Playing the Mind Guerilla: “The Walking Dead” #156 (Review)
Story by: Robert Kirkman
Art and Lettering by: Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn
*SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW
As the cover suggests, this issue is all about Alpha and Negan: the queen and king. Kirkman keeps the spotlight on their story throughout, which is a nice change of pace. He portrays an issue-long montage of Negan proving himself to Alpha and the Whisperers. As expected, Kirkman takes us through some twists and turns while we take one step closer to the Whisper War.
Negan demonstrates that he can be a valuable asset—shooting a wild pig, taking down two walkers alone, surviving on his own. However, while Negan shows his strengths, Alpha unfortunately shows her weaknesses and lowers her defenses. Instead of pushing away her number two, Beta, she should’ve listened to him. His instincts were correct to not trust Negan. As Negan tells Alpha, “I don’t feel anymore. I don’t feel sad. I don’t feel scared. I don’t feel happy. I’m just here. That’s my strength. That’s why I’m alive. . . . I can’t feel things no matter how hard I try.” Spoken like a true sociopath moments before he beheads her. Negan expertly played Alpha, and preyed on her weaknesses from the moment he met her. He knew that she was just pretending to be emotionless; it was all a façade to survive.
Kirkman keeps us on our toes when it comes to Negan. Is it surprising that Negan killed Alpha? No. (However, it is disappointing.) Is it surprising he was able to manipulate her? Of course not. It is surprising, however, that Negan decapitated Alpha for Rick. As he says to Alpha’s severed head, “Wait until Rick gets a look at you.” What’s Negan’s end goal? Obviously Negan cannot be trusted. Will Rick suffer the same fate as Alpha, allowing Negan to put the wheels in motion until he gets the perfect chance to kill him? It’s possible. It’s unlikely that Negan has a renewed respect for Rick. He just wants to dominate Rick, like all the rest. “It’s all a game, Alpha. And you’re not fucking winning.” But Negan is, and everyone else playing is a pawn.
Having a Negan-centric issue can never disappoint, but Alpha’s badassery was too short lived. As usual, we get some great Negan one-liners, and his cocky attitude shines, throughout. Is it getting old, though? His character deserves to evolve, even a bit. And as readers, we deserve to see that. Is he being truthful when he says he lost someone before the apocalypse happened? If so, Kirkman should develop that story even more and allow him to be truly vulnerable. Alpha was a dynamic and complex character that the story could’ve benefited from. Instead, I feel cheated—what was the point to the Whisperers at all? After Alpha’s death, it all feels like filler. Beta will seek revenge on Negan and likely become the new Alpha. Perhaps that was Negan’s plan all along—pitting the two groups against each other while he sits back watching the show. That does sound like Negan.
Adlard’s art is monotonous, as it revolves around Negan, Alpha, and the Whisperers, but he subtlety shows Alpha’s emotions throughout, until she can’t hold them in any longer. She displays a plethora of emotions—anger, sadness, calm—that Negan skillfully picks up on. The cover—with Negan embracing Alpha—and issue title—“Queen and King”—are meant to throw off the readers. I doubt any of us were truly deceived; it was all a bit expected. It would’ve been great for Alpha to give Negan a good challenge; it was too easy for him. But he is a master manipulator.
Once again, Kirkman moves the story forward toward the Whisperer War in issue 157. I would’ve liked to see more of Alpha, and it would’ve been a change of pace if Negan hadn’t manipulated her so easily. I enjoyed the issue focusing on one storyline, and I’ll be interested to see where it goes next with Beta out for justice.