Vol. 32: Rest In Peace
SPOILER ALERT: Everything about this collection was very carefully kept secret–especially the issue number of the final issue. Even now the solicitations for the collection avoid mentioning that it is the finale! There is no way to discuss it without revealing lots of spoiler-y details. So if you intend to read it but have not yet, stop reading now! You have been warned!
Rick and the crew traveled to the Commonwealth in the previous volume. They had become aware of political unrest, which came to a head when Dwight threatened the life of Governor Milton. The story continues with the Governor publicly thanking Rick for saving her life, and asking him to say a few words to the crowd. Back home, both Magna in Alexandria and Maggie at the Hilltop have become concerned that the group has been gone too long, so they send a scouting party to the Commonwealth.
The scouting party comes across Princess (who ran away from the Commonwealth to avoid the building tension), and they inadvertently send a walker herd straight at Eugene and Stephanie, working by themselves in the old train yard. As they approach the city they hear a huge explosion, which turns out to be head of security Mercer being broken out of jail (after being arrested for promoting insurrection among the guards). Rick helps Milton and most of her staff get to safety–and then it’s one thing after another.
The herd marches into town, attracted by the noise (we also learn that in the Commonwealth it’s called a “swarm”). Maggie has brought an army, which clears the town. Milton marches in at the head of another army from a nearby town, convinced that Rick was leading a revolution. She orders an attack, but Rick successfully argues for peace, uttering the ringing phrase “We are not the walking dead!”
Governor Milton is arrested and imprisoned for her own safety from the ugly crowd of citizens. In the midst of the optimism and hope that takes over afterwards, everyone forgets about the Governor’s spoiled son Sebastian. But he visits Rick’s room, and Rick finally meets his end in an unexpected and random way. This is very much in line with the “no one is safe” aspect of the series, although Rick always seemed to be an exception to that rule. His death is memorialized with a huge funeral procession back to Alexandria, where he can be buried alongside Andrea.
There are ways to imagine the series finding a new status quo and continuing from here, as has happened with the TV series. Too much has changed for this ending to be the ending of the TV show: in that reality Carl has died, and Rick is alive but off-screen somewhere. But given that the comic never stopped being centered around Rick Grimes, it is ultimately not surprising that Kirkman could not find a convincing way to extend it. So for the final issue the story takes another time jump, with Carl an adult, married to Sophia. It begins with Carl killing a walker on his land, using Michonne’s Samurai sword. For a moment it looks as though nothing has changed in all this time: but it turns out the walker is an escapee from Hershel’s traveling show–of course he is the son of Rick’s friend Hershel–now the only way citizens of the safe zone can see the walking dead.
Carl goes out on his messenger route, which takes him far and wide. This gives an opportunity to see what has become of many of the characters as they have aged along with him. He returns home only to be immediately arrested for slaughtering the rest of Hershel’s sideshow exhibit. There he faces Judge Hawthorne, who is Michonne, having taken back her late husband’s name. After Carl’s defense, she declares the exhibition of owning and displaying roamers for profit to be abhorrent, and makes it illegal throughout the Commonwealth.
Carl returns home to his wife Sophia and daughter Andrea, accompanied by more scenes of the cast’s new everyday lives. And finally he reads Andrea a story about her grandfather:
It’s a lovely way to end the series. In an end note Kirkman gives a rare bit of insight into the structure of it: after an earlier possible ending (much darker), he conceived of this one a few years back. Having reached this point a bit sooner than anticipated, Kirkman was unable to think of a way to extend it to Issue #300 as he had hoped. So the best he could do was make the ending a complete surprise, which he accomplished, partly by soliciting issues beyond the actual final one. An amazing feat to pull off in these days of leaks and spoilers all over the Internet. And a great final surprise in a series that has been marked by many of them.