Beginning my roughly annual catch-up of The Walking Dead. The differences from the TV show seem to require more mental adjustment each time: probably the biggest one is that Andrea is still alive, and she and Rick are a couple. This is the collection where the Negan card is finally played. Having him locked up in a cell on the premises was like placing a loaded gun in a drawer at the beginning of a murder mystery–if the writer is playing fair, eventually that gun will get used. Kirkman has teased the reader with Negan a number of times, frequently implying that he could exert considerable influence, even from behind bars (presumably due to his bigger than life charisma and self-confidence).
There have been escape scares as well, and this time it finally happens. Ironically, Rick is at least partially responsible. He made an enemy when he fought off his attackers in the previous volume: the son of one of the men he killed. That’s how Negan is finally freed. The pair head for Whisperers territory, but it becomes clear that they have different agendas. The kid wants to get revenge by warning the Whisperers that Rick is preparing for war. But Negan convinces them that he wants to join up. So much so that he gets the drop on their Alpha for a shocking conclusion.
There is an intriguing subplot involving Eugene finally making contact with another group via his ham radio. No telling what that might lead to eventually.
The inevitable war with the Whisperers. They attack in a way that is consistent with how they operate, so it’s not the overt battle we’ve seen before in the series. And they almost succeed in surprising Rick and his allies, yet another lucky break for this crew. Strategy points to Dwight for figuring out a way to use their attack method against them.
The “war” is actually a bit of an anticlimax: just a couple of battles, really. Negan begins as a prisoner, but when Dwight’s forces become overwhelmed he joins in as a combatant. His big moment comes when he is reunited with his emblematic baseball bat Lucille (which Dwight has been carrying). His battle with the Whisperer’s Beta is portrayed on the cover, so no real spoiler there. But the bat ultimately fails him, allowing the Beta to escape. The biggest loss appears to be Father Gabriel, killed on sentry duty before he can send out the alert.
But when Dwight reports his victory to Rick, we discover why the Whisperers have not admitted defeat. Dwight says they killed hundreds of walkers–but Rick tells him he saw thousands when he visited the Whisperer camp.
The group deals with the fallout from the Whisperers War, which turns out to be a much bigger threat than the war itself–although by now readers have learned to take the hyperbole of the title “A Certain Doom” with a grain of salt. Maybe Kirkman should bring it back for the last volume of the series! The Whisperers sent a huge group of walkers into enemy territory, and we’re talking thousands. It’s the biggest group of walkers anyone in Rick’s group have ever seen. So they begin applying the tactics they have learned to deal with walker herds, but the sheer magnitude creates a challenge. There’s a lot of narrative devoted to this, which becomes a bit tedious, but it does set up a major death. And for the first time in the series that I can recall, there is time enough for the survivors to say a formal goodbye. The Saviors take the opportunity to challenge Rick, to the point that their leader (Dwight’s former wife Sherry) tries to kill Rick, dying herself in the process. Negan steps in to negotiate, and proves very capable in the role–he may actually be a changed man.