Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s “The Walking Dead” #132 contains a smart, chilling revelation that mixes zombies with human ingenuity to terrifying results.
Though the intriguing reveal that the dead were talking was largely bungled in execution a few issues back, the development of that idea in this issue is both chilling and expertly executed. A small horseback search party is sent out to find Ken, the injured man Marco had to leave behind as he escaped zombies that he claimed were whispering. The search party is ambushed by a herd of zombies and the survivors fight them off with an ingenious method that makes great worldbulding sense. However, some of the zombies have weapons and are not only whispering but also attacking, thinking and strategizing. For a moment, it seems like Kirkman has made a terrible error, tipping his story in a ridiculous direction, but as the battle ends, the real truth of this horror unfolds: that some of the zombies are actually people inside “zombie suits.” And with that reveal the story becomes a masterful and truly terrifying read.
As a nice contrast to the new horrors that our search party are facing, Rick, Maggie, Carl and Sophia are enjoying an idyllic sunset — really reveling in the peace that they have created. One they have made through blood, sweat, and tears, but made just the same. It’s good they’re taking a moment to appreciate it, because things are clearly about to go pear-shaped again. The only real failing of the issue is that on both the writing and the art front the less crucial scenes — like Rick’s storyline and a minor (but intriguing) set up with Andrea — don’t feel as carefully crafted as the main event. Perhaps that’s to be expected, but it keeps the issue from feeling perfect.
While Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano and colorist Cliff Rathburn have always been an incredibly strong and consistent art team, they turn in an especially excellent issue this month, really capitalizing on the visual terror of the “zombie suits.” Adlard handles the fighting technique just beautifully, framing the panels in a way that heightens the tension to near epic levels. That fight scene is both worldbuilding and storytelling at its finest.
Adlard also expertly avoids the visual details that will give away the secret too soon, and is then precise (and grotesque) in those terrifying details as he leads readers toward the final alarming reveal that feels one part classic zombie story and one part slasher film. Every detail during the battle — from the protagonists’ suits and expressions to the stitching on the back of the “zombie suit” — are magnificently explicit and all the more gruesome for it. The cliffhanger, which depicts a living, breathing person clearly in a created zombie mask, is pure horror. In fact, it’s the scariest thing “The Walking Dead” has seen in a very long time.
The masterful execution of a fantastic and terrifying new idea marks “The Walking Dead” #132 one of the best issues in years. In one fell swoop this series proves that it has plenty left to say, surprises to deliver and terrors to unpack.