***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
There’s always been a direct correlation between the quality of a Walking Dead story, and how real and relatable things feel. That’s what’s made this story different from typical zombie lore. We’ve had so much time with these characters, and seen them to do much more than run from zombies. The world they live in is obviously a fantasy. But we’ve seen them grow and change like real people.
That’s what makes issue #167 so impactful. To a certain extent, it feels like a real person has died. Furthering that point, it’s handled in a very raw and emotional fashion. This is unquestionably one of the best issues of the entire series. Maybe the best.
Andrea has been bitten. After having been with her for so long, Rick must once again say goodbye to a woman he loves. But can he bring himself to continue on without her? And how does her death impact Carl, Negan, Michonne, and the rest of the survivors? Especially now that the Saviors may once again be a threat…
I’ve never been any good at saying goodbye. Maybe that’s why this issue resonated so much with me. This is essentially one big goodbye to Andrea. They even forego the letters column this month, replacing it with a message from Kirkman about the character. It all may seem a little self-important. But The Walking Dead has such a passionate and devoted fanbase, that you can actually see the some of the reasoning behind it. Andrea has been part of the series since it’s second issue. She was one of the “originals.” So her death means that much more.
My favorite page in the issue is on a 16-panel grid, where we see major and minor characters alike pay their respects to Andrea. Each gets one panel. There’s a striking honesty on this page. You have some of the obvious, “we love you” and “if it hadn’t been for you” type stuff. But Heath, for instance, says: “We never talked much. I’m sorry for that. I’m not the best at making friends.” Carl’s love interest Lydia says, “I don’t think you like me, but…I’m not going to hurt Carl.” Then you have Negan, who puts his own little spin on a goodbye. And that’s not even taking the artistic quality of the page into account. It’s fantastic work by Kirkman, Adlard, and the entire team.
Kirkman uses Andrea’s death to talk about the human condition a little more directly. When talking with Carl about his relationship with Lydia, she tells him “People like to think there are people out there they’re meant to be with” but that “Anybody can love anyone if they want to.” He’s essentially trying to debunk the idea of soulmates, and asserting the notion that people make their own destinies. One might read that as Kirkman getting on his high horse. I suppose that’s true. But it’s his book, after all…
As one might imagine, much of the issue is spent with Rick and Andrea alone. He sits at her bedside in her final hours. It’s good stuff, but we get some odd repetition. Rick breaks down, talking about how he can’t go on, can’t stay strong, etc. In her last big monologue, Andrea tells Rick that he must continue, and how he’s made everyone else stronger. Then a few pages later, after Andrea has passed, Rick doubts himself out loud again. As he did just a few pages earlier, he says he “can’t do this anymore,” and that he just killed a woman a matter of hours ago. (It happened last issue. Long story.) The only real difference is that Andrea is dead in the latter scene. It’s a big difference of course, and Andrea’s monologue has all the appropriate power. I just wonder why the choice was made to have Rick repeat himself. In between those stretches of dialogue, we get four whole pages of silence, simply letting the art show us the final moments of Andrea’s life. I wonder if it would have been better to maintain that silence.
Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tone artist Cliff Rathburn work their usual magic here. I almost hate to use that term, as it seemingly lessens the gravity of what they’ve been able to accomplish on this series. It’s Adlard and Rathburn have been with the series since it’s early days. So it’s always gratifying to see them there when a long-standing character leaves the book.
There are a good amount of splash pages and two-page spreads in this issue. There’s a two-page shot of Rick at Andrea’s bedside that’s tremendous. There are a lot of deep black in the room, yet we get the sunlight coming in through the window. This is also a great showcase for Adlard’s character “acting” skills. He’s become absolutely amazing with the subtleties in human facial expression. Case in point, the splash page of Rick’s face after Andrea is gone once and for all, and the impact of what’s just happened finally sets in. Then you have the panel below, where Andrea has died, and Rick has to prevent her from turning…
Despite Andrea’s death, this issue is really about two things: Perseverance and hope. This is the most painful and most personal blow Rick has faced since he lost his wife and baby. But the issue ends not with more grief, but with an eye toward the future. The Walking Dead isn’t necessarily a series that’s known for it’s optimism. So often this world prompts its character to act on their darkest and most disturbed impulses. Going the other way was smart, given the emotional impact of what we’re seeing. It’s part of what makes this a landmark issue for the series.
One of the things Kirkman does very well with The Walking Dead is create a certain legacy for characters that have died. The deaths of characters like Glenn, Lori, and Herschel are still being felt in the series today. So as we move forward, the question becomes: What will Andrea’s legacy be?
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