I know I’m late to The Walking Dead party. This has been an ongoing series for what… 13 years now? And I’m just now reading it? What’s wrong with me? I really do not have a good excuse. Let’s put my tardiness on the shelf for now because issue 156 – titled Queen and King – was amazing, and I don’t want to distract from all the great points of the issue explaining why I’m just now binge reading the series.
The issue centers around the budding relationship between Alpha and Negan. Alpha, as the leader of the Whisperers is the current big bad in the series, and we all know Negan’s background. Kirkman does a great job of building tension in the story with every line of dialogue shared between the two antagonists. Negan’s constant smart-aleck approach to heavy situations is in direct contrast to the subdued, survivalist approach of Alpha and her group.
The bottom line to this relationship is that Negan’s personality shines as he tries to acclimate to the Whisperers animalistic, instinctual attitudes. The Whisperers also benefit from this continued development of Negan’s personality as it gives Kirkman a chance to highlight exactly how their power hierarchy is structured.
Introducing Negan into the Whisperers also allows Alpha to become a more complex character. Kirkman has presented her as a hardened, battle-tested leader who will commit an act of violence or depravity to keep her people alive. A lot like Negan, right? We’ve seen what Negan has done to stay alive, and we’ve had a few glimpses of Alpha in action (sending her daughter to live at the Hilltop and the epic final panel of issue 144). In this issue, through her interactions with her second in command, Beta, and Negan, Alpha shows a human side that has only been hinted at in previous issues. Kirkman’s exploration of the duality of Alpha’s and Negan’s psyche reminds us of Negan’s past, builds incredible tension, and foreshadows epic confrontations to come.
The artwork by Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn is as good as it ever. This team has proven time and again that minimalistic, black and white panels can provide just as much tension and emotion as Kirkman supplies within the dialogue. It constantly surprises me just how much emotion the artistic talent on this comic can convey. When Beta disapproves of Negan’s presence in the Whisperers society, it is Adlard’s art that shows Beta’s stoic disapproval. When Negan has to face the Walkers alone by Alpha’s decree, the dialogue provides charisma and complexity, but the art provides a mix of emotional responses that adds depth to the story.
There’s no Rick, Maggie, Carl or Michonne in this issue. It’s an issue of antagonists doing what they do best while surviving the zombie apocalypse. Kirkman knows exactly how to build tension and momentum in this issue of The Walking Dead and bring the story to a halt with exposition. Adlard, Gaudiano, and Rathburn know how to perfectly work in unison with Kirkman’s aspects to create a perfect well paced, tension filled masterpiece.