The 100th issue of The Walking Dead raises the question: How far is too far?
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Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book issue of significance. This week it’s The Walking Dead #100. Written by Robert Kirkman (Invincible, Thief Of Thieves) and drawn by Charlie Adlard (Judge Dredd, Astronauts In Trouble), the milestone issue of the zombie survival series sees the death of a major character as the book raises the stakes once again. Warning: lots and lots of spoilers.
The Walking Dead is the biggest comic book success story of the past decade, a bestselling series that revitalized the horror genre in comics and spawned a television series that has broken basic-cable records. Robert Kirkman set out to write a book that would show what happens after a zombie movie ends, following a group of survivors as they navigate a treacherous new world and discover that evil doesn’t exist in the dead, but the living. To drive this point home, the 100th issue is one of the series’ most devastating issues, and not a single zombie appears. #100 does what The Walking Dead does best: kill a central character in astonishingly brutal fashion. It’s an intense, extremely effective issue, but Kirkman ventures into dangerously gratuitous territory. In a series that’s built on shocker moments, how far is too far?
Last issue found Rick leaving to go to the Hilltop with Michonne, Carl, and Heath, bringing Glenn, Maggie, and Sophia along so they can set up a new home now that Maggie is pregnant. This leaves the Alexandria Safe Zone open to the troops of post-apocalyptic biker-kingpin Negan, but beyond a brief check-in with the Alexandrians, this issue largely focuses on what happens to Rick and his group. Spoilers: It’s not pretty. Real spoilers: Negan reveals himself, lines up Rick and company, picks one to kill, then crushes Glenn’s skull with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.
Kirkman has no qualms about significantly altering the status quo of this book, and ever since he killed off a significant portion of the cast in the prison, nobody has been safe. Rick and the survivors have found a home in Alexandria, and any sign of comfort on this series means that it’s time to have it all come crashing down. #100 is the perfect time to kill off a major character, and of the core five—Rick, Carl, Andrea, Michonne, and Glenn—one of them is a little too close to happiness to survive. By process of elimination, Glenn is the most logical choice: Rick and Andrea’s relationship is just beginning, Carl already got shot in the head, and Michonne is just too damn popular to die (and understandably so). The recent reveal that Maggie is pregnant sealed the deal, guaranteeing maximum emotional impact when Glenn’s skull gets smashed to pieces.
Glenn is the everyman of the series, a fan favorite because who doesn’t want to root for the average Joe that has somehow managed to survive and find love in a zombie wasteland? Glenn could be seen as the heart of this series, the compassionate character who still holds on to hope in a world of depressing futility. It’s scary to think what his death means for the future of this series, particularly because of the over-the-top characterization of the man who kills him. Negan’s dialogue is littered with so many “fucks” that Al Swearingen would be concerned. Negan is a maniac with a conveniently huge army backing him despite his obvious insanity, and there’s a deliberate effort made by Kirkman to out-Governor the Governor with the reveal of this series’ new antagonist.
Kirkman wisely chose to steer away from the super-Governor direction after the prison, bringing the focus inward and introducing a situation that painted the core cast as the villains for a brief time. With this milestone issue, it’s time to give the group a new enemy. Negan is a psychotic man-child, picking who he’ll kill in one of the most elementary ways possible: a round of eeny, meeny, miny, moe. He’s a caricature, which is something that The Walking Dead has been good at avoiding thus far. Here are some characteristic pieces of dialogue:
- “So I’m now going to beat the holy fuck fucking fuckedy fuck out of one of you with my bat.” (Emphasis is Kirkman’s.)
- “I’ll slide my dick down your throat and make you thank me for it… then they’ll all fall in line.”
- “In fact, you want to keep acting tough, like I still need to break you… and I’ll have a few of my boys run a train on your boy.”
That last one is especially unnerving because it’s beginning to seem possible that Kirkman will eventually write a scene in which a bunch of psychopaths gangbang a little boy. When does this enter obscene territory? It’s an intriguing question when it comes to the comic-book medium, which doesn’t have the realism of film, thus making extreme violence easier to process. The Governor is showing up on the next season of The Walking Dead television series, but I doubt we’ll ever see Michonne nail his penis to a wooden board. The image of Glenn with his skull caved in crying for the mother of his unborn child is one of this series’ most chilling, but it feels more like snuff than horror.
After that initial hit, there’s a shot of Glenn getting smacked in the jaw, and the lower half of his face exploding into small pieces. He’s finished off in five silhouetted panels of Negan going at Glenn’s head like he’s tenderizing meat, and if that seems a bit too subdued, the next page is a close-up splash of Glenn’s demolished skull. This is all captured in disturbingly gory detail by Charlie Adlard, who is remarkably adept at depicting the horrific events endured by these characters. Kirkman gets most of the attention for this series, but Adlard has proven himself to be one of the most consistent artists in comics with his work on The Walking Dead, creating Kirkman’s bleak world in stark black and white. The quiet character moments are the reason for this series’ success, and Adlard has impressive control of human emotion, drawing characters that look and act like real people. That reality makes images like a badass standing shot of Michonne or a two-page splash of a gang wielding axes, sledgehammers, and chainsaws all the more effective.
Despite the overly graphic nature of Glenn’s death, it succeeds in turning up the tension in this story, and at the end of this issue, things couldn’t be worse for the characters. That’s exactly where Kirkman likes it. With Glenn gone, Maggie and Sophia are probably not long for this world, but hopefully Kirkman will take some time to explore the impact of Glenn’s death before they’re eaten by KKK cannibals or something similarly horrible. Will Rick blame himself for Glenn’s death because he fell asleep on guard duty? Does this book need another 10 issues of Rick beating himself up? And there’s still the imminent attack on Alexandria promising future disaster. Maybe Kirkman will go for a double-whammy and kill off Andrea, too? Anything is possible, which is both an exciting and scary idea. No matter what direction Kirkman takes this book, there’s only one guarantee: There are no happy endings in The Walking Dead.