In "The Walking Dead" #138, the Whisperers arrive at the Hilltop and Maggie has an easy decision to make to protect the safety of her people. Unfortunately, there's something she doesn't know that complicates things and leads to a decision that might just imperil the Hilltop in the long run.
The drama that fans talk about when it comes to "The Walking Dead" is so often about who's getting killed next and what craziness the Big Bad Guy will inflict on a favorite character. This issue is much more a political and personal one. The situation is perfectly staged by Robert Kirkman to bring characters into action. You can run down what each of them do and understand why they made the decisions they did. You can see it in their faces as Charlie Adlard and Stefano Gaudiano draw them. It's all justifiable, but it might just be explosive in an issue or two.
Over the course of the issue, Carl finds out that Lydia is being raped as part of the culture in her own community, so he vows to protect her. At this point, we're still not sure if he's being played expertly or if such a promise just seems hollow, given the nature of the series as a whole. It all perfectly leads into the trade between the Whisperers and the Hilltop: Dante and Ken for Lydia, the daughter of the Whisperer's leader, Alpha. It seems like such an easy exchange to make, but that's true only if you don't know or don't believe Lydia's story. The seemingly small gap between those two options drive Maggie and Carl apart and, ultimately, lead to Carl heading off on his own to save Lydia.
Obviously, this compromises not only his own safety but also that of everyone else in Hilltop. It's a believable turn of events for Carl, who's been through a lot in his relatively short life. He's quick to act and takes the moral high ground whenever he can. He sees a clear path forward in this case, but it's one that adds a lot of tension to the series.
Charlie Adlard does a great job with Carl's acting in this issue. Carl goes through an emotional wringer, from angry and protective to desperate, shocked and determined. Adlard sells all of those emotions with his facial expressions. So many of the panels take place from the shoulders up, but Adlard and inker Gaudiano give strong and clear signals with how the characters act on the page.
This issue proves that "The Walking Dead" can be a tense and emotional book even without surprise killings, mass attacks or wild character turns. Good storytelling is good storytelling; for structuring this story so soundly without compromising the characters, this issue does a great job. After a few issues of mostly internal drama, the series has a new direction to expand into, and it's one rife with possibilities.