I’ve found it satisfying to read The Walking Dead in large chunks. So here I am catching up again, after the “New Beginning” events in Volume 22. That arc showed Rick and the survivors in a rebuilt Alexandria after the war with Negan’s group the Saviors.
As the title implies, much of the action involves the new threat revealed in the previous volume, another group known as The Whisperers (although I’m not sure I’ve seen them refer to themselves by that name). We learn a lot more about this cult-like collective that mingles with the walkers, wearing dead skin masks. When a group from Alexandria is attacked, this time they successfully fight back, taking a prisoner in the process. She’s a sixteen year old named Lydia, who talks pretty freely at first. Carl befriends her, and she tells him more detail about how her people operate.
In the meantime tensions within the settlement escalate, due to a beating Carl gave to two teens who were threatening Sophia. Gregory has never accepted his fall from leadership–he actually attempts to kill Maggie with poison. When the Whisperers show up in force at the front gate, it is to trade two missing men from the settlement for Lydia’s release. Despite what she had told Carl about wanting to stay, she returns to her people. The men who had been prisoners aren’t sure, but they think the Whisperers might number in the thousands. Which might not be a problem if the two groups keep to themselves. Except Carl has gone after Lydia with rescue on his mind…
I thought it was notable that one of the Alexandrites was extremely shocked when first seeing one of the skin masks. You would think survivors in this world would have gotten used to surprises. But there’s always something new, and often not in a good way. Also, there were intimations of potential trouble with Negan in the previous collection (even though he’s behind bars). Here he is referred to once or twice, but does not actually appear on-panel.
It occurs to me that this could have been the subtitle of just about any collection in the series: surprising that it hasn’t been used before now. At first this collection has the look of an interim arc where nothing major happens: the big event is the fair that is shown on the cover. There are many character moments: Michonne returns from a fishing trip and explains why she felt unworthy for the happiness she had with Ezekial; Negin chooses not to escape when his cell door is left unlocked, and has an intense conversation with Rick; Maggie takes the difficult decision to execute Gregory for his assassination attempt.
In the midst of the opening of the Alexandria fair–which draws survivors from all of the nearby settlements–Rick, Michonne, Andrea and others ride out on horseback to find out what has become of Carl. They are surprised by a group of Whisperers, who take Rick to see Carl, who has been discovered and is travelling with the group. Rick and Alpha (the Whisperers leader, and she does self-identify with that name) come to an understanding: as long as Rick’s group stays out of their territory, she will not unleash her massive walker horde on them. There’s an impressive two-page splash showing just how gigantic that horde is. She makes the enigmatic statement that she has marked the border–she had attended the fair earlier to spy on the settlement–and he will know it when he sees it.
When Rick, Carl, and Lydia get back to where the search party had been, there are signs of a battle. Then they sight the shocking group of heads on stakes marking the border. They are all recognizable characters, some major. I’m going to crib the identifying paragraph from Bleeding Cool’s summary:
The first marker is Olivia, who’s gone missing at her bread booth in Alexandria. Carl’s friend Josh, is also a marker along with Doc Carson’s brother. Tammy the mother of one of the boys Carl beat up, Luke from Magna’s group, a woman named Erin who was involved in a bake sale, Ken who you may remember from the first Whisperer encounter, another random woman named Erin whose boyfriend believes she’s run off. One of the brewers from the Hilltop, whose partner said he followed a bald headed woman to get some action, Oscar one of the horse wranglers from the Hilltop. Our final two are the big shockers, as we find Rosita’s head on a spike, and the final tragic nail in the coffin is King Ezekiel.
This is a great old-school Walking Dead shocker. The motto “No one is safe” is still very much in effect.
Naturally this arc centers around the shock and grief after the loss of twelve community members. The families of the victims are infuriated, but the entire settlement is angry and looking for revenge. The fear that someone might take out their frustration on Lydia leads Andrea to take her and Carl to the Hilltop the next morning.
Rick and the other cooler-headed leaders know that they would endanger everyone if they took an armed force into Whisperers territory. But the community is expecting a plan at the very least, which is what causes Rick to seek out Negan for counsel (which explains the cover image). Partly based on that advice, Rick announces that a militia will be formed. First for defense, but eventually for invasion. This is exactly what the citizens needed to hear, and is greeted with cheers.
It’s not clear if Rick really means to attack the Whisperers eventually–although that is certainly implied by the collection’s title–or if he has made the announcement just to get the community pulling together once again. I was a little surprised that Issue #150 (the last in this collection) didn’t have some sort of monumental event. Perhaps the attempt on Rick’s life would qualify, but I for one never expected it to succeed. Nice to see that the series can still be unpredictable in that way as well.