As the cover (probably the best one of the whole arc, suitably dramatic and keeping with the tone of the plot in 125) spells out, we are now at Chapter 11 of 12. All Out War is finally reaching its conclusion, and although 125 gives some big hints at the endgame, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the outcome, and who is going to survive this major storyline.
What I do know is that issue 125 was probably the best of 11 issues so far devoted to the war between Negan & Rick. A sense of mortality hangs over the whole issue, a dread and quiet terror, as we see one character succumb to the effects of the ‘bio-weapons’ used by The Saviors over the last couple of issues, and as the major characters acknowledge that this war now has to end. It is the knowledge that not all of them will likely make it out alive that infuses the pages with a sadness that The Walking Dead can do so well.
While on the subject of mortality, if Negan is to go (and there is nothing definitive to suggest what his fate is) then at least Kirkman has given him another issue where he is suitably engaging – the star of the show in this issue. Although at times in the past few months he has been supremely irritating, issue 125 yet again shows that the villain of the piece is more rounded and has more personality than his early appearances in the comic ever hinted at. In fact, I think if he does go, I am going to quite miss him. Take for example, an exchange between Dwight and Negan at the start of the issue, which follows on from #124 where Negan’s wish to piss all over the dead body of Rick Grimes is called into question. In a neat 4 panel opening, the exchange between these 2 characters is some of the best dialogue in months. Negan shows his astuteness by acknowledging that Dwight has disdain for him and have a ‘history’ (some understatement). He then goes on to argue that it would be ‘weird’ if he didn’t have the urge to defile the corpse of his enemy after all the trouble and inconvenience he has caused. It almost convinced me. But the killer line, and the one that shows that most of the time Negan (and Kirkman) have their tongues firmly in their cheeks, is the one that ends the conversation, as Negan wishes he was there watching Rick’s painful death, and;
‘Little Carl….crying his exposed eye socket out…’
It’s all about the timing in comedy. And that was great timing.
There are a few other moments that seem peripheral but are most likely vital to the events in issue 126. One of those is Rick getting Michonne, Ezekiel, Paul Monroe and a few others into place away from the Hilltop, and the other is the arrival of Eugene with a vehicle full of ammunition. But issue 125 is all about one thing really. The confrontation between Rick and Negan.
There have, of course, been several Rick/Negan scenes since the former’s introduction in issue 100. This one felt different from the start. It felt like there was almost a hush as Rick emerges, and everyone else fades into the periphery as these 2 protagonists square up. What happens next is a tense game of cat and mouse that also manages to pull this arc back into the ‘Larger World’ storyline that was established before the arrival of The Saviors.
As Rick puts forward his vision of the future – a future that involves co-operation, a barter-type economy and essentially rebuilding civilization – Negan is prepared to listen. This is all happening on the surface. The feeling I got as I read through these panels was that this was a game of who-blinks-first. I was convinced that Negan – although seemingly having a realisation that Ricks way of thinking could be the correct way forward – was actually playing along and was about to swing at Rick with ‘Lucille’ at any moment. Especially when I got to that full page of Negan, eyes wide with surprise, only a single ‘Fuck’ passing his lips. That was when i figured I would turn the page and see Rick getting clobbered.
But no. What happens pretty soon after is not an end to All Out War, but the beginning of the end. As Negan picks up on the ideas that his enemy has been espousing, and starts to run with them, we get a final full page of Rick, (a possibly infected) knife in hand, having just cut Negan. He simply replies ‘Good’ to Negans previous affirmation that he is beginning to see things Ricks way.
What that final page cliffhanger provides is plenty of talking points until we hit the final chapter of this arc in 2 weeks time;
Is the Knife that Rick used infected? Is the picture of Negan on the cover of #126 one of him pleading to be killed before he turns? And who is going to be doing the honours and wielding Lucille? Maggie? Dwight? Carl?
How will the Saviors react to Ricks attack on their Leader? Will he die along with his enemy on the field of battle?
Rick promised Negan way back in issue 100 that he would revenge Glenn’s death - ‘not today, not tomorrow…but i will kill you’. So has the desire for revenge blinded Rick to the danger that he is now in? Is the next issue the end for Rick Grimes? (I have to say it is unlikely but it’s a game I like to play along wtih, the game where Kirkman wants you to believe that Rick Grimes is about to DIE).
The exchange between Carl and Mikey (the boy who has just lost his Dad, Nicholas, to an infected knife wound) was powerful stuff, Carl giving a couple of lines of hard earned wisdom that really choked me up. I love it when Kirkman uses his words economically, they can carry so much more power.
With Michonne, Paul, Ezekiel and a few other trusted hands outside of the Hilltop, ready to attack The Saviors, does this mean we are likely to see some of these characters not make it past issue 126? Or are they (and their potential ambush of The Saviors) the key to Rick staying alive next issue?
Is it just me, or wasn’t this issue supposed to have more pages than usual? Or is that next issue?