Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Calm Before

As the name implies, the issues that make up The Calm Before provide a lull in the action to build up to the big confrontation when the Governor's forces assault the survivor's prison compound. Although there is some action in The Calm Before--it's not all navel gazing--the theme of this collection is vulnerability.

In The Walking Dead, vulnerability takes two primary forms. Vulnerability can be a structural or systemic weakness that decreases the possibility of survival. When Dale points out that the survivors in the prison have a scarcity of guns and manpower compared to the residents of Woodbury, he's pointing out a structural flaw in their defenses that may endanger them in times of siege. When Alice expresses her concerns about her ability to successfully deliver Lori's baby, she's gesturing toward a deficiency in the group's survival capabilities--are they equipped to take care of routine medical needs, let along emergencies? Even the presence of a pregnant woman is emphasized as a potential risk to the system they have in place.

The deeper, more formidable and pernicious, kind of vulnerability in The Walking Dead is personal, emotional vulnerability. This form is more challenging for the characters to address; a depleted stockpile of bullets has an easy solution--you scavenge for more bullets. But personal vulnerabilities prove to be just as dangerous, since they threaten to break the bonds that allow the survivors to act with unity and purpose, but with the added problem that their deep-seated emotional nature means they can't be addressed head on. Vulnerability is difficult to unpack because the process that addresses it opens up further vulnerabilities before reaching any possibility of closure.

Personal vulnerabilities in The Calm Before range from minor tensions to major issues simmering beneath the surface that threaten to explode if tapped too hard. We find examples of minor-key issues in Patricia's feelings of being excluded after aiding Dexter and Andrew against the group, the lack of effort to integrate Alice into the group's community apart from reliance on her medical skill, the religious-familial disagreements between Maggie and Hershel, and Dale experiencing jealousy at the thought of Andrea and Tyreese becoming closer.

The more fraught vulnerabilities are positioned to affect the leaders and doers of the group--heavy is the head that wears the crown, perhaps. We're accustomed to seeing Michonne as a stone-cold badass, but it's clear that her sense of self was deeply damaged by what she endured at the Governor's hands--or damaged by the kind of revenge she took against him. Rick gets at least two kinds of vulnerability: it's pointed out during a basketball game that he isn't as physically useful since losing a hand in Woodbury, and he can't even bear to have a conversation with Lori about her relationship with Shane or the possibility that he might not be the father of the baby that is on the way. 

Of course, although the comic illustrates the ways that vulnerability is a minefield to navigate, it also demonstrates that when vulnerabilities are allowed to fester they eventually take the shape of tragedies. Carol, feeling cut off from any sort of human connection that would make survival worthwhile after being rejected by Tyreese, Rick, and Lori, decides to feed herself to a zombie. There is a poetic resonance here: her feelings of alienation are so complete that she decides to alienate herself from the group by becoming something other than human. Her self-abjection is horrifying because it is grotesquely terminal and pointless, particularly since it was entirely avoidable--but vulnerability is the bruise that no one wants to touch.

From the hip:

  • When Dale works through the vulnerability he feels at the thought that Andrea would prefer to be with Tyreese (especially sexually) he arrives at an option that Rick and Lori thoroughly rejected when it was broached by Carol: he tells Andrea that he's okay with her fucking Tyreese, if that's what she needs. It's kind of nice to see the notion of "the rules change in the apocalypse" actually explored as a possibility instead of something the characters have a reactionary response to. 
  • It's also noteworthy that it is one of the older characters who can make peace with the idea of a plural relationship; very interesting development, that. Perhaps with age comes a realization that the times change, and you either change with them or get left behind. The younger characters may not have had to even consider that yet.
  • Speaking of Dale, he loses a foot in a zombie attack but the quick amputation seems to have spared him from becoming a zombie himself--something that was tried earlier in the series without positive results. Perhaps the group can figure out how to arrest the "infection" in time.
  • Although the comic is dealing with deeper emotional territory than most popular comics attempt, it's interesting to chart the ways that The Walking Dead still indulges in comic book-isms. Michonne's katana, for example, easily lops through both of an enemy's wrists with one swipe--shades of Wolverine, you know? Additionally, the final panel of the collection shows the Governor perched on a god-damn tank like a G.I. Joe villain as he charges the prison compound. I mean, come on, check this out:

Previous Read-Throughs of The Walking Dead:
Days Gone Bye
Miles Behind Us
Safety Behind Bars
The Heart's Desire
The Best Defense
This Sorrowful Life