The Walking Dead issue #193 might sound like an arbitrary comic book issue number.
And that would be true.
But what’s also true is that The Walking Dead, the comic book series that gave rise to the highly successful AMC television series, renewed interest in zombies, and opened every pop culture door for the title’s creators, was, in a very real sense, an arbitrary series. Not in terms of characters or story or relevance in the art form it participated, it must be stated, but in an arbitrary telling of life – or lives – lived through time.
And perhaps that was The Walking Dead’s greatest strength, its greatest merit.
The Walking Dead, a monthly comic book series about the dead come back to life and those repercussions on people and society, arbitrarily ambled month to month, year to year, decade to decade, just like the lives of the title’s real-life readers.
Writer and creator, Robert Kirkman and long-time illustrator Charlie Adlard, told a monthly serial that shuffled, like its zombie namesakes, through twists and turns and story meanderings and character deaths and character births, through each chapter, through each issue, every month for over fifteen years, with readers hooked on every fork in the road leading to unknowable destinations.
Isn’t that just like life?
Enigmatic. Inexplicable. Arbitrary.
And utterly brilliant.
Life may be arbitrary, but not so in the fictional telling of The Walking Dead story, mind you.
No, for Kirkman and Adlard, story and character was something that was well thought out, chapter by chapter and arc by arc over the years. Kirkman has gone on record as saying that he always knew that his main character, Rick Grimes, the man around whom the whole apocalyptic story revolved, was going to die. For a series that saw death (and the undead!) as a major recurring theme, readers perhaps forgot that death itself can be arbitrary in real life. And The Walking Dead definitely fashioned itself off of real life.
In comic books, the main characters live forever. It’s part of the pact that readers take with a title. But in last month’s issue, Rick Grimes died.
The Walking Dead, minus its central hero, would shamble on, right? The last fifteen years had taught us that death was just another turn on the road. The story of survival and world building would continue.
But The Walking Dead remains arbitrary in that readers, like their real-life selves (away from a comic book shop or a television screen), never really knew (or know) what could come next.
With Rick dead, readers were shocked and saddened. Some were left in disbelief.
Here was the brilliance of the series: The Walking Dead, as in life, was a place where love could flourish or burn out. A stranger could become a friend or a foe or remain a brief passerby, unnamed and unknowable. Death could come quickly, or slowly, or not at all. Characters could succumb to an illness or rally and live on. On some days, as in some issues, nothing at all very interesting might happen.
The Walking Dead echoed real life. And it all seemed quite chaotic in that sense. With the series ending with the release of today’s issue #193, it remains no less arbitrary, no less compelling, than issues #1 through #192.
At over 80-pages, square-bound, and carrying a regular price cost of $3.99, the final issue of The Walking Dead is a celebration of life and the comic book industry. It’s the series that turned Image Comics into the preferred publishing choice for risk-taking creators. It spawned a hugely successful television series and a spin-off series, lasting nine and five years, respectively, so far. There have been books, video games, web animation, and ancillary pop culture artefacts produced based on the property. I’ve got a Walking Dead lamp somewhere in the crawl space just waiting for October…and slightly older, less fearful, children. There are softcover, hardcover and omnibus compilations of the series and a litany of industry articles written about all of it. There’s been The Walking Dead wine, too. It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon. And I’ve got a bottle.
The Walking Dead, like the zombies, could go on and on, with Kirkman and Adlard telling stories or non-stories, a daily soap opera, for more years, more decades, always featuring more characters and more turns on a never-ending read to, perhaps, nowhere.
It’s up to each of us to interpret it as something definable, something that makes sense. And there are lots to take away from 193 brilliant monthly issues of The Walking Dead.
Shamble your way to the local comic book store and pick up the celebratory last issue of The Walking Dead – issue #193. As a final story, it’s life-affirming in many, many ways, and it’s the main reason why we all read, or still read, comic books: they’re like life.
Time to pop that bottle of red and pour a glass. Now is as arbitrary time as any for a drink. Here’s to all the dead!