Once again, the rug is pulled out from under our feet. With the ending of the last issue, I think we all had an idea in our heads about how The Walking Dead #77 was likely to start. We probably expected Carl to be furious, to call his dad crazy, and to further lose faith in him. And yes, to an extent that does happen. But our road to that point was a little different than expected. How heartbreaking was it to see a tearful Carl hear that his father likes to think he can hear his dead mother talk to him over the phone, and ask in response, “Can I listen?”
And really, perhaps this was the response we should have seen coming. We might like to think of Carl as a badass, crazy killer, but he’s ultimately still just a child, and his dad is still his world to him. When he hears his father talking like this, of course his first response is to want it to be true. He wants to talk to his mother too, of course he does. When Carl does lash out at Rick, it isn’t so much about the fact that “this is weird”, as he says, but out of disappointment and hurt that it’s not true, that he can’t hear Lori on the other end of the phone. On a final little note about this scene, did anyone else notice that both Rick and Carl are wearing the same multi-pocketed flak jacket that The Governor had a fondness for wearing?
Elsewhere, we had Andrea’s awkward flirtation with the inexplicably creepy Spencer. Andrea is an interesting place right now, as we see how life in the community is affecting her. Placed in a situation with some degree of normalcy (however fragile it may be, as Douglas points out later) restored, Andrea finds herself in a struggle. She is torn between the mature, battle-forged woman she has grown into over the course of this saga, and the breezy, free-spirited girl she was when this whole thing started. Andrea is only in her mid twenties, but already she has experienced, in a sense, the pain of her (surrogate) children being killed, and the bereavement of her (surrogate) husband dying. She’s already a “widow”, and has already seen and even committed terrible horrors. But here she is, safe (for now), with a nice young boy wanting to cook her dinner and kiss her. We see over the course of Andrea’s scenes an earnest attempt to recapture that person she was before her world was destroyed (tellingly, she has discarded Dale’s hat, which she has been wearing since his death) but ultimately she can’t follow through with it. She has been changed too much to pretend, even for a night, that none of it happened.
This idea of how experiences change people also plays into the “cover story” of the issue, the scene with Glenn and Maggie. I’ve been thinking a little about the character of Glenn, what he brings to the table. He’s one of the few remaining members of the cast who have been around since the very beginning, after all. It has occurred to me that, amidst the ever shifting and evolving ensemble of The Walking Dead, Glenn could be the one true constant. He’s had traumatic experiences and lost people he cared about, just like the other survivors, but unlike them he hasn’t really let it change him. Different haircuts aside, Glenn is pretty much the same guy now as he was when he first showed up in issue #2. His situation may have changed – now he’s a husband and adopted father – but he hasn’t. He’s still a much-needed source of levity amongst the grim proceedings, is still brave enough to go out foraging for the group, and still loves Maggie. In a sense, he’s a significant counterpoint to the likes of Rick, demonstrating that people can live in this nightmarish world and not let it change them, and in turn suggesting that maybe that darkness was already in Rick, and wasn’t in Glenn.
The conflict with Maggie here stems from the fact that Maggie has changed. Understandable, as she has lost a lot more than Glenn – she’s lost her whole family, watching most of them die before her very eyes. She even attempted suicide. Glenn is busy arguing over the kind of things he’d likely be arguing about if the world hadn’t been overrun by zombies – “I don’t even remember the last time we had sex.” But the rift between them has come from the fact that Maggie is in a place, mentally, where she can’t approach this as just a normal relationship, she can’t look at Glenn without being reminded of all the agony they’ve endured together, all the terrible things he’s seen her through. Glenn tells Maggie, “I feel like I’m on the outside of this relationship looking in.” And of course, when we look at this issue’s cover, that’s exactly what it is depicting. But Glenn makes it clear that though she may have changed, his love for her hasn’t, again demonstrating his consistent nature. Glenn better watch out though. As last demonstrated by Dale’s demise, those still immersed in the old world, those who haven’t changed to adapt to the new world, are often the ones most at risk of being killed off in the world of The Walking Dead.
But the real meat of the issue came with the conclusion, as this arc with abusive husband Pete came to a head. We got a sense of where things were going pretty early on in the issue, as we witness Pete going nutso (“NOT MY HOUSE!”) and casting his gaze over to a set of knives on the table. But I was shocked by just how far things went, and how quickly. As this was essentially Rick VS Pete: Round 2, it’s fair to look at this confrontation as a parallel to their previous one. Seeing things escalate – one threatens to kill the other, Douglas attempts to intervene, the one making the threat pulls out a weapon – it’s unnerving to think just how easy Rick could have ended up like Pete does here, how thin the line between the two really is. A fact further emphasised by Pete’s face being covered in bandages – just like Rick’s.
And let’s talk about the way this scene ends up: with Rick shooting Pete. Here’s what I find fascinating about this. Many of us were guessing that Scott would die and come back as a zombie, that it would be Heath’s inability to put a bullet in his friend’s head that would be that first chink in the community’s armour through which everything would fall apart. But no, this whole subplot turned out to be a red herring. Heath did what he was supposed to do, hard for him as it was. The mistake, the action that will ultimately doom the community, came not from one of the newbies, but from Rick himself. His gunshot has alerted the zombies in the surrounding area, and attracted the attention of this violent gang. After a couple of issues of debating over whether executing someone would destroy the community – in a moral sense – it turns out that it may end up destroying the community in an actual, physical, “zombies are going to tear this place apart” sense.
Not that Rick alone is at fault. Douglas too must shoulder some of the blame. After all, it is him that gives the order for Rick to shoot. He spends the issue trying to keep death away from Alexandria – he wants Scott’s body to be taken away from the houses before they put a hole through his head to stop him coming back, and he doesn’t want to hold a funeral service because of how upsetting it would be to the people living there. But ultimately, when his own wife is killed, he falls short of these lofty ideals and gives into human frailty, wanting that death avenged with blood.
We’re now seeing another shift in the series. Over the past several months, we’ve had slow-boil tension, the sense of something awful approaching, without us knowing exactly what, when or how. But The Walking Dead #77 is the first issue to be released since these “No Way Out” teasers began. Now we know the what – a herd of zombies are going to lay siege to Alexandria. We know the when – December, The Walking Dead #80. And now the how is starting to take shape. Now we get a palpable sense of the noose tightening around the necks of our characters, around the new life they’ve salvaged for themselves. This is going to be hard to read, but it’s undoubtedly going to be compelling.