The Good: Character development, Plot progression
The Bad: Artwork
The Basics: Not much actually happens in The Walking Dead Book Five, but it develops the characters well and builds toward hope.
I’ll admit it: the only reason I am reading The Walking Dead graphic novels at this point is because I am a fan of the show and, given how dark it is, I like to know what is coming and I can prepare my wife for what might be coming (she was real happy to have the advance warning of the Governor’s loss of an eye, for example!). So, I hung on with reading The Walking Dead Book Five largely because I wanted to see the parallels with the television series and because I am so invested in that (and not, for example, with the artwork in these books). That said, The Walking Dead Book Five actually stands up well – despite very little happening on the plot front – because it takes the time to actually develop the characters in the book, most notably giving Rick Grimes a genuine character struggle to deal with.
It is pretty much impossible to discuss The Walking Dead Book Five without revealing some of how Book Four ended. That’s the closest to a “spoiler alert” I’ll do. As well, those looking for the differences and parallels between the books and the television series might be interested in knowing that the telephone gag used in Season Three of The Walking Dead is a part of The Walking Dead Book Five. It worked better in the television series, though, because: 1. Hershel knew the reality of the situation and 2. In the book, Carl is right near Rick on a few of the occasions it happens, so he should have noticed that the telephone did not actually ring.
The Walking Dead Book Five is very much a continuation of Book 4 and includes the chapters previously released in softcover as Here We Remain and What We Become. It opens in the aftermath of the second Woodbury assault on the prison where the survivors have holed up. With the fall of the prison and the slaughter of most of Rick’s friends and family, Rick and Carl flee the area. They take up in an abandoned house where Rick, having been wounded in the fight, falls ill, leaving Carl to fend for himself. Carl successfully keeps the roamers away while Rick’s fever breaks and soon they are reunited with Maggie, Glenn, Sophia, Andrea, Dale, Michonne and the twins. They return to Hershel’s farm, which is filled with ghosts for Maggie. There, they are visited by Sergeant Abraham Ford, his girlfriend, and Eugene. Ford wants to raid the farm for supplies, but the survivors stop him.
Eugene, as it turns out, is a scientist who claims to have been working on the project that started the plague (and created the zombies). He claims that in Washington, D.C. there is a government organization hunkered down and with the information he has, he can help end the plague. This has given Ford a mission and direction and, in proving to the survivors how dangerous the world has become, the farm is potentially overrun by the first herd of zombies Rick and his people have encountered. En route to Washington, Rick, Carl, and Ford make a side trip to Rick’s old neighborhood where he recovers the deeply traumatized Morgan (his son, Duane, having been turned at this point) and additional weapons and supplies. With the looming threat of a herd, Rick and his people must continue on to Washington.
The Walking Dead Book Five is all about the characters. Rick Grimes has been deeply traumatized by the loss of his wife and daughter and he hears his dead wife talking to him through a telephone, even after he knows that it is not real. This leads him to question his own sanity, but gives him something to bond with with Ford. The Walking Dead Book Five is a period of intense self-doubt for Rick and only Michonne stands by him completely faithfully. In fact, despite all of the dark plot turns that inevitably crop up in The Walking Dead Book Five, arguably the darkest character moment comes near the climax of the book when Dale talks to Andrea about how he has given up his hope in surviving with Rick.
Ford makes for an interesting character and writer Robert Kirkman smartly makes him instantly sympathetic. He is not a blind killer; he wrestles with all of the decisions he has been forced to make, much like Rick has and he does not relish killing people, but on his journey from Austin to Atlanta, he has learned quite a bit about what it takes to survive.
The return of Morgan to the books is a good one and it is sad when Duane is revealed as a zombie. The struggle to survive has taken a toll on Morgan, as well as Sophia (who now calls Maggie “mom” and denies any memory of Carol) and Maggie (who, having lost her brother and Hershel, attempts suicide) and that level of realism is engaging in The Walking Dead Book Five.
In The Walking Dead Book Five, the enemies are largely the humans. The story Ford tells is all about how his family was raped by humans who he had to tear apart in his vengeance. On the page, Rick, Ford, and Carl run into marauders on the Interstate and one of them attempts to rape Carl. I agree that after the apocalypse, people are likely to revert to some animalistic ways, but I’m upset by the theory Kirkman seems to be positing that either only all the pedophiles will survive or that in the wake of society’s collapse, pedophilic rape will be one of the most common means of social interaction in the new world order.
The Walking Dead Book Five features the characteristically medicocre artwork that The Walking Dead is known for. In fact, the very best artwork in the entire book is the cover gallery shot that features the thirteen characters who populate this section of the story in vivid, clear color. Black and white on the page, there are panels where it is virtually impossible to tell Carl, Maggie and Glenn apart. The Walking Dead Book Five also seems to have much rougher transitions between panels than prior volumes did.
Even so, The Walking Dead Book Five is good in that, after so much suffering and torment in prior books, Kirkman and his team take time to rebuild and refocus the series. Strongly character focused, The Walking Dead Book Five is enough to keep those already invested interested in The Walking Dead even if it is not likely to get newbies into the series.
For other The Walking Dead books, check out my reviews of:
Days Gone Bye
For other graphic novels I have reviewed, be sure to check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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