By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Guadiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: The final battle between Rick and Negan?

The Review (with SPOILERS): What a lame anticlimactic issue!  The Walking Dead made its bones by being the series where anything could happen, but I think this could be the issue where it jumped the shark.  It’s the issue where preservation of the valuable characters and branding took priority over exciting storytelling so that Rick Grimes & Co. could continue to be exploited on TV, in video games, etc.  That doesn’t make TWD a poor series going forward, but it won’t be #1 on my must-read list anymore until it convinces me that “anything can happen” again.

This resolution to the Rick/Negan war is deeply unsatisfying.  It isn’t just that I’m blood-thirsty and want some DEATH!  I want to look forward to a story that doesn’t seem just like the stories I’ve seen before.  It seems like the next story will be Rick and his crew repairing Alexandria and we’ll be back to having Alexandria, The Kingdom, and Hilltop working as walled cities.  We’ve seen that.  We’ve seen this discussion of how to build a better tomorrow and how to rebuild society.  It happened on a small scale at the Prison and we’ve watched it for the last 50 issues in Alexandria.  I really don’t want to watch another story cycle of urban planning, wall construction and farming; with interludes of zombies and banditry.  I’m sure there will be wrinkles to this coming story and they might be fun, but for the first time in The Walking Dead history, I’m not looking forward to what happens next.

I’m also disappointed that nobody died in this issue.  It isn’t that I get off on death, it’s that I like to see the group continually reforming to react to new situations.  What is enticing about post-apocalypse stories is that they give us a glimpse of people like us without the same rules that govern our lives.  It’s kinda like, “What if there were no police or laws…  Would you kill that neighbor you hate so much?  Would you steal food from someone to feed your own children?”  We’ve seen this group of Rick & Co. for a long time now.  Rick has always been the leader.  Andrea has always been the sniper.  Maggie is the moral conscious.  Carl is the little boy growing up badly in the apocalypse.  Michonne chops off zombie heads.  I’d kinda like to see what happens if Rick isn’t around anymore.  Who leads?  Where do they want to take the group?  Or what if Carl dies?  How would that change Rick’s perspective and actions?  What if Andrea died and Rick had now lost Lori, how does that change Rick?

I guess my problem is that I want The Walking Dead to do something new, and this feels very old to me.  Now I’m very cynical about everything to come.  I just don’t believe that Kirkman will kill his major characters.  I won’t be excited by cliffhangers anymore.  Kirkman has to re-earn that sense of anticipation, because he squandered it with this event.

Even Negan is safe.  He’s wounded and in jail, but now the Rick/Negan dynamic feels like Batman/Joker/Arkham Asylum.

The other problem I have with this issue is that it totally neglects the B-story of this arc in Eugene.  Did he even appear?  We’ve had this steady build of Eugene getting his act together and becoming a new leader, and then NOTHING.  I’m sure that his story will continue in future issues, but it just seems odd that we have this consistent build-up of Eugene’s story and then we get nothing in an issue that marketed itself as the “conclusion.”

Oh, and did I mention that Rick talks a lot again?  There are times when storytelling dictates that Rick talk a lot, but man, the guy likes to hear himself give a speech.  You can tell it is the apocalypse because otherwise, everyone would be fiddling with their phones the second he says “rebuild.” It’s just dumb.  That’s not how most human groups work, standing around the leader while he gives a speech from the doorway of the house.  How long had they been standing there?

The art is mostly fine, but there are places where the storytelling goes a little wonky.  For example, in the scene where Negan gets ahold of Rick’s leg during the fight, it really wasn’t clear what happened.  The leg break was clear, but there was a very odd panel that preceded it just showing Negan holding Rick’s foot.  Did Rick kick at him and Negan caught his foot?  Did Negan bend over and grab Rick’s foot?  It doesn’t really matter how Negan got ahold of the foot, but it just isn’t like TWD to have wonky panels.  There were a few others where the action was vague or wooden, and while it wasn’t BAD, it does show that compromises are made when you shift a publication to bi-weekly.  I’m not sure it is worth it.

Conclusion: After this dull thud of a conclusion, Kirkman has to re-earn some trust before The Walking Dead returns to the most anticipated list.

Grade: C

-Dean Stell