By: Sean McLaughlin
Well…..”All Out War” has concluded. And there is certainly a winner and a loser. So if nothing else, you can say that about The Walking Dead issue 126. After two years or so of this constant threat of annihilation at the hands of Negan and the Saviors, Rick and his allied forces (Alexandria Safe Zone, the Hilltop and the Kingdom) now know exactly what their immediate futures hold. Since this was such an anticipated issue, with so much riding on the end of this successful storyline, I will refrain from major spoilers in this review as to not discourage fans from reading it (until you see the big “SPOILERS!!” tag, that is). However, I will be sure to reference, using vague and ambiguous allusions whenever possible, the instantly-polarizing events that have caused quite the stir. Sure, we’ve seen this type of love-it-or-hate-it reaction from the fanbase before (the prison and the Governor, the Hunters, etc.), but after 10+ years of Kirkman and company bringing us to the edge of insanity (and talking us off the ledge as well), this “new beginning” that was promised may in fact have just begun.
So what exactly happens in this issue? Well, true to his work Kirkman indeed brought “All Out War” to an end. He tried to throw all TWD readers for a loop by insisting that this comic universe will forever be “changed” by issue 126, while also releasing the preview covers of issues 127 and 128 featuring ZERO known characters. Would this be the point that we begin following a whole new group of survivors, perhaps in another part of the country? Does this mean Rick or any of his faithful followers will finally meet their demise?
The answer, to both, is no. Considering the amazing cliffhanger that concluded issue 125, AOW’s final chapter has to be considered a major letdown. No major deaths (other than a bunch of anonymous Saviors—the best kind), and very little action take place in issue 126. Abraham, Glenn, Holly…..none had their deaths avenged as we had all hoped. Rick slices Negan, though it turns out to be an artificial wound that is tended to so that our favorite calculated madman can continue existing in Rick’s utopia. Dwight fulfills his promise and takes control of the Saviors, leading them “home.” Where is “home”? Good question, and it’s one that I asked out loud several times. Apparently Dwight the ally doesn’t feel that his group should live in the same community…..this is something that may best be monitored as we move forward. Andrea, Jesus, Michonne, Carl, and Ezekiel all prove their battle-worthiness and loyalty by backing up their leader, and surviving to boot. So we break the cycle of a major death every 25 issues or so, and all theories and predictions about who lives, dies, rebuilds, etc., are out the window. But is this a new beginning, or the final chapter to the story we fell in love with many years ago?
Above all else, Adlard, Guadiano and Rathburn out-do themselves in illustrating this issue (though it’s been suggested that each may have had less overall input than previous issues). The overall feeling presented to the reader is of the impending climax, but it’s not overbearing. There’s a lot of fighting here, and each frame is wonderfully outlined and drawn to give it that important feel. This is especially true in the case of the conclusive hand-to-hand fight between Rick and Negan. Despite having his neck sliced, Negan is able to inflict a gory bone-break to his nemesis that will leave a lasting impression. Unlike the fight with the Governor and other select enemies, Rick appears to be much more in his element here, and one last state-of-the-union address to those still standing confirms his ultimate ascension to the top of the food chain. Of course, this is still a comic about zombies, isn’t it? You wouldn’t know it by reading issue 126, as not a single undead ghoul is anywhere to be found. Perhaps this is the big change that Kirkman hinted towards?
If we find ourselves following an entirely new cast of living people come issue 127, this actually wouldn’t be the worst way to end the ten-year run of Rick and the others. The long, bloody, emotional, and tumultuous journey from Georgia to the DC area was littered with dead and undead corpses that kept us delightfully entertained and thirsting for more. But every good thing must, inevitably, come to an end. I’m not insinuating that this is the case with The Walking Dead, but given the early fan reaction to this current issue I wouldn’t put it past Kirkman and the gang. As usual, we’ll be waiting for the next issue with equal parts anticipation and curiosity.