Back in 2003 when the first volume of “The Walking Dead” released, writer Robert Kirkman lamented the brevity of zombie stories. Kirkman’s dissatisfaction with zombie media stemmed from his desire to see what happened after the credits rolled. His goal, back in that first volume, was to write a zombie movie that never ended. After 16 years, Kirkman’s endless story has finally reached its conclusion.
After the shocking death closing out “The Rotten Core,” Kirkman deliberately teased a conflict in the vein of “All Out War” that had characterized the series for the past nine years, since 2010’s “Fear the Hunters.” Kirkman never planned to deliver on this conflict, though. Instead, Kirkman opted for a different kind of climax, bringing the series’ complicated relationship with human nature to an emotional crescendo.
True to its name, “Rest in Peace” is a slower, more melancholic book than the series has had in years. While there’s certainly plenty of action to close out the series, the extra 80 pages this volume has to work with allows it to be more reflective and contemplative than previous books, which is fitting for the type of ending Kirkman is going for. However, despite this more languid pace, there are still a lot of surprises packed into the ending.
Ending a series like “The Walking Dead” was never going to be easy. While it’s by no means perfect, “Rest in Peace” admirably straddles the line between being a satisfying conclusion to a long running series and living up to what gives “The Walking Dead” its identity: surprising twists and gut-wrenching sudden death.
The creators were so dedicated to making the conclusion as surprising as possible that they went to the trouble of creating fake covers and advertisements for future issues they never had any intention of making, so even the fact of its conclusion would remain a surprise for as long as possible. While it’s debatable whether or not that was a good choice for readers, it speaks to Kirkman’s sensibilities as a writer and the level of trust he’s earned from the other creatives who worked with him.
Although artists don’t get as much attention as they deserve in comic book industry, it’s worth noting how much of an impact Charlie Adlard had on “The Walking Dead.” Adlard took over as artist from the second volume and has drawn it continuously ever since. Adlard has done an excellent job of giving “The Walking Dead” a visual flair that still comes across as grounded enough to sell the series’ dramatic moments, something far too many indie comics fail to do.
Adlard rises far above the dizzying heights of the comic-book standard “not horrible” illustrations, though. Many of the series most iconic moments simply wouldn’t work without Adlard’s mostly-realistic-but-vaguely-cartoony art. Adlard brings Kirkman’s setting and characters to life in a way that feels real even though, and maybe because, it looks a little goofy every now and then.
At the end of it all, “The Walking Dead” is the household name it is for a reason. While it owes some of its commercial success to the TV adaptation, it’s a complicated, nuanced, and genuinely heartfelt tour de force.