Review by Karl Verhoven
Because Robert Kirkman structures his Walking Dead stories in arcs rather than individual chapters, it can sometimes come across as relatively slow moving as he drops the necessary items into place, spliced with dramatic interludes featuring a cast we love. However, read the series in Compendium form combining eight trade volumes and it’s evident just how much ground is covered.
Near the start of this hefty volume is half a wordless chapter reflecting on the loss sustained ending the previous selection, with the Whisperers an ongoing threat, and it ends ten years in the future. In between there are two very different story arcs, while the biggest connecting theme throughout is how much the values of Rick Grimes extend to the wider group of people he nominally guides. As the various associated communities expand, universal consensus evaporates, so what’s the solution? “It’s time we had a military”, announces Rick, “We’re going to start selecting people and training them. We’ll arm them and prepare them for war”. It’s a decision reached via a conversation with Negan, a character who continues to be divisive and influential.
Dealing with the Whisperers is the final large scale conflict in The Walking Dead, which means as the Compendium progresses Charlie Adlard draws fewer and fewer zombies. For most artists it would be a relief, but seeing as how he individualises them, perhaps not. As progress is a continuing theme, towards the end it’s really weird to see him drawing scenes of people enjoying themselves in everyday ways. He’s a tremendous artist for this series, designing distinctive people, having a sense of grandeur and ensuring that sometimes lengthy conversations never become bogged down or dull-looking.
In addition to the well-plotted action and drama, what these bulkier collections bring home is just how phenomenally good Kirkman is at leading each individual chapter to a great ending. More often than not it’s a bombshell, but can also be a good character moment, and one of the best is a sinister Negan sitting in his cell smiling. In terms of personality, some cast members are more capable of change than others, and the final chapter highlights how some people are suited to negative situations and can’t easily adjust to anything else.
Broadly speaking, the ending pushes the right buttons. Finishing a series after fifteen years is a balancing act that’s never going leave everyone happy, especially as Kirkman has an unsentimental view of the cast, no matter how loved by readers. There are more casualties along the way, with all the heartbreak that brings, but for a few people the series ends with a level of happiness they never believed they’d ever experience again.
As ever with a Compendium, the content is available in cheaper editions. It combines eight paperbacks starting with No Turning Back and ending with Rest in Peace, so follow through the links for greater plot commentary. Alternatively, these stories are found in the hardback Walking Dead Book Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen.