(Warning: The following review contains major spoilers. If you want to maintain the surprise of the issue, don't read past the first paragraph.)
The combination of seeming safety and comfort, while the wolf waits at the door is a formula that works well for "The Walking Dead." It's why the heady tension filled days of the prison were some of the best issues of "The Walking Dead," and why these last months with our core group living inside the walls of a nearly blissful community have brought the comic back to those same strengths.
In recent issues we've seen Rick come close to reclaiming some of his life. Finding a bit of sanity in the chaos - having a job, a house, his son safe, his friends close, and even a girlfriend. Rick getting it together, though even that came with horror (he did have to kill a woman's husband in order to GET the girlfriend), only serves to set our teeth on edge about the shoe that is likely to drop, because for Rick Grimes there is no happy ending. Rick's years of hard lessons have made him a tough man in more ways than one. It's been obvious for a while now that he has only one stake in this game, his son Carl.
What will happen if that stake is taken away from Rick? We may be about to find out, as this issue ends with Carl, shot in the head in a two page spread by Charlie Adlard that will haunt readers long after they've stopped reading. Judging by the way Adlard renders Carl, it's hard to imagine a way in which this character doesn't die and if that happens, the game will certainly change and it's hard to even imagine what this book will look like. But it will be massively exciting (and likely whole new levels of grim) to see where Robert Kirkman takes it.
Kirkman has never pulled punches with his characters in "The Walking Dead," and it's one of the ways that the book is continually superior to so many other comics. It's impossible to get emotionally invested these days in a comic character's fate, because nobody stays dead, and the current plotline is only legitimate until someone new comes on board and changes everything. But that's never been the case with "The Walking Dead". You die in Kirkman's bleak world and that is it for you. And it makes for some fascinating, heartbreaking, and mind-blowing stories - one of which we're heading into with this very issue.
Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have together delivered one of the most consistently strong ongoing books on the shelves. There have been some fluctuations in Adlard's art over the last year; It's still mostly gorgeous but occasionally looks rushed, and flat. There's speculation that the change in the art may have to do with the shipping schedule, which has been much more regular of late. Personally, I'd rather have the book run a bit late and have Adlard able to take a bit more time, but even in this new world order it's still one of the best looking books on the stand.
Carl's fate is, of course, the big question mark at the end of this book. With Carl's fate we have Rick's, as to pretend they're not inexorably linked at this point is to pretend insanity. But the truth is, there's far more carnage in this book than just Carl, and it's a must read, though a grim one to be sure.