Some vague spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead’s All Out War story arc (issues #115-126).
What is it good for, am I right?
Since October, Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman has been asking just that over the course of the dozen-issue arc All Out War, which wrapped last week with issue #126.
And it would seem the answer Kirkman has arrived at is a resounding “absolutely nothing, say it again.”
The year proceeding All Out War largely consisted of a slowly-escalating exercise in brinksmanship between Rick Grimes and his band of diverse and lovable survivors and Neegan, with his biker gang of burnt-faced, barbed-wire baseball bat-wielding hoodlums.
Also, there was a tiger.
It wasn’t bad, but the events between Walking Dead #100 and All-Out War weren’t the most exciting the series’ has ever produced either. The set-up to All Out War took its time, as set-up is want to do, but the last issue before the big event, #114, finally lit the fuse and #115 kicked the war off with a stroke of tactical genius on Rick’s part that looked as though it may have ended the hostilities just as they began.
But then Neegan struck back, cleverly turning the tables. It looked like maybe Rick and the gang were finally finished.
Then they flipped the script on Neegan and his minions.
But then Neegan pulled a classic one-two-switcheroo and Ricky G. and it seemed all was lost.
But then Rick executed the apocalyptic warfare equivalent of that magic trick where you put something in one hand and then switch it around and then Neegan guessed which had it was in and got it wrong and then he guess it was in the other hand and it wasn’t in that hand either.
And then so on and so forth until it seemed at last enough lives had been lost for the war to reach its inevitable conclusion. By the time it did conclude the tides had turned so often and so consistently that any excitement evoked by the prospect of a full-blown war had been lulled into a dull complacency with mass murder and carnage that threatened to erase any memory of exactly why everyone was shooting and shanking each other to begin with.
You know, like a war.
All Out War is a story about men and women becoming flags for vague ideals far larger than themselves. It’s a story about the nameless lives laid down in the name of those flags. It’s a story about just how thin the line between the brutal simplicity of war and blatant stupidity can be.
The longer All Out War continued the more primitive and ritualistic it seemed, as if the characters were simply killing each other to appease some long-forgotten god, a ritualistic blood-sacrifice to end a turmoil they don’t fully understand.
Rick and Neegan prove themselves both capable leaders and sufficient badasses. There’s a number of clever battle tactics that provide a fair share of entertainment for the reader, so it’s particularly impressive that amongst all the strategic twists and turns Kirkman offers over the course of All Out War he never glorifies the war itself.
All Out War isn’t Call of Duty. It isn’t trying to sell you warfare. It isn’t about cool guns and elaborate set pieces masquerading as simulations of honor and patriotism. It’s about blood and guts and dirt. When men and women lay down their lives in All Out War they aren’t martyred in slow motion against a sweeping orchestral score. They’re just dead. And when all is said and done the last man standing doesn’t stare off into glorious nothing, remembering the lives lost while a lone horn plays.
By the end of All Out War the characters aren’t just tired and afraid of war. They’re sick of it. And I was too. But in a good way.
1.Did I get it wrong? Is All Out War a story about the necessity of war?
2. Who’s the guy who isn’t Bruce Springsteen that sings that “War” song?
3. Is it that band War?