“The continuing story of survival horror” referred to on the cover to the volume does a good job of summarising precisely what it is the covers conceal between them – the story of a group of survivors who are fighting against the odds for their lives in a post-apocalyptic world which has been overrun by zombies. (If you opt for the hardcover volume, as opposed to the trade paperbacks, you get the first two volume trade paperbacks within the one hardcover format, here.)
The story concentrates predominantly upon Rick Grimes, a cop in a former life, his wife, Lori, their son, Carl and the people whom the family have found themselves surrounded by during the course of their journey to date as they travel around America, seeking to stay alive and fight off the ever present danger to which they are forced to remain alert.
We begin with Rick’s wakening from a coma in hospital, surrounded by the undead, travelling rapidly to Atlanta and beyond, as he searches for his family in amongst the chaos, confusion and walking dead or “walkers” as they subsequently become known.
Pushed to the limits as they are by the circumstances within which the group and the others they encounter along the way are, the graphic novel series is a study in human psychology and the lengths to which individuals are willing (or otherwise) to go to survive. Unsurprisingly, the necessity for unceasing vigilance drives some to lengths to which they had not possibly considered they were be willing to go. There are those who do not survive, whether as a direct result of zombie attack or otherwise. Similarly, characters are shown to clash over decisions and judgment calls – frequently. Given the pressure they remain under at every stage, this is scarcely surprising. No one individual is perfect or remains infallible in the face of danger; particularly given the high stakes. In this kind of scenario there are no genuinely easy answers. One wrong decision results in loss of life - possibly the decision-maker’s own. Small wonder there is a tendency towards aggression once the immediate zombie-related threat has passed.
The lack of certainty as to who will stay safe from one day to the next feels real and adds to the sense of threat under which the group travel. Similarly, the geographic boundaries of the narrative switch rapidly, with the group changing location a number of times, given winding down too much could result in their premature death. No one resting place remains secure for long, with the nomadic group forced to relocate, their RV being the only constant within the equation. This keeps both characters and reader on their toes, as we are unsure from which direction the next threat to their existence may come. In some instances, this stems from the individuals they encounter. In others, the threat is more mundane; such as a lack of fuel for transportation, leaving them momentarily stranded. Again, this builds upon the overall concept of survival horror. Practicalities are a necessary evil; even in a world overrun by the undead. Food is just as essential as shelter and Kirkman ensures we are aware of this along the way.
Further, the constant shadow of death is seen to have an impact in each instance on those who are left behind. We see those who struggle to reconcile themselves with the fact that friends and family have passed beyond their aid and seeking to maintain compassion for those who have succumbed along the way, as well as the longer term effects of coming to terms with loss. Whilst the narrative is violent and pulls no punches in terms of the manner in which the characters are dispatched, it never feels gratuitous.
Ultimately, this is a gripping and pacey character driven tale of humanity, rendered beautifully in black and white (or grey) throughout. The narrative zips past, leaving the reader wholly committed to following the future turmoil surrounding the group by its conclusion. As you may have gathered, I will be back for more.