead as anything else. There’s clearly an interesting destination at the end of the current road, but the series never seems willing to go all the way and take that next big step.
The framework of this issue is compelling enough. Rick and friends have seen plenty of life in the Commonwealth. The highs are high, with the settlement offering luxuries undreamed of anywhere else in the post-post-apocalyptic world. But the lows, such as the staggering social and economic inequality, stand in direct opposition to everything Rick and his friends have spent years working to build. Is open war between the two inevitable, or is peace possible? Is Alexandria’s egalitarian society a viable model for all, or merely a naive dream waiting to be brought down?
These questions are fascinating. They also highlight the notion that the second hundred issues of the series have been less about surviving the zombie apocalypse and more about exploring whether it’s possible to rebuild from the ashes. And that conflict is embodied in the growing rift between Rick and Dwight. There’s has always been a fragile alliance, and the conflict over how best to deal with the Commonwealth may finally be what destroys it.
There’s a lot to like with this uneasy status quo, not least of which being the obvious real-world parallels. Above all, this seems to be a story about what happens when two groups ostensibly on the same side can’t put aside their differences to confront an obvious threat right in front of them. And it’s not as though writer Robert Kirkman paints either Rick or Dwight’s viewpoint as the “right” one. There are other welcome touches to be had in this issue, particularly a scene where Michonne unwittingly finds the highbrow Commonwealth lifestyle rubbing off on her.
Despite all of this, the series’ sluggish pacing continues for yet another month. The book has remained fixated on the Commonwealth far too long for the narrative to be stuck where it is now. The fact that this issue takes a detour to the Hilltop to focus on Carl’s booming sex life just adds insult to injury. What purpose does that sequence serve, exactly?
Aside from the annoying lack of momentum, this issue also stumbles in a couple of key dramatic moments. There’s a scene midway through this issue where a character breaks down crying in public. What should be a tender, emotional story beat is rendered almost comical through the melodramatic presentation. Part of that comes down to wonky facial work on the part of artist Charlie Adlard. But there’s also the fact that some beats just don’t work well as giant splash images, and that’s one of them. The ending page also has a stilted, unnatural quality that detracts from what should be an impactful development.