Walking Dead #157 is a strong opening issue for the new arc: the long-awaited war between Rick and the Whisperers has begun. It’s also one of those issues that validates my ego because a few of my long-running predictions have come true, and I’m wondering whether some others are going to be borne out by what happens here. The handling of this issue is effective: the reader is forced to tensely wait for the attack to start, and while there’s only a hint of it at the end, the true scope of this thing is plain for anybody to see. Warning: I will be discussing spoilers from this issue, so stop reading if you haven’t read it yet.
Negan finds Dwight and manages to convince him to take him back to Rick, where he presents him with the head of Alpha. Rick grapples with whether to trust Negan, but the fact that Negan has had so many opportunities to betray him and hasn’t yet leads Rick to offer him a cautious amnesty. But now he knows the die has been cast, and he gathers troops from all of the different communities to resist the Whisperers’ attack. The rest of the issue is a slice of life of all the different characters as they wait for the hammer to fall: in an unguarded moment, Eugene lets slip to his radio pen-pal Stephanie that they’re in DC, and she reciprocates that her people are in Ohio.
The graphic format of this issue is altered a bit by the inclusion of so many sixteen-panel pages, which allows for a lot more dialogue between the characters. And this is a dialogue-heavy issue, which is a good thing. For one thing, it just means that more can be said between all of the characters: you could have devoted a third of an issue in a more typical book to the conversation between Rick and Dwight as Rick tries to sell Dwight on allowing Negan a small place in the fold, but they let it happen here while sacrificing none of the weight that conversation deserves. All of that dialogue also has an important second function: it makes us sift through more as we wait for the shoe to drop. The pacing is right where it should be All of the characters are waiting for what they know will be a major battle, and we have to do that as well.
Negan’s been allowed to rejoin, albeit in an extremely limited fashion. Still, he’s in. Now I’m wondering about an earlier prediction I made re: Eugene and the radio group. Rick is so confident in this issue that his men can defeat the coming horde, and in theory, that should be doable. They have more firepower than we’ve ever seen before (with the exception of the tank all those years ago), and they’ve actually trained to be coordinated. But they’ve been training against isolated Walkers and small groups, not a herd like we saw before. Will they buckle under the pressure? The fact that we only see Beta once and then nothing of his plan after that makes me wonder whether he has some trick as well.
So, if that’s the case, perhaps Rick’s confidence will be unfounded. And if it is unfounded, this war could go pear-shaped and wreck everything that he’s built. The only refuge that they’re aware of is in Ohio, and that might be the emergency escape button if walkers end up overrunning everything after all. Of course, maybe Rick will keep it contained even if things go pear-shaped, and a trip to meet another organized community (who aren’t pseudo-psychopaths) would make for an interesting arc once the war is over.
This war has been such a long time coming that I didn’t think I would be excited when I finally got to it. But reading this issue actually got me pumped for it, and more importantly, to see what comes next.
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Walking Dead #157 Writer: Robert Kirkman Artists: Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn Publisher: Image/Skybound Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital