Alright, four columns into the reread at this stage. Still enjoying it, still remembering fond memories as this volume was read a few times back in the day, and so now a decade later I have new thoughts as I trundle through it all.
THE WALKING DEAD VOL. 4 – THE HEART’S DESIRE
We open on Michonne. A character who certainly grows into a favourite of mine, so it’s interesting to look at her silent Yojimbo introduction. They’re definitely looking to set a mood as she strolls casually amongst the zombies, with her own two armless captives chained to her, and easily slices another zombie’s head off. For an openly overly-talkative comic, this is something new, something different.
We then cut back to the main event: Dexter was telling everyone to get out. Luckily, a zombie horde stumbles into the scene, setting off chaos, and the people all band together to survive. Rick even shoots a zombie to save Dexter’s life, and he stupidly responds by telling Rick it was not a smart move and it doesn’t change anything. It’s an explicit way to both telegraph and excuse what comes next, and while it helps with clarity, I think it might have been stronger to leave Rick in doubt as to what Dexter would have done next before taking his brutal choice of survival for this volume.
Rick shoots Dexter in the head during the heated battle, playing it off like a stray bullet, despite Tyreese having seen it go down.
Would it have made Rick seem even more deranged, or evil, or something if he just took the advantage without Dexter blatantly telling him he should have…yeah…but Rick isn’t the hero of this story. He’s the protagonist, and there’s a difference.
But I get why it’s handled the way it is.
The fight subsides, things go back to normal, the group lets Michonne in, and it all gets to take a breath. Rick shows some remorse, and realises he’s a hypocrite, but that doesn’t mean anything’s necessarily going to change.
The next issue opens with a 5 page sequence of zombie disposal at the fenceline, and it’s interesting enough, but way more interesting to note that’s nearly a quarter of that month’s issue put to task on housekeeping. It also speaks to Glenn’s character, which helps, but it started me realising that Glenn doesn’t really do much anymore. He was integral at the start, he was the runner, the guy on the frontlines, Lately, he’s just moseying around, and coseying around with Maggie, and it’s an indication of the book in general: it’s less high stakes lives, and more regular stakes lives in a high stakes world. I think this is partly what set it apart from other zombie fiction, it settled in for the long haul, it slowed down, and went where the characters would emotionally go for a time, before ramping up the external threats again.
It makes me think of THE STAND and the section on body removal in Boulder, Colorado. All stuff to consider when at the end of the world.
Coming at this book a decade and a half after I originally started it means I’m coming at it with a stronger feminist lens. I’m interested to see if I notice growth, because so far I’ve lamented the relegated positions of the women in this comic, and seeing Andrea here sewing new clothes out of prison garb just continues the trend. Following it up instantly with Lori being pregnant and emotional, and then Patricia sitting in emotional despair and being chewed out by Otis isn’t helping it all.
Now, granted, Otis is being a massive dick, so that’s not a great portrayal either, and it plays into its own stereotype of toxic masculinity at play – and last issue we dropped a C-bomb, this one drops the N-word, and I didn’t remember either being in the books vernacular. So Kirkman doesn’t mind making all kinds of people, and genders, look weaker, but it just seems to stand out more that every woman in the crew is fairly similar, and played out in a similar way. Michonne is the one to break that mold.
The next scene is Tyreese getting cosy with Carol before being interrupted by Michonne, and a loose love triangle forms as Tyreese instantly kind of falls for Michonne’s charms because she knew of his sports career – flattery is a set of blinkers for the male ego. So, again, here Tyreese isn’t exactly a male role model either, but he is positioned between Michonne and Carol who seem cast in the Madonna-Whore roles around him. It’s good drama, but lazy gender roles.
Around this point you start to see the embedded nature of this book as one big soap opera. We jump to Maggie and Glenn reaffirming their relationship, and Dale and Andrea deciding to stick around a while longer. It’s all little life decisions, set amidst a zombie apocalypse.
Contrast this to 18 straight pages of dudes being dudes in the Z-days as we see farming banter before a bunch of fellas decide to set off with weapons to clear out some zombies. Most of this sequence is Allen as the A-plot as he’s finally surfacing from his funk and wanting to help, but being decidedly unhelpful as he completely fucks the clearance up, spooks himself, and then gets himself bit. Rick is the B-plot as he charges into action to save Allen’s life by amputating his leg, in a sequence that’s fairly brutal and grounded.
18 pages, whereas the montage of women before it usually got one page each – Patricia, Lori, Andrea, Maggie, and Carol and Michonne. All 1 page scenes, and then nearly a full issue just to watch Allen kick an own goal, and I gotta be honest, I don’t really care about Allen at all. I feel bad saying that, the dude’s in a bad way, but I just don’t care. Rick charges to action, Herschel shows off his brains, and elsewhere for a single page Lori and Carol talk about needlework, scrapbooking, and quilting, and that’s no joke or hyperbole. I’d rather explore Lori and what it’s like to be a mother to one, and pregnant with another, in the zombie days, but she gets barely any panels, and Allen basically gets his own issue in which to die. It’s a touch topsy turvy.
Rick goes to Lori, and he seems a little shaken by it, but he’s there to ask Lori to check in on Allen. Rick is fine to be the point man when it comes to lopping a brother’s leg off with an axe – and don’t even get me started on the sterility/hygiene issues of killing zombies with an axe and then busting your mate’s leg off with it moments later – but when it comes to some emotional support he throws his pregnant wife at the problem. And when we cut to Allen, there are some men standing around, but it’s Andrea down holding his hands.
