One reason The Walking Dead is such page-turning drama is because Robert Kirkman has little sentimentality when it comes to the cast. It’s been expanded considerably, but how many people from the opening volume have made it through to this, the penultimate volume? It means the cast constantly needs refreshed, and several people introduced during Lines We Cross and New World Order have prominent roles here. That starts with Governor Pamela Milton of the Commonwealth being taken on a tour of the assorted communities we know. A few comments ought to raise alarm bells, and not everyone proves as trusting as Rick Grimes when it comes to assessing the newcomer and her priorities.

“I’d sell my soul to keep that good. I’m afraid I already have”. For Michonne, who’s remained in the Commonwealth there’s an early introduction into the cost of perfection being maintained. Kirkman moving into civics is fascinating as it’s never been a possibility previously, where necessity and hand to mouth has been the priority. The contrasting forms of civilisation supplied are assessed, and while neither is perfect, one offers freedom of choice for everyone and the other only for the privileged. Even better is how this is tied into some differences of opinion that have been brewing for some while.

As in the previous book, it just seems strange to see Charlie Adlard drawing scenes of people eating in a restaurant or having a barbecue. Again, despite the sample art, this is a relatively walking dead-free set of chapters, and it means Adlard pulling back from slaughter to, well, everyday life for much of the volume. Perhaps he can let loose in Rest in Peace, with which this volume is combined for The Walking Dead Book Sixteen. Alternatively, read the final eight trades collected in the fourth Walking Dead Compendium.

The unpredictable paths of the master storyteller are apparent even if for the sake of drama Kirkman makes some concessions. One is Rick Grimes taking one decision when another, less emphatic method was available, but Kirkman’s also a master of stoking tension, and that’s what’s on the table through most of The Rotten Core.