The Walking Dead Vol. 5: The Best Defense
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2006)
It had been some time since I last read The Walking Dead series, so I thought it was time to go and pick up where I left off. As I recall, the fourth edition was pretty exciting and particularly tense as the survivors found a prison and tried to make a go of it inside its protective walls. I also recall the women of the group forfeiting power to the men when it came to all decision making. When I picked up this fifth volume, I had to wonder if there would be anything quite so ludicrous in its pages.
If the four previous installments highlighted how grim and desperate life was for the survivors, The Best Defense decided to turn that dial up to eleven by introducing a villain that strains the realism thus far displayed by the characters.
When a helicopter is spotted flying by only to crash somewhere in the distance, Rick organizes a search party to look for survivors--and possibly answers. He takes Glenn and Michonne and finds that the occupants of the chopper are gone, and it looks like another party has found them. Not zombies, though. This gives Rick some optimism that they might not be alone, and can possibly bolster their numbers against the zombie hordes, so they follow the trail. What they find is a walled off town that winds up making the Thunderdome in the Mad Max franchise seem downright quaint.
Meanwhile back at the ranch--I mean, prison--not a lot happens. Carol's tenuous grip on sanity seems to slip even further when she tells Lori that she loves her and Rick and wants the three of them to become a polygamous family. Aside from that, the only thing of note I saw was how the rifts highlighted in The Heart's Desire were almost entirely swept under the rug. The whole group seems to be in a holding pattern while Rick, Glenn, and Michonne are away, basically idling until the impending showdown with the Governor and his goons.
As for the Governor, the protector and leader of the township of survivors, he felt like an extreme symbol of what might befall Rick if his pattern of destructive behavior continued unabated. Well, instead of Rick wrestling his own demons, he now has an actual one to deal with by the Governor, a man so depraved and sociopathic that he borders on the psychotic. Well, let's just go ahead and call him a mad genius for convincing most people in the town he's all rainbows and lollipops, while his core group of henchmen know him to be ruthless and sadistic--and even they don't know he has his zombie daughter locked up in his apartment with a collection of zombie skulls. Yeah, the guy is bonkers.
I get that not all the villains in this series are the zombies, but for such an over-the-top character to be thrown into the mix feels like it takes a sincere effort and turns it into straight-up pulp. Hey, I love pulp, but I thought The Walking Dead was supposed to take a more grounded approach to the human condition. It seems at this point, all bets are off and literally anything can happen to these survivors. The Walking Dead has never felt so much like a comic book than it has with The Best Defense. I'm not exactly in a hurry to read Volume Six, either.