I was a regular reader of The Walking Dead (in TPB form) for the first few years of the run. My attention had waned as it approached the 100th issue, but I thought I should read that collection so I could join in the discussion. I thought killing Glenn was a bit of a stunt--and a predictable thing to do, given the history of major character deaths in the title. Negin struck me as The Governor 2.0: basically the same character, just crazier and more powerful. When I read the following collection (Volume 18: What Comes After, containing issues 103-108) I didn't like where the series was headed any better. Negin's behavior was still hard to swallow. Why not kill Carl after he kills a bunch of his men?
Anyway, I heard that things improved once the war actually got going, so I decided to catch up. Volume 19: March To War does what it says. We see Rick and his allies gearing up for the war with Negin and the Saviours that Rick has decided upon. The communities that have been paying tribute to Negin need some convincing. While no one likes paying tribute, crossing Negin is known to be potentially fatal. Gregory, the Hilltop's leader, seems likely to be unreceptive, so the group works around him, which is made easier by the fact that the war plans are a secret that only a few trusted people have been let in on. Ezekiel and The Kingdom prove to be very receptive.
When Negin pays a surprise visit to Alexandria, Rick and his group are away making preparations. Fortunately they also brought back supplies, so their cover is safe. Rick's decision to attack Negin as he leaves looks like good strategy at first. But he has underestimated Negin, who has an invisible backup team, including very skilled snipers. Just as another Glenn-style execution is about to happen Rick's backup team shows up to save the day. Negin gets away, but the element of surprise has been lost.
This collection was back on track for me. There's a nice mix of action and character moments. Lots of surprises, and convincing crises.
Volume 20: All Out War - Part One again delivers just what it promises. Rick begins the war by arriving at Negin's compound and requesting his surrender. It's not like he was really expecting Negin to capitulate, so the rest of the operation goes as planned. Except for one thing: Holly incapacitates Rick and drives a truck through the gates to allow the assembled zombie horde to enter. So the initial attack goes as planned.
But Ezekiel's attack on one of Negin's outposts is a rout. Then Negin shows up at Alexandria and begins lobbing grenades into the town. But the biggest shock occurs when he sends Holly back as a hooded hostage, and she is revealed as a zombie. She promptly bites Doctor Denise Cloyd. It certainly came as a complete surprise to me. Odd to think that Negin killed a man for attempting to rape Holly, but doesn't seem to have a problem with killing her and letting her turn.
Negin is driven off again. But as he looks back and sees smoke rising in the distance, he declares the battle won. Alexandria is in flames (or so it appears). Looking forward to Part Two!
I think that's as far as my reading has taken me, too. And yeah, Holly's fate was a stunner, epecially given -- as you said -- that he killed one of his own when he tried to rape her.
But the war is rousing, especially after the annoying "Rick pretends to knuckle under" issues. In a world without high tech, war is truly a dangerous business, and can turn on simple things, like the weather or the terrain. It's pretty white knuckle-y, especially when you consider that everybody but Rick is genuinely at risk. (I just can't see Kirkman killing off his central character.)
And I agree that Negan isn't all that. What irritates me is that Kirkman's efforts to make him an interesting character are so transparent. Oh, look, he's capricious. Oh, look, he talks to his bat. Oh, look, he curses in a cutesy way. Those things could be fun cjharacterization, if I didn't constantly see the little man behind the curtain. I didn't like E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, because the effort to manipulate my emotions was so obvious, and therefore irritating. I feel the same way with Negan.
Yeah, I'm so unimpressed with Negan that I misspelled his name every time! At least I was consistent. ;)
Volume 21: All Out War - Part Two The end of the war pretty much boils down to a last stand at the Hilltop. Alexandria turns out not to have been completely destroyed in the Saviors' attack, but it was sufficiently damaged that Rick chooses to consolidate his forces. As Negan gathers his army for the assault he tells them to foul their weapons with zombie slime, making them biological weapons: the slightest wound will cause infection and eventual death. It's a brilliant idea, which seems so obvious that it's surprising no one thought of it before.
Dwight proves his worth as a mole at Negan's side in several ways. He secures the escape of Eugene and his crew after they have been taken prisoner. And most importantly, he shoots Rick with his crossbow--but he uses a clean bolt and creates a non-fatal wound. Since Negan believes Rick to be infected, Rick has the element of surprise when they confront each other outside the city gates. He uses that advantage to get the drop on Negan. It's the sort of cheat you'd expect from Negan rather than Rick, which just shows how desperate the situation is. Dwight takes the moment to seize control of the Saviors, ordering them to stand down. The war is over.
I don't want to spoil any more of the plot. But I'd say that the conclusion is satisfying, even though it is far less apocalyptic than I was expecting.
There's been a notable change in the art team, which actually began in the previous collection. For most of the run Charlie Adlard has been penciling and inking. But he is now only penciling, with Stefano Gaudiano credited as inker. It's a subtle visual change, which you might not even notice if you aren't looking for it: there are more fine lines in the final art, making it look a bit more detailed. I suspect this is due as much to Gaudiano having more time to devote to inking as it does with his own style.
Volume 22: A New Beginning Jumps forward two years, thankfully sparing us all the messy details of the rebuilding. Kirkman eases into the new status quo by opening with a group of survivors under attack. We've never seen them before, and at first it looks like it will be a brief acquaintance. Then a group on horseback comes to the rescue, and we finally see familiar faces.
When the group is invited to join Alexandria the old trust dynamic kicks in. Except now the Grimes Gang is the establishment, and the new group the suspicious newcomers--interesting to see things play out from a new perspective. Of course Kirkman satisfies the curiosity of long-time readers by catching up with the rest of the cast (including Negan). There are lots of panoramic views depicting the impressive state of the settlements.
The characters frequently mention their discomfort with being so comfortable! It's hard to accept that the earlier horrors are really in the past. Certainly the walker menace is still very real, but they have learned to manage it. Then a new threat appears, right on time...
"A New Beginning" is an appropriate subtitle for this collection. The survivor's world has dramatically improved, on a scale that seems permanent. A new or returning reader could jump into this volume without needing to know all of the details of the preceding events.