‘If It’s Dead, Kill It’: The Second Compendium of the Walking Dead

Last year, I discovered The Walking Dead (the television series and the comic book). Like most fans of the television series, I’m all caught up now with the second half of the third season. Given the disappointing nature of the first two episodes of the second half, I’m glad that I have something else to take care of my Walking Dead jonesing: the massive second compendium of the comic book (Compendium Two, Image Comics, 2013), which collects issues 49 through 96. (The series is up to issue 108 by now, so it will be a while before the third compendium will be released; in terms of tracking the relationship between the comic book and the television series, the third season is right about where the first Compendium ends.)

I’ve written on this blog before about the relationship between the comic book and the television series so I will not get into that again. Rather, reading the second Compendium has provided me an opportunity to make some educated guesses about where the show might be going, and even more interestingly, to examine the particular vision the creators of the comic book have about the post-zombie-apocalypse world.

Most prominently, it is clear the most interesting conflicts in the zombie world are not with the dead but with the living.  While zombies are deadly, and require vigilance, violence and nous to keep at bay, the human survivors are more insidious and harder to combat. Allusions to Hobbesian states of nature and methods to alleviate them are never too far from the surface in the comic book especially in the two Woodbury-like developments encountered in the second compendium.People are prickly, selfish, angry, paranoid, greedy, and all of the rest; turns out, in a world ruled by zombies those qualities are merely enhanced, not ameliorated. For the most part, this is what gives the comic book (and the television series) its edginess: there is almost always perpetual conflict between those who have survived. Like the first compendium, there is grotesque violence directed at humans even as we note that acts of violence directed against the dead have now become mild amusements.  And this is what makes the zombie world just so bothersome: there is no getting away from plain folks. Hell really is other people. (The second compendium also, finally, starts to allude to what really would be the biggest problem of all: an inconsistent and fast dwindling food supply.)

There is internal conflict too. Rick Grimes continues to be (literally) haunted by his memories as do other characters in a variety of ways. And there is a great deal of mourning, painful introspection and just second-guessing, for the numbers of the dead continue to pile up, each death generating its own profuse regret and bitterness. Indeed, if you’ve survived, you’re traumatized and will act out that trauma in one way or the other. This makes some episodes in the compendium a little tedious, as reading them approximates listening into a therapy session. Which should remind us: the busiest service providers in a zombie world would be grief counselors and psychotherapists. The Walking Dead are not just the zombies, they are the living too.

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