To the person that has been reluctant to jump into The Walking Dead comic series for fear of spoiling AMC’s namesake hit series: fear not, the comic runs on a separate parallel dimension. Issue 106 — Adlard’s 100th issue as series artist — continues Carl’s coming-of-age journey as a guest and prisoner in Negan’s hospitality, in a world where his only source of comparison for moral and ethical value, his father, has lost sight of what he once held as truth. Carl’s progression in his character’s attempt at civil maturation, an austere bildungsroman progression, one where civilization does not exist, is a crippling encumbrance he has yet to understand how to handle. Many things that would be of normal occurrence for growth in a societal establishment that inhabits a civilized world have now become unaffordable (mostly nonexistent) luxuries — psychological and moral growth have taken a different path, blurring the once established lines of morality, amorality, and immorality.


Having watched people close to him die, Carl’s perspective of the world resides in a never before seen zeitgeist and is reminiscent of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. Specifically “Indian Camp,” where Nick, a boy of Carl’s age, follows his father into a Native American camp to watch him aid in the labor of a native woman. While the birthing is happening, the woman’s husband kills himself by slicing his own throat, the blood spills enough for Nick to catch a glimpse of the unnerving physical process of death; Nick experiences death in its most vile and grotesque form and he decides that he will never die. He believes it even. He then goes on to ask his father, “Is dying hard, Daddy?” This naiveté follows him into his later years as an adult. Carl, much like Nick, has also seen death in its most vile and grotesque form, vile enough for death to allow the dead to walk amongst the living. He has also decided that he will not die; he does not know how to come to terms with his mortality and believes he is invincible.


The series has been ripe with effervescent biblical references and allusions. The mantra chanted by Negan’s followers, “The rules keep us alive!” The talismanic incantation serves as a reminder of the collapse of society and civilization; Negan sees himself as civilization’s champion, its last fighting chance at resurrection, a second coming. He goes as far as to name his group of militants The Saviors, a biblical allusion to the end of times as prophesied by the bible. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Reads Matthew 24:13. The proposed way to make it to the end is to stay alive. How does one stay alive in this new world’s order, the one inhabited by Carl and Negan? The rules keep you alive! The motif runs rampant throughout the series.


Carl still holds the naiveté of a child, something — just like Hemingway’s Nick Adams — he refuses to lose, something Negan finds endearing enough to keep him alive long enough for him to show the young Grimes the inner-workings of this newfound post-civilization not-quite-society. With society and civilization come social contracts and rules. The Walking Dead has dealt with the search for these new post-civilization rules that will keep humanity around long enough to withstand the present day end-times. However, Carl has yet to come to terms with life’s first rule: death.

The last scene of this issue ends in cosmic irony. Showing what a masterful storyteller he is — something that really shines in this issue with minimal action, as compared to other celebratory blood-spilling gory issues — Kirkman takes a more ‘literary’ approach by having Negan make an intertextual reference to O. Henry’s short story, “The Gift of The Magi” — where a poor couple spends what little resources and money they have to find the other a gift. The husband sold his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, the wife sold her hair to buy a chain for her husband’s watch — in the end, their efforts were pointless. Rick and Negan find one another half-way to finding the other; Carl’s maturation is being forced upon him, no matter how unwilling to do so he is — in the end, their efforts were pointless. They face off in the last splash panel — Charlie Adlard’s gritty black and white inking shines through and keeps us content that he and Robert Kirkman have made it through 100 issues together — and the issue closes. Negan’s final words: “I can’t fucking wait until you see what I’ve done to your little boy” — a reminder to us that Carl is still just a child.


Example of O. Henry’s cosmic irony in this case — with the motif that has guided the entire story thus far: Why search for rules for a world that does not require them? In the end your efforts are pointless.

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