We got a lot of little indications in the previous volume that things were not so great in the Commonwealth. What made them interesting, however, was that it wasn’t clear whether or not they were indications that the largest community we’ve seen in the series yet was actually a dystopia or just a lot closer to our world than we’d like to think. Robert Kirkman really wants us to believe that it’s the latter and I’m inclined to believe him. The main problem with this volume is how he writes the one person who really disagrees with this sentiment: Dwight.
Negan’s former subordinate has generally been an asset to Rick’s cause. From the time he sold out his former leader, to leading Alexandria’s militia, it’s safe to say that things wouldn’t be going as well as they are if not for Dwight. Granted, he’s had problems with Rick -- mainly stemming from that accidentally fatal encounter with Dwight’s Savior ex-girlfriend -- but they’ve managed to work through things. At the beginning of this volume they’re mostly on friendly terms again.
The problem is that Dwight sees the issues with the Commonwealth and immediately identifies them as something that can be solved by force. He wants to overthrow Governor Pamela and have Rick step up to be the new governor. Rick, to his credit, sees this as an incredibly dumb move due to how many people are likely to die in such a conflict and the fact that it’s not certain that they’ll win. While Dwight has backed down in the past after his leader has told him to do so, he’s not willing in this case in light of recent events.
It’s the nature of these recent events that lead me to think that Kirkman intends for the Commonwealth to be a reflection of our own world. After a domestic dispute between a citizen and a guard turns into a beating involving a few of the latter on the former, tensions start to flare up. This leads to a full-on riot welcoming Rick, Pamela, and the rest of their respective groups back to the Commonwealth. The riot also sees Michonne injured as well, making her first job as a lawyer here that much more difficult. What’s her job? Defending the guards involved in the beating.
This doesn’t lead to a lot of angst on Michonne’s part as she knows where here convictions lie and she’s not about to deviate from them. Where things get murky is that she also believes that things aren’t all great in the Commonwealth either. The difference between her and Dwight is that she believes that what they’ve got here is still so much better than what the rest of the world has that it’s worth hanging on to. Hanging on to while also working to change things for the better.
It all reads like Kirkman is trying to say that the courage and grit of these characters who have been through so much is what’s needed to change our world for the better. I’m all for that sentiment! For all his flaws Rick knows how to lead people towards bigger and better things while also being able to hold tight when things get bad. Fortunately Kirkman isn’t naive enough to believe that there aren’t flaws with trying to change the Commonwealth. Doing it without resorting to force means engaging with their political and social machine and that’s where things get really sticky for Rick, Michonne, and Dwight.
Like the last few volumes the ideas of this one have been enough to make up for the lack of high-stakes drama. Where this volume falters is in how unhinged it makes Dwight in order to get some of that drama going. The character is his usual agreeable if a bit grumpy self for the first two thirds of the book. Then he gets it in his head that force is needed to fix the Commonwealth and he spends the rest of the volume trying to convince Rick of this and engaging in some civil disobedience to help force the point. It all comes to a head when he, Rick, and Michonne sit down to talk things out towards the end. Unfortunately Michonne didn’t mention that she had also invited Pamela to this discussion session as well.
What happens next only makes sense if you buy into Dwight’s current mindset as a believable development of his character. Which I don’t. It feels like Dwight’s actions here in this volume were dictated so that we’d get to this specific point. Making matters worse is how Rick holds Michonne responsible for what happens. Maybe Rick was feeling the heat of the moment and he’ll see things differently after he’s had time to calm down. As it stands right now the wedge in their relationship feels like it comes from manufactured drama rather than from their established characterizations. After how much they’ve been through together you’d think Rick would give Michonne more consideration than this.
While there’s a lot of interesting thematic stuff going on in this volume, it’s let down in the end in what feels like an effort to bring some actual drama back into the series. I’m all for drama in “The Walking Dead,” it’s just that I prefer it to come from a reasonable source like a genuine conflict between ideologies or an incoming threat from people who wear zombie skins. The excitement at the end feels manufactured in a way that’s out of character for the series. It may lead somewhere interesting in the next volume, but for right now it’s more of an irritation than anything else.