From Alexandria to the Hilltop to the Kingdom they thought it was all over. It is now, but only when we reach the end of A Certain Doom.

The Whisperer War appeared to have been won, but Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard return here to the core of The Walking Dead as it was in the early days. So much progress has been made that a single zombie is no longer a threat. Dozens are a minor inconvenience. A herd of a hundred can be a problem, but provided they can be divided or distracted they’re also dead meat. So, in a civilisation with no bombs at their disposal, how many zombies would now constitute a crisis? Adlard’s sample spread indicates trouble ahead, and he’s phenomenal throughout. Has he missed drawing an army of zombies over the past few volumes? It sure as hell seems that way as thousands of them appear on page after page.

Yet, that’s not really what A Certain Doom is all about. The Walking Dead lasting so long is because Kirkman consistently defies expectation, so the number of zombies is just a means to an end. Several actually, the first being that if impending death is inevitable, and you’re stuck with who you’re stuck with, how do those conversations play out?

A cheap trick superhero publishers believe gives their event series deeper meaning is to have a character die. By the time The Whisperer War was published, this was almost a game, very few readers not complicit in knowing the alleged deceased would return via reboot or miraculous circumstance. When someone dies in The Walking Dead there’s an obvious undesirable means by which they can return, but Kirkman hasn’t resorted to that cheap shock in over twenty volumes. When they’re gone, they’re gone. The threat of death hangs heavy over A Certain Doom, because that’s what a good writer can achieve. Kirkman’s that good he can drop a few red herrings, never stating as much, but indicating some people have now served their purpose, and are dispensable. Of course, it’s all narrative smoke and mirrors. Is anyone’s purpose completely served in real life? Someone dies in A Certain Doom, and to an extent Kirkman milks it by having so many people offer last words, but they’re memorable and all illuminate the person concerned. From “That’s a story they’ll be telling for years to come… if that means anything to you” to the essential simplicity of “I’m going to miss you”, it’s an emotionally draining few pages.

Yet what follows is just as good. A completely different mood, but just as good. It’s a magnificent conversation that settles a problem, and after several volumes of uncertainty, defines what Negan now is. The full value of A Certain Doom is really only going to be appreciated by people who’ve followed the series a long time, who read in the context of what’s gone before, but anyone should be able to appreciate what a thriller it is.

Lines We Cross is next, while The Walking Dead Book Fourteen presents this and The Whisperer War in hardcover, or it’s combined with that and another six volumes as the fourth Walking Dead Compendium, wrapping up the series.