The Walking Dead comic published a very strong installment on Wednesday in the form of issue #191. It seems to be a culmination of every narrative thread taking place at the Commonwealth community and a showcase of growth in the new world through the majority of its narrative. Then comes the final batch of pages, which are an absolutely mind-boggling hard left turn which hopefully serves as more than a shock-value moment in the next batch of issues.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead issue #191 follow. Major spoilers!
Through a brilliant speech and dodging of battle, Rick Grimes shows off how far he has come in the apocalypse. What was once a storyline which would have ended in bloodshed and action sequences became a compelling speech from the post-apocalyptic world's best leader. Even if it was a little on the nose, Rick went so far as to contradict an iconic moment from earlier in the books, rising above his people and those of the Commonwealth to say, "We are not the walking dead!" Heck yeah! Awesome!
And then, Robert Kirkman went ahead and did what Robert Kirkman always does: placed a shocking cliffhanger on the final few pages of an issue. Often, these cliffhangers pay off in rewarding ways in the next issue. Sometimes, they end up being the opposite of what they seem to be setting up. This time, it seems to be a moment which could actually kill The Walking Dead.
In the final pages of The Walking Dead #191, governor Pamela Milton's son Sebastian shoots Rick Grimes in the heart.
"What did you do?" Rick Grimes asks Sebastian as he bleeds out in his bed. It's as though he is talking directly to Kirkman, the mastermind behind this juggernaut of a comic series which spawned a hit live-action show on AMC. But, really... what did he do? If Rick Grimes is dying, where will The Walking Dead go?
Presuming Rick Grimes dies in the coming issues of The Walking Dead, the series is going to have to rely heavily on Michonne, Carl, Maggie, and Negan. The last name of that bunch isn't even promised to come back at any point, though an upcoming cover seems to indicate he might be back this summer. Does Rick Grimes become a martyr now? Are the characters going to see yet another time jump, removing them more from the threats of the post-apocalyptic world's zombies and leaving them in a political story of growth against human-to-human conflict?
Perhaps the story will be interesting going forward if, without Rick, the communities fall into a complete disarray which essentially puts them back at square one. This could be an interesting pivot for the series, which seemed to be heading in a direction of stability, but, without the man the story has been centered around, it's hard to imagine a significant reason to remain wholly invested.
Then again, The Walking Dead TV series lost Rick Grimes in its ninth season and ended up becoming better for it. After Andrew Lincoln opted out of the live-action series, the show opened up its narrative for other characters to shine. As a result, a compelling villain was pitted against a series of finally developed main characters, and, while it didn't help the show's same-day ratings, it did improve the narrative's quality by comparison to the two preceding seasons.
Ultimately, The Walking Dead comic is now without Andrea -- a character who was an absolute standout until she became a casualty of the Whisperer war -- and looks to be without its centerpiece soon. This is going to be a make-or-break moment for Kirkman's zombie series, which is nearing its 200th issue, but it's not going to come without a sour feeling of anger regarding his exit. This character has become a comic icon, and he appears to have been sent off by a little-developed, annoyance of another character. It's a great way to create a heel, but simultaneously a great way to make loyal readers of 10-plus years feel disrespected.
The Walking Dead #191 is a strong issue loaded with brilliant moments that contrast significantly to its past. In fact, it's a treat to read, but there is no doubt this will be a turning point for the popular comic series, one which hopefully pays off going forward.1comments
The Walking Dead returns for its tenth season in October. Fear the Walking Dead will return for its fifth season on June 2nd. For complete coverage and insider info all year long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter and watch ComicBook.com's After The Dead each Sunday night following new episodes.