Monday, November 20, 2017

Here We Remain

The Walking Dead, Volume 9: Here We Remain
At this point in the Walking Dead's run the comic is firmly revolving around the same set of themes, with only minor variations to add to the title's profluence. This volume, taking place after the catastrophic fall of the prison stronghold, finds Rick and Carl dealing with the trauma of losing Lori and Judith. Rick begins to have telephone conversations with the representative of a mysterious group of survivors, but it is eventually revealed that these phone calls are coming from Rick's deceased wife--which means, of course, that the phone calls are symptomatic of Rick's mental breakdown. There is a spectrality to these phone calls; Lori's voice is a present non-presence reminding Rick of how his failures in the past shape the failures yet to come.

Humans are pack animals, and it isn't long before Rick and Carl are reunited with what remains of their group: Glenn, Maggie, Dale, Andrea, Ben, Billy, Sophia, and Michonne. This reunion serves to underline the tension between the need for group survival and the individual's need to deal with trauma. Rick's use of the telephone to continue dredging up the past--as well as Michonne's conversations with her dead boyfriend--are contrasted against Sophia's obliteration of the past. Sophia has simply erased the memory of her birth mother from her personal experience, refusing to believe that such a person ever existed. Neither way of grappling with trauma--keeping the past in too close proximity versus denying the existence of the past--is functional or healing.

The real problem with unresolved trauma is that it weakens the group's chances of survival and threatens the bonds that allow groups to flourish. It's trauma that has yet to be dealt with that gets in the way of the group's growth with the introduction of Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene. Fatality looms in the background during the mistrustful confrontation between Andrea and Abraham, and it applies the whip hand in the power-struggle relationship between Abraham and Rick. 

Though hardly a panacea, what bridges the gaps left by trauma is a sense of purpose. In this case, Eugene's insistence that he knows the cause of the zombie plague and can help stop it if they can get him to Washington D.C. is enough to pull the band together and get them on their feet. Movement, then, is the best medicine, a fact hinted at by the title of the volume. To remain mired in trauma is the suicidal option.

It's obvious o the reader that Eugene does not have any special knowledge of the cause of the zombie epidemic and that the trip to D.C. is a fool's errand. The fact that the comic does so little to present this journey as a sound idea isn't a narrative problem; I think we're supposed to see how hollow a gesture it is, but also recognize that the gesture is important and necessary for the characters within the narrative arc. They're willing to believe in it because they require belief to make survival an option worth effort and exertion. That's what a thin hope looks like, isn't it? People grasp at straws not out of a self-defeating impulse, but rather because it's a viable survival mechanism.

Previous Installments
Days Gone Bye
Miles Behind Us
Safety Behind Bars
The Heart's Desire
The Best Defense
This Sorrowful Life
The Calm Before
Made to Suffer