The Walking Lonely Hearts:

Looking at Relationships in The Walking Dead Compendium One

In the last few years, a massive trend that has infected the current pop culture is the Zombie Apocalypse. Movies, television, video games, and comic books all have contributed to the widespread interest in the flesh hungry man-eaters. Marvel even has a universe all about zombie super-heroes that eat the World-Eater Galactus and take the zombie disease into the universe. Seriously. Super-hero space zombies. The most popular series in both comics and television by far is The Walking Dead. It has only recently hit the forefront of mainstream pop culture as the television series is just now in the middle of its third season but it was 2003 when writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore banded together to create the comic book series The Walking Dead. There are various themes and ideas that can be examined in this series ranging from survival-of-the-fittest to human nature and even to which weapon is best to kill zombies with. One of the more human aspects that are evident in the series is the relationships that occur between the characters based on stress and lack of options.

The main character is Rick Grimes, a policeman who was shot and in a coma when the zombie apocalypse occurred (the cause of which is never explained but instead expects the reader just to…well…go with it). When he wakes from the coma, he has to take the insane task of searching for his lost wife and child who could be anywhere. After he finds them (unrealistically quickly) the reader starts to see how fast people couple up in the group of survivors.

The reader learns that in Rick’s short absence, his wife Lori had an affair with his best friend, Shane. In fact, it happened on the first night that they left their hometown. This prompts Shane to pander after Lori. There are a few other survivors in the original group that Rick joins that are already paired off. Married couple Allen and Donna have two twin boys in the group and they provide a level of normality in a strange way. Donna is the group’s equivalent of the neighborhood gossip, while Allen is the neighbor that borrows your tools and then never returns them. Donna’s characterization is brought up quickly when she complains about the division of labor in the group (the very regressive aspect of the storyline where men hunt and women gather…or in this particular case, wash clothes in the stream).

The love triangle between Shane, Rick, and Lori comes to a head as tensions run high through a zombie attack in the camp that kills two of their members. One of the members is named Amy, who is the sister of Andrea. The two sisters had been staying with the elderly member of the group named Dale, who owns the famous RV that is frequently used in the television show and the comic books. The relationship between the three of them is under scrutiny by neighborhood gossip Donna. Dale addresses this concern with the leaders of the group Rick and Shane and simply says that since his wife had passed away it was just nice being with people that filled his home (now his RV). He also adds that since he is older, his “plumbing ain’t what it used to be.” However, after Amy’s death, the group reaches the prison that they would call home, Andrea and Dale start a sexual relationship.

After the first story arc, there is a sudden switch in the aesthetic of the book. Original artist Tony Moore left the book after the first six issues. Even though he continued drawing covers, Moore stopped doing the interiors altogether. The relationship between Kirkman and Moore apparently had become strained which would later cause lawsuits and counter lawsuits and eventually an out-of-court settlement. All of this is tragic because the first story arc is by far the best in terms of artistic aesthetic. Moore’s style is clean and definitive which creates a great juxtaposition between the cleanness of the art and the gritty gore that is actually being portrayed. It is simply a great way to portray the story and the art is solid.

The artist that replaced Moore was Charlie Adlard. This switch created a new atmosphere for the book that is less than optimal. Adlard’s style is very basic and more akin to a sketch book that was shaded and sent in to the editor as a storyboard instead of actual panels. Many of the characters under Adlard’s creation look identical and it is often hard for the reader to keep the flow of the storyline because three of the main male characters are so similar in appearance. This was not an issue under the better defined style of Tony Moore. This becomes a burden on the reader who has to see the same face on three different characters who are all often on the same page. The first compendium is comprised of issues #1-48, which means that the clearer and easily readable style of more is a mere fraction of the compendium and the more muddled scratchy style of Adlard accounts for almost 90% of Compendium One.

Later on, the introduction to Tyreese is exclusively Adlard’s design. Tyreese and his small group join Ricks almost immediately after the first story arc that Moore left. With the first few pages of Tyreese combining forces with “Team Rick” the reader sees that character of Carol (of the original group) start to make passes and innuendo towards him. The two quickly pair off, as have most of the group. Dale and Andrea, Rick and Lori, Donna and Allen, Glen and Maggie. The majority of the group pair off and hardly anyone is single. Even the addition of Otis and Patricia who were once together and eventually leave each other end up aiming at other fringe members of the group, grasp at some sort of way to invest in someone else.

One of the things that the reader sees in the first compendium is that the individuals that are alone do not want to be and that they are not picky over those that they are willing to pair with. The youngest couple in the group is Glen and Maggie. They are both in their early twenties and when they meet, Glen is depressed that he is alone. Bluntly, Maggie states that she would sleep with him. Glen who is very surprised by the offer requires an explanation. Maggie simply states that Glen seems to be a nice guy and that their choices are not very broad. This observation pretty much sums up the attitude of the entire group.

The writer even takes the relationship twists even further. After Carol and Tyreese leave each other, Carol starts to get closer to Rick and Lori. Eventually she states that she wants to marry both Rick and Lori because the old rules (such as illegal polygamy) no longer apply. She asks to become Rick’s second wife. This never comes to pass, but it shows the acceptance that the social standards had changed and mostly will never be back in effect.

In addition to this, is the need that the survivors have to pair off is the need to keep those relationships. The survivors do not want to be alone. They hold on to their relationships with both hands as it were. The readers see this in regards to Shane’s fate and how the relationship between Carol and Tyreese dissolves due to the sexual actions of Michonne to Tyreese.  The reader sees that immediately after this break up, Andrea and Tyreese start to spend a lot of time together. Dale naturally is unhappy with this. Dale’s insecurity with his old age and apparent inability to have intercourse regularly (which he keeps bringing up) makes him give Andrea permission to sleep with Tyreese under the condition that its simply sex and that she continue to stay with Dale. Andrea never takes the free ticket but it shows that the characters are willing to sacrifice their pride to keep their partners around anyway that they can.

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Nathan J. Harmon is a graduate of Missouri State University and teaches English in southwest Missouri

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