Spoilers for The Walking Dead –
The issue starts with Negan’s men about to attack the consolidated survivor forces at the Hilltop. Rick has not had time to enact the precautions he discussed – this is going to be trouble. Before battle, as his men rest and prepare, Negan slips away to “get something to eat.” It’s almost too convenient, because it seems to give traitorous little Dwight the exact chance he needs to warn the Hilltop. We don’t see this happen, but Rick’s survivors don’t seem to be taken completely off guard. They DO know an attack is coming eventually, but my always suspicious mind still wonders if maybe Negan is on to Dwight, and gave him a chance to meddle intentionally.
Before the mayhem starts, we’re treated to two very important scenes. In scene one, the pencilly looking new defector from last issue uses the quiet time at the camp to free the prisoners from Negan’s cell. Once again, remember how important Eugene, the ammunition maker, is. They’re almost caught, but once again being seen defying Negan, started by Rick, and followed by Dwight, then the pencilly looking defector, always seems to embolden even more to wrest themselves free from the tyrant’s grasp. It looks like this new recruit has been subject to one of Negan’s hot iron to the face punishments as well. It can be hard to tell with all the specks and flakes in the visual art, but he seems to have some distinct marks, and is accompanied by a woman.
In scene two, we spend meal time on the Hilltop. Andrea makes some real awkward conversation with Maggie. It was almost kind of painful to read, but in a good way. It reminds me of how unlikely the alliances can be in the zombie apocalypse. No, there aren’t major uncrossable gaps between the two, but in the life before this, I get the sense that maybe they just wouldn’t have been friends. Carl doesn’t fare much better with Sophia. She’s trying to act older, but Carl is just too worldly for her. Andrea and Rick are the real good read here. After all that, it’s easy to forget about the impending attack, and focus on the bounty they have. New Hilltop leader Maggie was facing a food shortage, but the Kingdom survivors brought a surplus of supplies, and the leaders seem to be not so subtly given a little extra to eat. They’re surrounded by a full blooded, living, breathing community, and Rick is swelled up with hope that it’s just too special to all go down. At the same time, he’s thinking fondly of their burnt out Alexandria home, and between mouthfuls of food almost off handedly suggests that they move back there and repair when “All Out War” is over. That loyalty to their life together must have really turned her on. She says it’s just his optimism, but I think all that talk hit her in the nesting instinct and made her baby maker all warm, because she seems positively smitten all over again, maybe even more than before. Perhaps I should hold off on publishing my “Ode to Alexandria.”
Once the fighting starts I have to reconsider my position from earlier. If Negan suspected Dwight, there’s no way he would ever turn his back on him right? Now the plan here was to gunk up all their weapons with zombie guts, and attack Rick’s gang with infectious devices that even if they don’t kill immediately, will eventually activate the virus and send the victim to zombieland. When Negan and Dwight get the drop on Rick, Negan orders him to fire, and Dwight hits Rick with a crossbow bolt to the side. The last panel shows Negan assuming Rick is now dead one way or another, that the survivor group is nothing without him, and that now it’s all just a matter of time. There have been recent hints that Dwight is playing both sides, but was he just forced to choose? As Eugene pointed out last issue, Dwight should have plenty of chances to take Negan out if he really wants to. Maybe it was just a normal weapon, not zombie-mucked up, and with some bandaging Rick can shake it off like a flesh wound?
My rating – 4.75 / 5
People try to relate to each other despite the new gulf of widely varying stages of grief and mourning. Events from previous issues escalate, and the action keeps you guessing. Characters who have survived this far build new bridges of hope. This issue might not have any moments that guarantee they will stick with you forever, but it has everything else I just listed. I can’t complain when they give me just about everything I ask for.