Plot: In a world torn apart by chaos, Rick Grimes believes he has found the answer to societal reconstruction. The communal bond formed between the Alexandria Safe Zone, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom has potential to be very fruitful. Yet a ruthless man named Negan and his Saviors stand in the way of growth. It isn’t long until full blown war explodes between these three communities and the Saviors. Who will come out on top when everything is at stake?
Over the course of two years, 2006-2008 to be exact, The Governor terrorized Rick and his group. This sadistic monster hated Rick solely because he had the nerve to live on his own accord. It took only one issue for him to violently cut off Rick’s right hand after all, and that was just the tip of this shit-berg. When The Governor finally met his end, he left behind him a wake of destruction and the corpses of several notable characters, including Tyreese, Lori, Judith, and Hershel. That also signaled the end of the current defining highlight of this entire series. As the comics followed Rick moving on from that horror, fans started to feel that the comic was growing stale. It was a lot of traveling which tends to wear thin on readers after a while. To give the series that spark it got for those two years, the writers really needed to give it a firm kick of some game changing material.
The Walking Dead found that exact kick with Negan. Introduced in issue #100, that man developed insta-hate from fans by brutally murdering Glenn in front of his loved ones. Unlike The Governor, Negan is completely open about his psychopathy. He rules people on fear instead of lies. Killing Glenn was the ultimate middle finger to Rick and the man only got worse from there. With a character as reviled and disgusting as this, there was no way he was going to sneak by without something major happening. This had to be something that made The Governor look like child’s play. That “something” was “All Out War,” The Walking Dead’s first-ever event story, which started with Issue 115 in October and officially ended on 126. It was, to put it simply, outstanding.
What really made “All Out War” work was how much weight the entire event received. Up until this point, Rick and his group killed with only one reason in mind: survival. They very rarely killed just because they liked the act. When someone crossed their paths and put their lives in jeopardy, our protagonists fought back in self-defense. “All Out War” was different though. Rick’s group had the exact means to survive already at their disposal, and would have continued to do so if Negan wasn’t around. Yet Negan ruined it all with his own twisted sense of order. Now it just wasn’t their lives on the line. It was conventional society as a whole. Rick willingly went on the offensive because he knew it was time go get their lives back on track. This really was a refreshing change of pace for a several year long franchise that, quite honestly, has barely changed the status quo.
This story also wonderfully conveyed how adept these people are at survival. Prior to the outbreak, none of these people were soldiers. The only person among them (that I know of at least) with prior official firearms experience was Rick. Yet several years within a zombie infested hell hole has turned seemingly unassuming people into hardened warriors. Blending both his innate knowledge and recent experiences, Rick was a deft leader who successfully planned for a lot of outcomes. Despite some major hiccups, he was able to outsmart Negan at nearly every turn. A personal favorite moment of mine was Rick tricking Negan and then straight up slicing his neck right in issue 125. How awesome was that? Recent addition Paul “Jesus” Monroe is easily one of my new favorite characters too. I mean, the guy caught a freaking grenade in midair and threw it right back. Talk about hardcore.
While the story was suitably action-packed, I will say that the ending disappointed me a little. The majority of this story was an intense adrenaline rush with most downtime being held after major attacks. I feel like some of that was lost with the final issue, specifically at how Negan is kept left alive to rot in prison forever. Even though this does bring the series to some new territory, specifically the concept of prisons being used to house criminals and not survivors, it gives this arc a really soft ending. Rick slicing Negan’s neck was jaw dropping. Rick saying Negan is screwed because he gets to watch them thrive is not. Plus, it leaves the door open for Negan to wreck shit all over again, and that’s the last thing I want. This wouldn’t be the first time Rick let his idealism get the best of him. If this ends up becoming one of those “hindsight is 20/20” moments, that would hardly be the new territory we were promised.
Speaking of new territory, if this series is able to stay the course and not revert back to the desolation of before, we could be looking at an entirely new The Walking Dead. Survival is no longer a huge issue for many. Walkers have essentially become a part of nature that these people can actually take advantage of. Some of the best moments from “All Out War” came when characters used the undead as a diversion or an ace in the hole. Rebuilding society is only the next logical step now. This really is new ground for zombie fiction too as most films/books/games focus on dealing with the outbreak and nothing more. What about when people become so adept at surviving, the undead threat is greatly diminished? That’s a question future issues are poised to explore and I honestly can’t wait.
To say Negan is worse than The Governor is a bold claim, but saying “All Out War” is a new highlight for this series is not. This arc truly was like nothing else The Walking Dead has ever done before. It even constituted releasing two new issues a month, another first. While there were a ton of casualties on both sides, the majority of the main cast made it through unscathed, which is also awesome. The Rick we saw in The Prison was too ill-prepared and it lead to the deaths of many. This new Rick knows all and it nearly guaranteed survival of all major players in this world. Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and everyone else really knocked it out of the park with this one. Let’s hope this happens again when it inevitably comes to the show.