No, seriously, massive spoilers for The Walking Dead. Continue reading at your own risk.
The Walking Dead comic and tv show have always been their own animals, with on-screen stories that reflect the beats of the source material, but the fates of characters sometimes playing out remarkably differently on some occasions. Until recently, bith had the character of Rick Grimes as the cornerstone.
In the comics, Rick Grimes has just delivered a rousing speech to the ‘Commonwealth’ a larger group (so far only hinted at on screen) that have fallen foul of the return to ‘have and have not’ class system. Seeing the injustices at work on its supposedly clean and tidy streets, Rick used the power of words rather than brute force and it lead to the unseating its leader Pamela Milton and avoids a potentially cataclysmic war scenario that could have left lots of casualties. He proclaims, in a mirror-opposite to his famous speech, that the humans are NOT the ‘walking dead’ he once proclaimed (after it was revealed that any death will result in a zombification not just from an infected bite) and must strive to truly live their lives with hope and dignity. But Robert Kirkman, like Joss Whedon before him, knows that the greatest tragedies are often the unexpected, the snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory being just as powerful as the other way around.
And so, hours later, Rick is confronted by Wilton’s weaseley and petulant son Sebastian… who shoots Grimes at point blank range and #191 left readers wondering if Kirkman was going to pull a bait-and-switch or genuinely kill off his leading character after a decade of Rick being its centrepiece. Perhaps echoing the fact that Kirkman always noted that The Walking Dead was actually the story of the journey of Rick’s son Carl, the writer doesn’t swerve from the drama and – however unexpectedly – Rick does indeed die a rather sad and pathetic death, made all the more affecting because the murder is not immediately discovered and his cadaver corpse is left to rise. Carl is the one that discovers him and has to deliver the head-shot to finally end Rick’s suffering.
And with that figurative and actual shot comes the end of an era and another entry in the growing roster of major pop-culture fictional characters meeting their demise in 2019…
There had been rumours of the resolution and various frames from the comic leaked earlier in the week. It’s arguably both a brave and necessary move for the comic mythology. The Walking Dead comic has certainly been a landmark title, but its become a very marmite comic. Kirkman has used it to explore questions of morality, politics and culture and there have often been several periods of time when the undead have faded into an existential threat in the background, window-dressing for the post-apocalyptic survival story. While still a major player, that slower pace has meant it has lost some of the readers who initially thrived on the zombie stories and the comic’s relationship with its high-profile television adaptation has been a double-edged sword of Michonne proportions. The AMC version has also lost their Rick Grimes (though actor Andrew Lincoln’s alter-ego departure was by mysterious helicopter and near life threatening injuries rather than actual demise and is set to return in a series of television movies next year) and, ironically, Carl – played by Chandler Riggs – was unexpectedly killed off last season (not long after some awkward off-screen situations with Riggs’ father which may or may not have played a factor). Kirkman has said that Rick’s printed-page demise had been decided many years ago with carefully-planned events leading up to this point and Lincoln’s on-screen departure played no factor in his decision or the plans for the comic’s continuity.
Where does the comic go from here? That’s the big question – with even Kirkman acknowledging that he doesn’t know whether this will adversely affect the sales of a title where the success has allowed him to do whatever he wants and plan far ahead – something of a luxury in stunt-driven, quickfire plotted, summer-event comic industry. But if this truly is carl Grimes’ story now, it’ll be interesting to see where that story takes him.
The Walking Dead #192 is published by Image Comics and is available now.