Zeb Larson reviews The Walking Dead #156…
Warning: This is going to be a review full of spoilers. If you haven’t read this issue or care about reading what happens first, stop now. As a reviewer, I feel compelled to gloat that some of earlier predictions re: The Walking Dead have come to pass. This issue is solely focused on Negan and Alpha, and none of the other characters from this series make an appearance. That gives it an unusual kind of narrative cohesion, given that this series usually sprawls and has to focus on multiple plot threads and characters simultaneously. Given that it’s a concluding issue for this arc though, it makes sense, and it works very well.
Negan manages to worm his way into Alpha’s good graces despite Beta’s deep misgivings. As a Whisperer, he proves himself by hunting, killing walkers without any assistance and by being generally helpful around the camp. More importantly though, he foils the rape of another woman in the camp, which plays poorly with Beta but secretly wins some emotional support with Alpha. In a heated conversation between Negan and Alpha, she finally breaks down when talking about how she isn’t actually a strong person, and Negan convinces her to trust and rely on him. With her guard down, Negan then cuts her throat and decapitates her, then talks to himself about delivering her head to Rick.
Negan plays Alpha exactly like a violin in this issue. For whatever reason, he’s seen through her bluff and bluster about strength and recognizes vulnerability beneath her façade, as well as a dependence on Beta. He uses that to worm his way into her good graces, which is why he so loudly denounces the rape as it’s going on. (Negan doesn’t strike me as the kind of person whom rape would deeply trouble, and his relationship with his former harem didn’t exactly seem consensual, but I could be misremembering something). I also forget whether he knew something about the rape either from Rick or from Lydia.
Either way, he manipulates her like a master and manages to kill her. Furthermore, it all seems to be for Rick, which makes me think that Negan really has bought into the spiel Rick sold him about being stronger by working cooperatively all the way back in issue #124 (don’t know why I can remember that detail). Either that, or Rick did really manage to break Negan over the course of that long imprisonment. I still incline toward the former. While Negan was clearly playing Alpha with the rape, he does seem to actually believe what he says about civilization and the greater good (as well as his own misdeeds being for the greater good). Regardless, this is kind of a redemptive moment for Negan.
That being said, Negan’s killing of Alpha is hardly going to be an unqualified success. Beta might have relied on Alpha for advice and leadership, but I doubt that he’s going to throw his hands up in the air and surrender now that his leader is gone. If anything, Alpha was acting as kind of a civilizing influence on the Whisperers, and there’s no reason for them to keep the gloves on any longer. Rick might understand that, and even if it’s slightly better in the grand scheme of things that Negan has killed the enemy leader rather than trying to help her, it’s also going to be impossible to avoid a war now. Even after Michonne’s incursion, Alpha did not seem to be ready to unleash the horde on Alexandria.
And then of course, there are Dwight’s people moving in on the Whisperers even now. How will Dwight react if he runs into a free Negan? Will they be in position to mow down the Whisperers but then trigger that horde waiting in the quarry? Perhaps Negan will use that very convenient distraction to escape, though I can’t imagine Dwight or any of the soldiers will fare very well if that happens. The following issues are going to be a hot mess.
Overall, this makes for one of The Walking Dead’s better issues in recent memory. It deepens Negan’s character, subverts a lot of people’s expectations, and makes this new war all but inevitable for #157 and the new arc.
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