By: Sean McLaughlin
There are several reasons to believe that the TWD universe is doomed, the least of which has to be the post-apocalyptic zombie universe that surrounds it all. The Walking Dead issue 121 is all doom and gloom….there’s no sugar-coating it. If not for the fact that the front cover alerts us that this is chapter 7 of 12 in the “All Out War” storyline, I would honestly believe that this is the end. Countless times since revolutionary issue #100, Rick and his soldiers (there’s no way around it now, these citizens have become soldiers simply to survive) have launched attacks on Negan and the Saviors, each with varying degrees of success. But even with a series of victories, the current installment reminds us that Negan has a seemingly endless supply of men and weapons, and that even the strongest will can be broken eventually.
When we last left our heroes, they were celebrating an unexpected victory from Negan’s invasion (along with a key defection), even as their homes were burning behind the safety of their walls due to crippling grenade attacks. Jesus redirecting a live grenade back at the Saviors, and Dwight’s face turn amongst the enemy and continued infiltration, are all that saved the Alexandria Safe Zone from complete annihilation. Negan defiantly proclaims that the smoke rising up among the community houses means that they won at the end of the issue. Unfortunately we learn in 121 that his statement was not too far off. Rick immediately begins dealing with folks wanting to leave right away, and others that want to continue fighting. Ezekiel continues his guild-ridden breakdown despite Michonne’s coaching, and once again proves to be an unworthy ally. But there are two very important things going on here. On the retreat, the Saviors are able to take a few key hostages completely by luck. One of these could be the turning point in the war itself.
The second element at play here is entirely reactionary. We begin to see Rick, the man that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years to be a strong leader and never back down from a fight, deteriorate a bit. He suddenly doesn’t know what the next move is. He’s unsure whether to follow Negan to continue the battle, or evacuate Alexandria to save whoever is left. We witness his shaky non-answers to the questions being thrown at him. Robert Kirkman composes this issue brilliantly, depicting a leader that’s reverting back to his faults….faults that have gotten friends and those that looked to him killed. Perhaps this mutual respect that he and Negan have shared for the past 20 issue, the respect that I’m always bringing up in my reviews, is dead and gone. Both men are realizing that they should’ve killed the other when they had the chance (and the each had multiple opportunities). Rick, more so, is regretting his past ineptitude at this juncture.
The amazing aspect of this current story arch is that despite several violent clashes and deaths, it almost seems like this story isn’t going anywhere, like it’s stuck in the mud. Each side has traded victories and bragging rights, but neither has claimed the world championship belt. I know we’ve been teased with promises of a conclusive battle forever, but now more than ever feels like the time. And unfortunate as it is, Rick and his group are on the outside looking in. While they search for a new home, this may be just the opportunity that Negan and the Saviors need to grab that ring. With five issues left in “All Out War”, something tells me that issue 122 won’t provide the conclusive action that we’re looking for.