How do I sum up The Walking Dead: #144: “…” in one word? Shocking? Evil? Bummer? What about all of the above?
If you needed proof that Robert Kirkman knows how to entice viewers with a stunning surprise that not only ups the stakes, but can keep readers enticed for the next issue that isn’t due out until August, look no further than this issue. It hasn’t been out very long, but already you can see how this has affected the community.
Rick has told many others that he wants to make this world work. He doesn’t want to be Negan or the Governor, he wants to be a leader that people look up to and trust. To do that, he can’t always leap to violence as his first response when things get tense. That may be what he wants, but he avoids it to prove that his way works, even if folks like Negan think that he’s just fooling himself.
But things do happen before we get to what I’m talking about, so let’s work our way up to it. Now we learn that Alpha does have control of the roamer horde, but only because there are Whisperers among the horde that can steer them a certain way- I don’t know how The Whisperers managed to pull this off, but again, Alpha has a massive weapon at her disposal, but it’s one that even she can’t fully control.
The conversation about different ideals between Rick and Alpha, I feel, boils down to order and stability versus chaos and pathos. Since the time skip, Rick and company have settled into their various communities and are working hard to live a life that has some semblance of the world they knew before the outbreak. They aren’t naïve to the threats around them, as was the case for the people who lived in the Alexandria Safe Zone before Rick’s group arrived, but they have worked hard to neutralize the threat of roamers. They’re proud of their hard work.
But Alpha sees it as one giant façade. In her eyes, Rick is a human who longs for a world that won’t return. He doesn’t embrace the reality of the situation like Alpha and The Whisperers do. In effect, The Whisperers are the people with true freedom: they do as they like, roam as they like, and live as they like, even when you consider that they wear the skin of the dead.
And Rick cuts through what he sees as a mountain of bullshit. To him, The Whisperers aren’t free. Not when they wear walker skins and sleep in the cold. And especially when they don’t have complete freedom because there’s still an Alpha. So there’s still some level of order among The Whisperers, and it makes me wonder a. how Alpha rose to power in the first place, and b. what does she mean when she says that the next presumptive leader would have to take the leadership role from her. Is it a battle to the death? Who knows? But now I’m curious how these people came to follow Alpha, given how she said that the Alpha must assert itself to avoid chaos.
Alpha sees the world and the people in it as primitive, and this extends to her attitude towards rape. For her to downplay the power rape has over a potential victim is maddening, but it falls in line with her philosophy that people should just act out their natural tendencies, not live a fake life, as she feels Rick does. I mean, calling rape a part of nature older than the word itself may be valid in her eyes, but this kind of warped thinking wouldn’t fly with, I’m guessing, a lot of people- be it before or after the outbreak.
Rick could have just ignored the situation altogether, even though Carl insisted that he wouldn’t leave. After all, he wouldn’t consider any of this to be his problem since he has his own people to look after, but this is the kind of crime that he can’t just overlook. Remember that Rick still served for years as a sheriff and does retain the need to protect those who need help. Despite knowing next to nothing about Lydia, Rick won’t let Alpha’s warped view of life keep him from intervening.
And Alpha is so nonchalant about Lydia being raped until her daughter starts showing signs of emotion. She’s no longer dead, but has come alive. But this show of emotion makes Lydia an unfit for the world, in Alpha’s eyes. Emotions are a sign of weakness to her.
Yet we still see that Alpha does want Lydia to have a life, which makes me wonder how much of her own talk does she really believe. She whispers that she can’t offer Lydia the life she needs. She’d be contradicting her own philosophy and could possibly destroy The Whisperers’ way of life if she starts becoming soft. As such, she passes her daughter to Rick. It’s a sad moment, I will admit, because Alpha, despite her thinking, does care for Lydia.
After all, she came all the way out to the Hilltop to negotiate for her rescue when she could have just left her to strangers. Perhaps all Alpha wants for her group is stability. That and the desire to be left alone. Maybe The Whisperers wouldn’t resort to violence, so long as they can be left to themselves.
Oh, but we are far from done. I gotta say that the buildup to the big moment was well done. Sure, Rick managed to get Carl, but he still has to meet up with Andrea, Michonne, and Dante, and still get back to Alexandria alive. He doesn’t know what happened to them since he went to the Whisperers’ camp, but he does know that Alpha had a bloody blade. There wasn’t much time to dwell on this since Rick had to confront Carl, but the mood going into the reveal was tense because I had absolutely no idea what Kirkman would have in store for readers.
And then, he does it. This panel alone is just haunting because the border seems to just stretch onward for miles. And because we’re learning this at the same time as Rick, we share his horror upon finding the heads.
