In the course of celebrating and reviewing The Walking Dead's landmark 150th issue, this post will contain spoilers. If that will ruin your day, turn back now. Maybe try our gallery of the series' 15 coolest covers ever.
Nearly two years ago in real-life time, Rick Grimes led three communities in a gruesome but successful campaign against an F-word-crazed, spiked-bat-swinging tyrant named Negan. The Walking Dead's 12-issue All Out War arc was one of the book's most disturbing and depressing stretches; it was also one of its best.
Enter #127, May 2014, an unprecedented two-year time-jump in the story. Rick and Andrea live together, Carl calls her "mom"; together they're the First Family of Alexandria, one of three safe, agriculturally and socially flourishing colonies. The Hilltop, led by Maggie, and the Sanctuary, headed by Dwight, form a three-pronged civilization with Alexandria. Peace reigns, save for interpersonal squabbles that sometimes turn bloody but rarely descend into chaos. Suddenly the biggest event on the horizon—in a story that grew from unending slaughter and white-knuckled survival—is a community fair. The problems are pre-zombie-apocalypse-sized.
It was a beautiful narrative development, The Walking Dead's biggest shift in its then-11-year run. But with Rick Grimes' buzzed hair and post-war cane came a fear, on readers' and Rick's part alike, that if shit went down, our man wouldn't be up to the task.
Shit did go down, slowly at first, as a new group wearing sun-dried zombie-skin-suits and calling themselves the Whisperers ambled into the picture, by coincidence rather than design. In #144, with no notice, 12 heads wound up on stakes. Friendly heads, heads on our side. Michonne's estranged other half, the infinitely lovable Ezekiel. The equally adored Rosita, pregnant. Newcomers, longtime characters—it was one of Kirkman's most vicious, unforeseeable blows.
Since then, fictional citizens and IRL readers have wanted blood. Whisperer blood. The blood—or head, preferably—of Alpha, their aptly named, studiously emotionless leader. And it didn't happen, and didn't happen, and didn't happen. The plot took its time, the dialogue was often scant. Eight (gorgeous) silent pages opened #146. Rick made tentative moves and had lots of pained conversations. He pleaded with and hollered at grief-stricken, raged-out community members. He moved cautiously.
And in the series' landmark 150th issue, he almost dies for it. Moments before being sneak-attacked, Rick had resigned to conferring with the mercilessly tactical Negan, serving a life sentence in a basement cell. Rick left with a plan: Train army. Make bullets. Crush foe.
First he had to withstand the hardest beating he'd taken since the war, plus bite stupid-ass Morton's throat out to survive. Fighting for his life cements Rick's resolve. Battered and covered in gore, he tells the assembled Alexandrians:
"The truth is...I've been afraid. I still am...truth be told. I'm scared of things going back to the way they were. I think back on the days before we arrived here...before we found other communities...before we were safe...and it terrifies me. I'm sure you all remember those days...your version of those days. In my version I lost my wife...and my daughter...and more friends than I can count...without forgetting one or two. So many I forget some. I cannot return to those days. We cannot return to those days."
In order to avoid a return to those zombie-run dark ages, Rick's building an army. All-out war is coming, again. Wherever our characters find themselves by #200, or #250, or #300, they'll get there by going here first. And the going won't be slow.