The existence of the Commonwealth has been teased for a good long while and the series took its first steps towards making personal contact with it in the previous volume. While the Commonwealth’s security forces may have greeted the welcoming party led by Michonne and Eugene at gunpoint, longtime readers will know that doesn’t automatically mean that they’re evil. You have to take precautions in a world infested by zombies after all. Instead, creators Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard save the real horrors for when everyone makes it inside the Commonwealth’s boundaries. There we see the true horror of their existence as evidenced by things like bureaucracy, a class system, and how their governor’s son is a real dick. That’s right, “New World Order” finds “The Walking Dead” leaning fully into the part of its agenda that deals with the rebuilding of society and it’s exactly as entertaining as it sounds.
For me at least, that means this is a very entertaining volume. Kirkman has described this series as “The Zombie Movie Which Never Ends” and while the undead walkers will always be a part of it, surviving them hasn’t been the driving force of the narrative for a good long while. No, “The Walking Dead” has always had an eye on how civilization is going to rebuild itself in the wake of its total collapse. It wasn’t until Rick and company found a permanent base of operations in Alexandrea that the series was really able to start making some headway in that.
From making the settlement fully self-sufficient to establishing relations with Hilltop and the Kingdom in order to first fight of Negan and then set up trade between them, civilization has been slowly crawling its way back into this series. While there are always going to be threats to the new way of life that’s been established, it seems unlikely that a new zombie outbreak is going to bring it all crashing down now that people know what to look out for. If anything is going to ruin everything that these communities have built for themselves it’ll be the title’s most consistently effective boogeyman: other people.
Kirkman knows this and plays the actions of the Commonwealth’s leadership both to and against our expectations quite well here. It starts with the questioning of Michonne and Eugene’s group at gunpoint by one of their representatives. While this sounds threatening enough he makes it clear that this is simply a precaution, that it’s the last thing he wants to do, and eventually does take them back with no tricks or surprises. When we finally get to see the Commonwealth itself, we learn that it not only has a large outdoor market, but a stadium that’s used for actual concerts and sporting events. There are also some classicist overtones that could sound threatening, but no outright oppression. In fact, while Michonne’s meeting with Pamela Milton, Commonwealth’s Governor, initially starts out as all business the latter quickly turns sympathetic when she hears about the former’s personal request.
I want to digress a moment here to address something that Michonne finds out upon arrival at the Commonwealth since it’s clearly a major development for her character. Don’t expect me to spoil it, but it’s the kind of unlikely development that actually feels like it’d be possible within a community of this size. The fact that I had almost forgotten about this aspect of her character made it that much more surprising and effective as well with the fallout from it helping to inform the main story and show us a new side to Michonne’s character as well.
The thing about the Commonwealth is that while it’s clearly a thriving settlement with a generally happy populace -- they even have ice cream -- the stuff that could be read as sinister on first impression also comes off as the usual pitfalls of society. Are its people being forced into a system of haves and have-nots or is a class system an inevitability once a community gets large enough? It’s clear we’re not dealing with some kind of villainous plot here. We’re long past the days where settlements were being run by outright madmen like the Governor or charismatic villains like Negan. Pamela may have some rudeness and condescension to her manner, but she’s turned the Commonwealth into the largest bastion of civilization we’ve seen in the series to date. It’s quite possible that she does have the right idea here.
Naturally that leads to some tension when she finally meets Rick at the end of the volume and we get a final page that gives the volume its name. Though it’s clear they’ve got their own ways of doing things, there’s no outright antagonism between them. Just the friction between two people who have been doing things their way for a good long while with a certain amount of success to show for it. The real questions we’re left with are whether or not each side will respect the other’s boundaries or if there’s going to be some misunderstanding that’ll set off a larger conflict.
Were I a betting man, I’d say that would involve something bad happening to Pamela on her way home leaving her dead and a vacuum of power in the Commonwealth. Or her son Sebastian does something dumb and mean and sets off a war between the settlements. Of everything that’s meant to raise suspicions about the Commonwealth, it’s the scenes involving Sebastian that are the most obvious. He’s a bad kid and it’s clear that either intentionally or unwittingly he’ll be the instigator of the title’s next big conflict.
Which I can see a lot of people hoping for at this point. While I love all of this talk about the difficulty in rebuilding society, action and drama are in short supply here. Kirkman and Adlard are clearly laying the groundwork for the series’ current direction and that means we won’t start seeing any real conflicts emerge until the next volume. It’s also a volume that’s almost entirely made up of characters having reasonable, if occasionally tense, conversations with each other. So if you feel your patience being tried by all this, I can understand that.
I still found this to be the best kind of setup for a long-running title like “The Walking Dead.” It’s full of interesting ideas that expand the world of the series along with one development that shows an audience can be surprised when you give a character something rather than take it away from them. It may be a quiet time for Rick and everyone in these communities, but it’s not a dull one to read about as far as I’m concerned.