The Walking Dead fans know Robert Kirkman's book to have a certain way of teeing up an interesting story line and then prolonging its payoff for issues (months) on end. With its most recent issue, however, the never-ending zombie series jumped right into delivering on its predecessor's promise.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead issue #176 follow!
Suddenly, the mystery that was the Commonwealth community is made to feel unimportant by comparison to Michonne's current situation. After finding a message from her daughter on the final page of issue #175, Michonne and The Walking Dead's readers were instantly more interested in Elodie's fate than this thriving community of 50,000 plus.
Before issue #176 comes to a close, Michonne speaks up on behalf of every reader eager to learn Elodie's fate. "I was trying to humor you and see this through," Michonne says. "It just seemed like the fastest way to get this over with. It's not fast enough." The lines came just in time for smug Commonwealth governor Pamela Milton to show her unlikable colors but leave enough room for a touching reunion. Her preaching of metaphors for leadership about engines and cogs and so on makes sense but only from an arrogant and disconnected from the people perspective, giving her a reception similar to that of former cowardly Hilltop leader Gregory.
Pamela, possibly playing a good guy card to earn Michonne's trust, escorts Michonne straight to the bakery where her daughter is working. The cake hits the floor and it's a family reunion. Such a moment is rare in The Walking Dead and often an ominous set up for something horrific to happen but the Commonwealth community seems to have become strangers to tragedy. Such an element, however, begs the question of why they care to recruit Michonne and Alexandria in the first place. Do they have enemies as imposing as they are themselves? Do they genuinely wish to rebuild the world and expand their population? Is there something deeper going on? Such questions being implemented by Kirkman's storyline help The Walking Dead stay relevant fifteen years in publishing.
Michonne's story was hardly the only important element of the issue.
Lance Hornsby delivered the group to Maxwell Hawkins who quickly vets the group. Hawkins first questions to the group regarded the pre-apocalyptic occupations, quickly and rudely dismissing anyone he deemed unfit to converse with their governor.
Along the way, the unmistakable and blatant shunning of Eugene's radio contact by Lance was a blatant tease of the possibly harsh nature of the Commonwealth community. While readers can only hope this doesn't turn into another Rick Grimes versus the larger new group war they have seen before, such injustices to friendly faces in the community certainly aren't going to be stood for and are not going to be hollow instances.
Kirkman's writing of the Commonwealth's characters is all a bit on the nose, for now. It's possible he has crafted a bunch who are putting on a show for Michonne's group but, as it stands, they tend to speak in phrases loaded with exposition, as if they posh-sounding names of Hornsby, Maxwell, and Milton didn't tell enough about them. Just as the soldiers mention Mercer, a man who "loves" killing herds of walkers, Hornsby pops into their conversation to inject, "Mercer has trained you well." Now readers know, without meeting the apparent general of this army, his role in the squad. Such dialogue moments were present throughout the issue. They mostly set up intriguing expansions of the Commonwealth to be seen soon, rather than revealing them in full, so each moment of exposition is forgivable in this instance.
While issue #176 seems to pale in comparison to the largely expansive and exciting issue #175 before it, a deeper look shows Robert Kirkman's series is still at the beginning of a game-changing new arc. Such questions, even with moments of exposition and continued cliffhangers, offer a sense of intrigue and refreshing possibilities for its future and help keep The Walking Dead fresh and deserving of its flying-off-the-shelves status as it nears 200 issues. Venturing away from character deaths being needed for impactful moments, Kirkman has found a stride in developing characters and expanding the world once again to maintain an impressive and engaging new arc.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Walking Dead #176
Published by Skybound/Image Comics
On February 7, 2018
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard
Consulting by Sean Mackiewicz