I think what makes this scene even more horrific is that we’re seeing the victims’ heads at the same time that others discuss their whereabouts. It’d be one thing to just have Rick, Lydia, and Carl’s reactions, but seeing everyone else discuss the victims is hard to see, because they are completely unaware of what has happened.
I mean, let’s rattle through the list, without giving away probably the two biggest deaths that will hit fans the hardest: Olivia, Josh, Carson, Tammy, Luke, Erin, Ken, Amber, Louie, and Oscar. Two more, but we’ll save them for later. Now some of these characters are people that, quite honestly, I didn’t know much about or may have forgotten. I remember Tammy from the incident involving Carl, Sophia, and the boys at the Hilltop, and characters like Amber, Ken, and Olivia I remember, but despite me not knowing much about every character, this is a big deal because no area was spared.
This incident impacts all of the surrounding communities: Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom, and even the Saviors don’t walk out of this unharmed because they lose Carson.
And then we lose Luke as well? Yeah, admittedly, I don’t know much about him either, but that’s part of my point: if you recall, Luke was a member of Magna’s group, and they only just arrived in Alexandria after the time skip. We haven’t spent enough time with these characters, but already one of them is a casualty.
But now we get to one of the big two deaths: Rosita. This surprised me. Obviously no one in The Walking Dead is completely safe, but this death hit me hard for two reasons. For one, Rosita has been with the group for such a long time than I didn’t expect her to die at this point and in this fashion. She’d become a close friend and ally to Rick’s group and even developed a relationship with Eugene, which leads to my other reason: Rosita was pregnant at the time of her death.
Keep in mind that Eugene promised to love the child, no matter its father. He was going to be there for that child that will never see the light of day. And like the other characters, Eugene is completely unaware of what has happened, as of now. It’s also worth noting that Rosita’s head isn’t the first or last one we see, as if to draw particular attention to it. She’s just one of many victims in the middle of this massacre, and this means Eugene, the coward, is the last survivor between himself, Rosita, and Abraham.
Then there’s Ezekiel as well. The leader of the Kingdom, Michonne’s romantic interest, key ally of Rick’s during the war with the Saviors, and he’s dead. Ezekiel was ready to try and make amends with Michonne, something that I had hoped would happen, but he is now another victim. It’s a strong moment because Ezekiel wielded so much power and influence, but to be taken down like this is a reminder that this dangerous world doesn’t care how strong you are, because you can be taken down like anyone else.
So…who did this? I know, it would be quick and easy to point the finger at Alpha. After all, she did have a bloody blade because as she told Rick, she ran into trouble on the road, and we did see her at the fair. Alpha and Lydia, to my knowledge, are the only Whisperers that we’ve seen unmasked. We don’t know what the rest of this clan looks like, so they could be anyone, which is what makes them such a big, looming threat, in my opinion. I don’t doubt that Alpha could carry this out on her own, but I don’t find it too realistic that she could lure all of these people away, murder them, and then set up this boundary without anyone noticing.
But this is where things get foggy for me. If this was Alpha, what are her motivations? She’s already said that she just wants to be left alone and she only went to the fair to get a sense of the community where Carl lived. Did she just decide to pick these people out at random? Was it retaliation for Lydia being held as a prisoner at the Hilltop? And is she doing this just to prove that she’s not fucking around with Rick? If so, she already has the massive herd, which is a very strong trump card. Even if Rick wanted to retaliate, he knows that there’s a horde of roamers that Alpha could unleash at any time.
And what happens from here? This is going to cause a ripple effect throughout the communities and is, for my money, one of the biggest game-changers for this series. Despite not knowing key details about some of these characters, this is such a big deal because of the sheer number dead shown at one time and in such a disrespectful fashion. Negan may be a cruel motherfucker, but I think he’d be fine with just torturing people instead of sticking their heads on pikes.
The stability that folks like Rick and Maggie have worked towards is on the verge of collapsing due to the actions of a group that they don’t and probably won’t ever fully understand.
This is a very powerful issue of The Walking Dead, one of the best in a long time. We’ve seen deaths here before, but so many at one time and these all being characters that we’re familiar with make this a big deal.
When Lori was shot through the stomach while carrying Judith, it was a big deal.
When Abraham was killed, it was a big deal.
This issue is right up there with this those moments. I wouldn’t say it’s as impactful as a certain other character death that I’ll address later down the road, but it comes very close. The Walking Dead can often surprise and shock me, but this is an issue that stunned me into silence when I was finished, which has only happened once before this. This is how you hook readers into waiting for the follow-up to this.
And to echo Andrea’s question to Rick at issue’s end, what do we do now?