It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed one of the trades of The Walking Dead graphic novels, but it’s actually only been a little over a week. Since my last review, I’ve had the chance to watch one more episode of the television show as well as finish Season 8 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. The last The Walking Dead trade paperback that I read, Safety Behind Bars, was easily the high water mark for the franchise for me, whether it was in comic or television form. It’s led me to have perhaps unrealistically high expectations for the rest of the series and volume 4, The Heart’s Desire, didn’t quite live up to everything I had hoped for last time. However, it was still excellent storytelling and it ended with two final issues that were just mind-blowing in the tension they created as well as in how dark and cynical the series has decided it’s going to be. It also introduced one character whose entire reason for being may possibly be to be the world’s biggest post-apocalyptic bad-ass.

The last collection ended with two of the prisoners, Dexter and Andrew, pulling guns on the remaining survivors and demanding that they leave the prison. This collection begins with a mysterious black woman in a field dragging two zombies behind her on chains while she is armed with a sword. After decapitating some zombies, she runs into Otis (who is apparently still alive) who is on his way to the prison. It turns out that when Dexter and Andrew stole the guns from the armory, they released a whole swarm of zombies hiding in that particular wing of the prison. After fighting off this wave of zombies, Rick shoots Dexter during the fight so that Dexter can’t kick them out of the prison (and Andrew runs away when the battle is over). While the fight inside the prison grounds was being waged, the mysterious black woman, Michonne, was mowing down an army of zombies that had amassed in front of the prison with nothing more than her sword.

After the dust cleared, the collection slowed down as the interpersonal drama and conflict between the survivors took center-fold although the zombies got one last kick in by biting Allen as they were clearing out the library. Rick tried to amputate his foot to stave off the infection but Allen still dies (whether from blood loss or the bite is unclear). Michonne and Tyreese share a sexual encounter in the gym (which is noticed by Carol). After Carol kicks Tyreese out of their cell, Rick and Lori find that Carol has attempted to kill herself. After Rick also walks in on Tyreese and Michonne about to have sex, this leads to an epic physical fight between Rick and Tyreese over the direction of the group. Tyreese feels that Rick is slowly starting to lose his mind and is sacrificing his humanity to survive whereas Rick only feels that he is doing what he can to protect his wife, son, and all of the other survivors. After Rick and Tyreese battle themselves unconscious, Rick wakes up to find the group has voted to strip him of sole authority as “the leader” and they have now formed a four member committee: Rick, Tyreese, Hershel, and Dale. At the very end of the arc, Rick gives a long-winded speech about how everything he’s done has been for the group and that we have to give up our old ways and our old view of society and then declares that the survivors are in fact “the walking dead”.

Outside of the introduction of Michonne and the epic fight between Tyreese and Rick, there didn’t really seem as if there was much plot development in this collection. While there was certainly plenty of time devoted to Rick’s continuing descent into possible madness and the continued degradation of his remaining humanity, that didn’t really get much attention until he and Tyreese came to blows. Similarly, it seemed oddly out of character for Tyreese to let Michonne blow him in the gym and then sleep with her again when he’s been in this relationship with Carol for so long. While I’m not sure Rick really needed to start a fight with an ex-NFL player the way he did or blame Tyreese for Carol’s suicide attempt, I can still understand why the general consensus among the remaining survivors would be that Tyreese pulled a real dick move there. Also, can we go ahead and kill Lori already? I swear she doesn’t contribute anything to the group except to be a ticking time bomb of problems and irritate Rick til he’s so on edge that he does the stupid shit he does in these issues.

Outside of the zombies themselves, if the series has a recurring villain, it’s this figure known as The Governor that we haven’t met in the series yet, but if the cover for next issue is any indicator (men in riot suits with riot shields) then we may be finally starting to see the presence of an organized group outside of our small band of survivors. The prison storyline has provided some interesting fodder to explore the psychology of our survivors, although I’m not sure if Robert Kirkman is a good enough writer to let that be all that happens (which is virtually the entirety of this arc). He combines the psychology with the horror amazingly well, but I’m not sure if he can do the former on its own. This series has been running for a long time, and it’s nearly gotten to the point where there are as many issues of this series as there were of Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I’m really curious to see just how much Robert Kirkman is able to milk out of hte zombie apocalypse scenario and if he is able to avoid making his story too circular and repetitive which definitely hasn’t happened yet.

Final Score: A-