I’m assuming in the coming zombie apocalypse that 2020 is no doubt waiting to roll out as a fitting finale, men won’t be allowed to express emotions then either. I don’t want to sound like a hater on this comic – I think the premise, the execution, the art, the pacing, it’s all top shelf. I enjoy reading this book, and will continue to, but seeing the male/female engagement with this whole Allen thing just bums me out a little, I won’t lie.
Time to cut to Tyreese in the gym with Michonne. Oh, cool, she’s blowing him with little build up or fanfare, and then Carol witnesses it and doesn’t do a thing. The love triangle gets sharp and dangerous, and the one guy is just a witless fool stuck between the silent seductress and the even more silent “housewife” he’s completely destroying. He’s got no agency in this, apparently [though many will tell you, deciding to not make a choice, is you making a choice], and it could be an interesting power interplay between Michonne and Tyreese, were it not for me already seeing so many lazy female characters on display and this then compounding on it.
Thank goodness we cut to Maggie and Glenn, as they’ve snuck off to have young sex all day. At least their relationship feels equal, and maybe Maggie has more power than Glenn. He’s fairly stable and genuine, and she’s a little more emotionally mobile and yet has most of the deciding power in their movement forward. This is the best written relationship of the book, and that’s probably why it resonated with readers.
There’s an unnerving sequence of Michonne talking to herself, or someone else who isn’t there, and when called out on it completely lies about it. Or worse, maybe isn’t aware of what she’s doing. This is followed by Carol and Tyreese in bed in a truly heart-wrenching scene where you can see Carol going through the motions of trying to resolve her feelings after what she saw, wishing she didn’t have those feelings, and then steering into the skid of those feelings, all in 2 pages. It’s a really great scene, packed full of emotion and the kind of fragility that feels real. It feels like proof Kirkman can handle this stuff sometimes.
The comic wanders through some small set pieces – farming, babysitting, medical visits – and it sounds silly and pointless, but it’s all really good “small world building.” And it serves to slow us down as a reader, to invest into the new lives of the people, so we can understand, maybe build context and connections, before it’ll be torn apart again soon [we can assume].
There’s a fantastic conversation between Lori and Michonne where Lori realises those old conversation starters from the past – You work? How many kids? Where you from? – don’t work anymore, and in fact they usually just drag up bitter memories. It’s a visceral reminder that these characters are stuck in the present, which is why they’re so invested in the relationships they build here, it’s all they have, and all they can stomach.
Carol gets a bit of a bum steer in character development as she commits suicide. And does it in front of her daughter, no less, which is a horrifying thing for the kid to see, but a truly terrifying thing to consider a mother doing. It paints a new pit for Carol to exist in as it’s a much stronger action for her to have taken. I’m reluctant to label mental health issues as weakness, and the male cast get their share of them over time, but Carol hasn’t been given much else to do except be a cliche housewife lost in the apocalypse, be someone’s girlfriend, and someone’s ex, and someone’s mother. She isn’t a fighter, or a protector, or a leader. So dumping the emotional baggage on her, without any of the extra loaded responsibility tells us a bit more than we want to hear. It takes all of this leadership and problems and decisions for Rick to snap, but all Carol needs is to be present, and to feel knocked back by a man, and she’s ready to end it all.
The suicide attempt is even worse on reflection as I can see it’s merely a spark to set off a 23 page powderkeg of a sequence between Rick and Tyreese. They don’t check on Carol, I assume Rick’s left a woman to deal with such things, and instead they get into an argument that develops into a fist fight that develops into the airing of many bottled grievances. The fight is worthy of ‘The Quiet Man’ in how it drags out and moves around, and the resulting pouring forth of vitriol and previous secrets is great for the drama playing out alongside this bloodshed. It’s a big moment for the group, and in showing that it proves how little of a moment Carol and her problems [and solutions] are to everyone/everything. Which is a shame.
Rick is badly damaged from the fight, and he blacks out, but thankfully he can wake up to the exceptionally wide eyes of Carol, still alive, and now throwing herself at Rick. It’s a sad swerve for her character, in a series of decisions that make her look like a car scrambling not to fall off the cliff at every single moment.
Rick is informed he’s no longer the leader, they’re going to share that role between many dudes instead. In story, they address why no women are included – they even mention it twice, but just saying that no women wanted to step up doesn’t excuse why the writer didn’t want any women to step up. It’s clear he didn’t write many women that were built to be able to, many of them timid, happy to do the washing up, and the few who should were either pregnant [Lori] or so new to the group they weren’t in the right place to offer [Michonne].
I’ll say it again, I’m not setting out to harp on this book, but it’s fascinating how much you see the issues when you have your mindset open to seeing them.
Rick then gets about half an issue to talk to the group, clearing his head out loud, and then declaring that they are the walking dead. It’s a good moment, I still remember having read it the first time. It’s a good beat to end the trade on, and I believe it also ends the second HC, and the first omnibus.
This volume is good, it’s all little fights, no big bads, no major zombie outbreaks. The humans are finally slow and steady enough to reveal that they’re their own worst enemy nearly all of the time. I’m certainly keen to keep reading, and I’m very interested to note all of this gender work here just to be able to track if/when things improve in later volumes. Will the book grow? Only time will tell.
This post originally appeared on my Patreon – enjoy.