The Garden and the Wilderness:

Walking Dead #7-12

The second arc of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead follows Rick Grimes and his group of survivors dealing with the ramifications of being forced from the sanctuary of their roadside camp site and back into the wilderness of the open road. While issues #1-6 illustrate a group of individuals attempting to understand the parameters of their post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested surroundings, issues #7-12 focuses more on the characters learning to accept the new “normal.”

Walking Dead #7 opens with an interesting examination of how the group chooses to honor or ignore traditions without the structure of an organized “garden.” Shane, who was shot dead by Rick’s young son Carl after pulling a gun on Rick in Walking Dead #6, is given a traditional graveside burial despite the fact that Shane’s actions earned him the ire of Lori and some of the other survivors. Meanwhile, when Dale tells Rick he believes the next day is Christmas, Rick tells him not to mention it to anyone since they’re not going to be able to observe a “traditional” holiday. “Let’s just skip Christmas this year,” Rick says.

The group sets out to find a new sanctuary that is close to Atlanta, but also secluded and secure from where the walkers tend to congregate. For the first time since Rick awoke from his coma and stumbled upon his family on the road, the group is faced with the decision of expanding their numbers when they meet another band of survivors. Despite the protestations of his wife, Rick is eager to get the two groups together, talking about how good it is to “see a new face.”

Rick is still naïve enough here not to consider the potential consequences of inviting a group of strangers who seek food and shelter into his tight knit community. But in a bit of Chekhovian foreshadowing for events that would come to define the brutal callousness of the Walking Dead series, the new group’s leader, Tyrese, tells Rick, “you can never be too careful … you guys could have been traveling cannibals for all I know.”

On the last page of Walking Dead #7, the group has to deal with another shocking revelation when Lori tells Rick that she’s pregnant. The group is unsure how to act and Rick suggests traditional pleasantries: “’Congratulations’ has worked for years.” But the news provides added urgency for the group’s search for new sanctuary. Lori needs a safe place to deliver the baby (without medical assistance), not to mention that the gang needs to be protected enough where a baby’s cries won’t attract a zombie attack.

They drive by a dilapidated house bemoaning how it would have been “perfect,” but the group is still thinking in traditional terms of safety and comfort. This concept is further illustrated when the survivors stumble upon an abandoned gated community called Wiltshire Estates. Rick thinks they’ve “hit the jackpot,” and on the surface, he’s right: the homes are still standing and intact, and are well stocked with canned goods and toiletries. But Rick immediately finds a group of walkers in one of the houses. Similar to the delusional stubbornness exhibited by his friend Shane in the Walking Dead’s first arc, Rick is enamored by the traditional comforts of the community and celebrates how his wife and son are able to sleep in a real bed for the first time in months. His refusal to leave leads to another major tragedy in a garden that forces the group back into the wilderness.

In Walking Dead #9, Rick and the group agree to split up to round up more food and supplies. But while Rick is out, he notices a sign at the entrance of Wiltshire that was covered with snow the day before. It reads, “All Dead Do Not Enter.” Rick realizes that the sign is a warning for passing survivors to keep out of the gated community. But he’s too late as one of the group members, Donna, is killed in a zombie attack. Donna left behind her husband Allen and twin boys. Her death ends up having long-term consequences on the group, as Allen is left in a state of shock, and the two boys suffer major psychological damage. Despite its initial promise as a potential sanctuary, the group’s naiveté and desperation for traditional comforts sends them back into exile.

As de facto group leader, it’s only fitting that Rick would also pay a personal price for the team’s lack of caution. Without any food from the gated community, Rick and Tyrese need to go hunting. Carl asks to come with them, and ends up being accidentally shot by a stranger. The shooter reveals himself to be Otis, who is staying at a farm with a veterinarian and his family who might be able to mend Carl’s wound and bring him back to health. Rick carries Carl in his arms to the farm, which inevitably draws the group to another garden: Hershel’s farm.

With a little bit of luck of his side, Hershel is able to save Carl and remove the bullet. And while he seems like a nice enough family man, he’s very explicit with Rick that his group is free to stay out in their trailer on his gated farm for as long as it takes for Carl to heal. He never gives any kind of indication of where the group is supposed to go once that condition has expired.

Regardless, the group uses its time in this new sanctuary to deal with and accept the events of the first ten issues of this series. Allen is mourning the loss of Donna, while Andrea, who lost her sister Amy in the first arc, begs him to persevere and be an emotionally attentive father for his children. Dale confronts Lori and tells her that she must never tell Rick that the baby she is carrying was in all likelihood, fathered by her husband’s friend Shane. Glenn talks to Hershel’s daughter Maggie about his sexual desires, and she agrees to sleep with him.

But Hershel has a secret that leads to the inevitable exile of the group back into the wilderness. While Rick talks about casually killing the walking dead, Hershel admits that he’s holding a number of zombies – mostly deceased family members, including his young son – in the farm’s barn. Rick is irate when he hears this, but Hershel tells him he does it in case there is ever a cure for the disease that’s afflicted them. Tyrese convinces Rick that this is Hershel’s farm and they thereby have to play by his rules if they wish to stay in their paradise, and Rick relents.

While herding a loose zombie into the barn, Hershel is ambushed the other walkers and one of his daughters and his other son are killed in the melee. A bereaved Hershel shoots the zombies and goes to turn the gun on himself before getting stopped by Rick.

At the funeral for his family members, Hershel tells Rick, “You were right,” about the walkers being dead and that there is no hope to bring them back to the world of the living. Still, Hershel’s acceptance of this new world order doesn’t make him any less bitter about how his life became overwhelmed with tragedy once Rick and his group arrived at his farm. When Rick asks if some of his group can sleep in Hershel’s house, Hershel snaps and, like Shane does in Walking Dead #6, threatens to kill Rick. But unlike Shane, Hershel exhibits enough self control to walk away from the confrontation. He later kicks Rick and his group off the farm.

Hershel’s rejection of the group in their quest for sanctuary provides a valuable lesson that Rick ultimately carries with him for the remainder of the series. While pleading with Hershel about the cruelties of the wilderness, he coldly replies “Not my problem. I’ve got to look out for my kids.” Up until this point, Rick still has too much faith in the “old” system of ethics and morality. He believes that one family man will help another family man in his time of dire need because that was the accepted social order before the zombie apocalypse. Instead, Rick and his group find themselves wandering the wilderness more often than not in the Walking Dead’s first two arcs. But Rick becomes savvier in the comic’s third arc and, as a result, the group establishes a long-term sanctuary in the unlikeliest of places.

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Mark Ginocchio is a graduate of Adelphi University in Garden City, NY, and is a professional writer/editor living in Brooklyn. He created Chasing Amazing, a blog documenting his quest to collect every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and he has contributed to Comics Should Be Good at Comic Book Resources and Longbox Graveyard.

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