When last we left our survivors, they had settled in -- if that's possible in post-apocalyptic America -- with a group of survivors in a walled compound just outside of Washington DC. Rick, Andrea, Glenn, Abraham, Michonne and the rest had just found places for themselves in The Community (what else are you going to call it), when a gang of baddies showed up. Rick Grimes, of course, led the fight against them, there was a lot of gunfire, and, in the end, the baddies left, and The Community's leader, recognizing the better man, turned over management of the place to Rick. The problem is, all that noise from the shootout attracted every walker from miles around. Good luck in the new job, Rick! (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Issue 79 has the feel of a breather in the narrative, although some attention is paid to the problem not so much of the walking dead but to people. When a Community member is stabbed by a loner on the outside -- even when an offer of help was no doubt in the making -- the question of the value of even sticking together in a community is raised. Eight-year-old Carl Grimes, clear-eyed and cynical, responds to the news of the the stabbing in his typically blunt manner: "Now maybe everyone will stop pretending we're safe." Andrea, too, for all she's been through, is distrustful of the possibility of a normal life, and prefers the edgy solitude of her sniper tower and the company of her rifle, keeping the Community safe from on high. It's clear that the roamer who's been attracted by all the noise are becoming a herd of thousands of zombies outside the walls, and that, in the end, no wall will likely keep the survivors safe for long.
The "No Way Out" storyline begins in Issue 80, with a bit of a misdirection -- first in a reminder of the stark zombie-killing force of Abraham, and second in the reasonable and comforting leadership of old One Hand, Rick Grimes. "Keep as quiet as possible," Rick advises. But the Community walls are quickly surrounded several zombies deep on all sides. It's winter, so there's no easy way to grow food and no chance to to forage. Rick admits that it's not ideal, and further suggests that, to conserve heating energy, people should start sharing living space. All of this unfolds amid pages that are surprisingly white, made so by the effect of snow created solely by irregular white blobs that spatter each panel. By nightfall, Michonne and Morgan are in bed together, and -- surprise -- Rick is hosting Jesse, the wife of the man he just killed. Andrea, having taken her post in the sniper tower at the start of the day, looks to be there overnight and through the foreseeable future.
Before you know it, there's a breach in the wall -- small at first, but the weight of a thousand undead can move things, you know. At the same time, Glenn decides to lead a mission to help out Andrea, stranded in her tower, by climbing across a rope suspended over a sea of walkers -- see the image at right. Issue 81 offers some more familiar zombie-killing fare and narrow escapes (or not), but it's clear that the herd outside must be dealt with directly in issues to come. As a side note, WD 81 was one of the first comics I read in digital form, and the application for doing so requires you read panel-to-panel, not page-to-page; it seemed to me that the dramatic impact of certain moments was enhanced by the digital format, while the visual sweep was lessened --despite the ability to zoom in or pan any of the images. At any rate, by the final panel, members of the Community are being eaten. There maybe no way out, after all.
Much of Issue 82 takes place inside Rick's house as the Community is overrun. "There's too many of them" is a line repeated by several characters as they battle the walkers. Michonne is in fine form here, unleashing her samurai sword on the herd in defense of Morgan, who gets himself bitten. (No worries, Morgan: your lady-friend Michonne will lop that arm off with your hardly having to ask.) One particularly effective image is that of Abraham, looking out from his house while, reflected in the glass, we see the very procession of zombies he's observing. Young Carl has got his hat on and his gun loaded, and is watching Morgan, now bandaged up and (possibly) heading for zombiedom. Carl will shoot him if necessary. With the Community now overrun, there is the question of what to do next, as cooperation will likely go out the window and survival takes precedence. Take care of yourself and your own. When asked about what is to be done about the children, Rick puts it unsentimentally: "The thing to keep in mind about other's people's children -- they're not our children."
In the annals of "making a break for it," Issue 83 offers a clear instance of failure, giving full meaning to the title of the story line "No Way Out." Rick and Carl and their latest charges grab a zombie and pull the old guts-on-a-poncho trick. But, once outside, people are too freaked out to keep quiet and keep moving, and several folks are eaten before Abraham comes outside and starts shooting. Many zombies are killed, and other survivors join the carnage, and it appears that, if the gang just keeps blasting and chopping and bashing away, they might just put down the couple thousand zombies in the herd after all. Sadly, Carl is shot -- not fatally, it appears -- but badly enough. One of the most gruesome panels in the entire run of The Walking Dead is that of Carl, wounded, turning to his father.
In a moving sequence, the epic battle of the survivors against the herd really comes down to a simple narrative imperative. If Rick can get Carl to the doctor and he and the others can destroy the herd, Carl might live. Michonne joins the fight, as do Glenn and Andrea (having gotten themselves back into the compound), and the dead pile up. As they fight continues, they come to realize that they can win. By the end, in one remarkable panel, we see the core group amid a pile of hundreds of downed walkers. As "No Way Out" concludes, in a very touching epilogue of sorts, Rick comes to realize that "people are the problem," and that the walkers can be dealt with if the proper steps are taken. And Carl is hanging on, hope against hope. People are the problem. Again and again, in the world of The Walking Dead, the problems of the zombie apocalypse have more to do with human nature than the narrow imperatives of the undead.