By Zack Quaintance — I’m still processing what The Walking Dead did today and why. Now, normally when I say this, it has to do with a much-loved long-standing character having something grisly and horrible happen to them. That’s certainly not the case here. What happened in The Walking Dead #193 is that the story ended, and it ended with little warning on fanfare.
In fact, to surprise his readers with an ending, series creator/writer Robert Kirkman and regular artist Charlie Adlard went so far as to solicit issues of the series for the coming months that will never exist, complete with original cover artwork and believable issue summaries. Word didn’t really start getting around that this was an ambush ending, until earlier this week. This is especially a shock for someone heavily involved in comics. Things just don’t end this way, especially not things as massive and popular as The Walking Dead.
Indeed, even middling runs at the Big 2 that come to some sort of (often temporary) ending get all kinds of fanfare. They get months of advertisement for the ending, creators in the press doing vague Q&As about what may or may not happen, and outsized story arcs in the months ahead, usually titled, THE ROAD TO THE ENDING, or something. Then when the ending comes, it’s oversized (as this issue of The Walking Dead was), and kept at a $9.99 price point (looking at you Marvel).
I’m not sure exactly why The Walking Dead did things so quietly. In my opinion, it definitely rewarded people like me, who even after the media phenomenon had come and gone were still steadily plugging away and enjoying the story. Maybe I’m being cynical, and the creators really did want to give us—the loyal comics reading audience—the best experience possible. They do have that luxury, I suppose, now that this little creator-owned comic has blossomed into a billion-dollar multimedia franchise. Although, so have Marvel and DC, and those respective corporations are rarely so kind. There are also questions about whether Kirkman did it this way to avoid blowback from those involved with the other (and presumably more lucrative) arms of The Walking Dead. I just don’t know, but, rest assured, will continue waste tons of time contemplating this.
Anyway, but what about the actual story? This issue is a massive time jump, long past Rick’s death from the previous issue, to a world wherein he has been lionized as essentially humanity’s savior, at least in the eastern portion of the United States. The conflict here is simple: Maggie’s son Herschel has a traveling zombie show, one of his zombies gets loose, and Carl Grimes (now grown with a daughter named Andrea), kills it. This sets into motion a handful of legal questions about whether what Carl did was a wise safety measure or wonton destruction of property.
It’s a nice and subdued way to create a problem to take us through what is essentially an epilogue. The story checks in with all the main surviving characters, giving us everything we need to know about what they are doing now and where they’ve ended up. It is in many ways an entirely perfect finale to such a long-running and often-bleak tale. I found myself emotional at times, feeling moved by the investment I’ve made by reading all these issues. On its own merits, The Walking Dead’s finale stands pretty tall. There are some philosophical questions involved about people becoming complacent that make sense in the world but feel maybe a little too weighty, but that’s a very small complaint.
What makes this such a phenomenal ending for me is when you start to compare it to other conclusions of stories of this length and scope (Game of Thrones) comes to mind. The Walking Dead’s ending doesn’t have so much as a whiff of fan service to it, nor does it feel like those involved with creating it considered anything other than what their original story was telling them to do. It is—in a reductive word—entirely natural. You can debate whether some of the final arcs were necessary (the whisper war thing is what I’m thinking of here), but they don’t really detract from the destination. There is maybe a case to be made against turning Rick into a saint when so many other characters gave so much along the way, but the story makes clear that even this is an issue up for debate, that perhaps Rick is only viewed this way because his was the last major and most grandiosely timed sacrifice. It’s a consistently effective writer’s trick to identify potential criticisms to your story and have them voiced within it, thereby taking the steam out of that criticism, and the team here pulled it off expertly.
In the end, I will deeply miss The Walking Dead. There have been lulls in this story but never an outright bad issue among the 193. It’s also a bonafided pop culture phenomenon, the likes of which comics hasn’t produced since arguably the late 1960s. It’s a comic book you can point to that nearly everyone in your life will know, and it’s a great argument for the medium, showing that it has a deep and lasting value past stories of tights and capes. It will be missed, but I’m glad to have been along for the journey.
Overall: With a fan-friendly surprise release method and a sweet and self-aware ending, The Walking Dead #193 rewards those who have followed this book for years and years and years. 9.8/10
The Walking Dead #193
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Grey Tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics - Skybound
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.