This second vast compendium of The Walking Dead takes us through a further eight volumes of the original trade paperback series, starting with the ninth, Here we Remain, and concluding with the sixteenth, A Larger World. It begins as the cast has been decimated, although not as decimated as first presumed, and concludes, as The Walking Dead so often does, with new hope.

It’s reading this substantial slab that one comes to realise that writer Robert Kirkman does have his favourites, characters who survive no matter the odds, and substantially against them. They may be transformed, as Rick Grimes was during the first compendium and Carl Grimes is here, but there do appear to be untouchables. Having noted that, not everyone from the opening chapters is around for the finish.

Having spent a considerable time in the former jail, the events concluding the last book ensured that was no longer an option. Within these pages, though, are the promises of two further communities, raising the possibility that they might offer everything the regular cast could wish for. Within the limitation of this new world, of course.

In terms of zombie activity, we see the largest grouping, or herd as they become known, one full blown invasion to rival that seen before, and several smaller scale horrors, some with previously seen cast members. “You don’t understand”, explains a character with some expertise, “these things are a force of nature. They don’t operate on logic or reason.” Sanity is also an issue, with Grimes’ mental state initially under scrutiny, then later the question of whether his balance between paranoia and protective instinct is intact.

There are times when Kirkman cheats, ending a chapter on a cliffhanger all too easily resolved or reversed in the opening pages of the next chapter, but set against that are the sheer amount of times he manages to drop a plot bomb. For all the drama elements, he never forgets this is a horror comic, and perhaps the most horrific moments are during a tale related in hindsight, and illustrated as the conversation it is.

We’re introduced to quite the troupe of new cast members. Some are obviously only ever intended as zombie fodder, but others settle in for the long term, with personalities set to conflict with or complement the existing cast. Toward the end of the book Kirkman, usually so sure, over-emphasises the drama for too great a period, and not always very convincingly, but for the remainder he’s achieved the correct mixture. This, then, isn’t as great a problem here as it was when purchasing an entire smaller paperback of talking heads.

Charlie Adlard draws every page. Like the cast, he’d been somewhat confined for much of the previous book, and he’s now able to display a fuller range of skills. There’s scenery, landscapes, isolated cottages, highways and some spectacular double page spreads, which unfortunately aren’t seen at their best in this bulky format.

It’s difficult to image that anyone who’s enjoyed the series to date will experience any prolonged disappointment with the content here. It may lack the frisson of discovery provided by the early material, but Kirkman has matured as a writer and the evidence is on hand. The only real decision will be the choice of format. This is far more expensive than buying second hand copies of the original paperbacks, or the stories are available in hardcover as Books Five to Eight. Volume three follows.