Sunday, 6 November 2011

Walking In Circles

It's been a little while since we talked about any comics over here, so let's fix that with a look at The Walking Dead.  Specifically, Volume 13: "Too Far Gone", since I've finally gotten hold of the seventh hardback volume this weekend.

Spoilers for the entire run up to this point - and likely by extension, the TV show - after the jump.

I've actually talked about this volume before, last year, after I read Volume 12.  Those issues seemed to point pretty clearly towards what was coming.  Rick and what was left of his group of survivors had been welcomed into a gated community filled with what can best be described as well-intentioned noobs.  Exactly the kind of people, in fact, that Rick was when this story began, and who would be horrified to encounter anyone so cold-bloodedly murderous as the person Rick has become.

At the time I suggested this would become a story of inversion - after months of encountering ever more violent and depraved survivors, this time it would be our heroes who were the liability, who would be unable to just settle the fuck down and get along.  Our guys worry about cannibal attack, theirs worry abut cooking a meal people won't like. It's hardly a recipe for harmony.

This impression was reinforced by the arc's final issue, in which Glenn and Rick hatch a plan to steal back their confiscated guns, basically the one real rule their residence in this sanctuary requires of them.  What made it so horrible was knowing that they had a point - if this place went south like everywhere else they'd holed up, they'd need their weapons to hand.  But if the zombies don't come, and the leader of their new home Douglas noticed the missing weapons, they'd be thrown back out there to fight for their lives until they starved.

The Walking Dead is often at its best when dealing with these situations - I'm thinking in particular of Rick murdering Dexter, and then Ramirez Martinez - when there's no clearly correct course of action, and someone has to choose which way to go.

In the event, I wasn't entirely incorrect with my predictions, but I got a lot wrong.  More importantly, I think what we actually got was something of a disappointment, considering the set-up.  The stealing of the guns is over within a few pages, and goes off without a hitch.  Andrea (rather sensibly) points out that it was a stupid move, but that's all.  Bullet dodged.  Father Gabriel - who you'd think would have the decency to keep his mouth shut after letting his entire congregation get eaten - tries to tell Douglas about the horrors Rick and his people have committed (it's just not Christian to violently torture the people who want to barbecue your friends) , but Douglas has no intention of listening.  Bullet dodged.  Rick goes ape-shit on a suspected wife beater, comes close to killing him, pulls his stolen gun on Douglas when he tries to intervene, actions so off the chart lunatic that Michonne smashes him to the ground with a rock, and Douglas still doesn't throw Rick to the wolves (note to self: zombie wolves - has potential). Bullet not so much dodged as tangoed with.

In fact, this encounter leads to one of the worst instances yet of a recurring problem with this comic.  We'll call it RARS: Rick is Always Right Syndrome.  It seems that sooner or later we always find out that Rick's decisions were the right ones, or at the very least that his friends will insist they were right.  For all the times Shane or Lori or Tyreese scream at him to charnge course, it always turns out that his way was the best way.  He was right about Hershel's approach to zombies, he was right about setting up in the prison, he was right to prepare for an attack from Woodbury.  Indeed, the worst two mistakes made by the group both haoppened whilst he was unconscious from his second gunshot wound: Dale leaving the prison (taking two able bodies and the sniper who pretty much one their first battle single-handedly) and Tyreese and Michonne's attempt to sneak into the Governer's camp to do more damage.  That latter action weakened the prison's defences and cost Tyreese his life, and frankly I think that had Dale satyed the prison would never have fallen at all.  Naturally, Rick decries both ideas as totally ridiculous the instant he wakes up.

Even Dale, who spends the whole of Volume 9 bitching about how Rick constantly puts the group in danger (which is a bit rich from the man who bailed on his friends just in time for them to be attacked by a psychopath in a goddamn tank), has an abrupt change of heart on his deathbed and tells Rick how brilliant he is at keeping people alive.  This is not the first time that people - including Dale, in fact - have changed their mind and decided Rick is their best hope, it's like watching the last four episodes of Buffy over and over again (without Felicia Day, of course, which is a real shame).

I was really hoping that this was something the comic would finally get over, that we'd quickly see that the experiences that have forged Rick into such an effective leader out in the field would make him a truly horrible authority once they returned to what can be at least plausibly described as normal life (somewhat like, say, King Robert Baratheon, though for very different reasons).  Instead, Douglas flat out tells Rick that his unwillingness to follow the rules, his stealing of guns, and him nearly beating a man to death without conclusive proof are what makes him an asset to the community.  By the end of the arc, Douglas has Rick execute the wife-beater in cold blood [1], and a few pages later, after Rick's paranoia (or, as some might call it, "basic intelligence") leads to the community beating back an attack by other survivors, Douglas basically hands over control of the settlement to him.

Part of me is glad to see that things haven't completely disintegrated within the ten issues of the settlement being introduced - I think there's plenty of interesting stuff to be done here.  And certainly Michonne braining Rick wasn't something I saw coming, but it makes total sense in hindsight (Kirkman has a habit of fitting characterisation around plot, rather than the other way round, but he seems to be getting better at striking the balance than he once was). In general, though, this feels like a wasted opportunity.  Indeed, given the hints laced through these six issues, it certainly looks like the story of this township is going to be either about how it's not as peaceful as it seems, and/or about how it gets ripped to pieces by a zombie herd.

In other words, not all that different to what we've seen before.  And that's a shame.

[1] Not without reason, admittedly; Mr Wife Beater apparently wasn't too concerned about whose wife he'd go for, and kills Douglas' spouse whilst trying to get at Rick.

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