This issue sees Rick and Carl, newly rejoined with Latent-Crazy Michonne, returning to Hershel's old farm to meet Dale, Andrea, Glenn, Maggie, and the kids.
While nothing much happens in this issue, some key threads are developed and an exciting new turn seems just up ahead. The theme we've already seen established in Walking Dead--that insanity is as much a threat as the pusbags--comes to a chilling head in the character of Sophia, a young girl now without father or mother. She's now crazy enough that even young Carl can detect it.
The use of insanity (or fleeting moments of viciously loopy decision-making) in this series has occasionally been a deus ex machina, a monkeywrench to break up the monotony of Survivors Holed Up Interminably. It's a trick, really, but one that's turning into a trend. And that trend is actually effective, as it bears a broader meaning.
I can't say I was very pleased when Rick started talking on the phone with dead wife Lori, especially because he seemed to be nursing it as a pet neurosis that in no way affected his general functioning or hinted at deeper psychosis. Perhaps it was a hammy move; we'll see how it develops as he continues to carry a rotary phone with him in a backpack. Michonne, of course, has been riding the crazy train for a while: speaking to herself, blacking out, denying deeds, displaying extreme personality shifts. In this issue, Rick discovers her, and she claims she's been talking to her dead boyfriend, prompting Rick to bond with her by confessing to his own morbid chats. They promise to keep each other's secret.
Michonne, shrewd thing that she is, is clearly lying to Rick. Time will tell just how dangerous her disorder may be to the cast. But little Sophia's instability is most troubling--and topical--of all.
Our generation has seen unprecedented levels of diagnosis of childhood mental disorders, many with symptoms traditionally associated with "just being a kid". As a parent of a young child, one part of my life has been terrifying--observing my son, becoming concerned about his probably-normal behaviors (inattentiveness, temper tantrums, aggression), and rushing to the computer see if the behaviors aligned in any way with ADHD or autism or reactive attachment disorder. This concern has bloomed into full-fledged paranoia for many adults, and has resulted in a general societal wariness about children, an obsessive sensitivity to their mental health.
In writing in mental disease for a young child, Kirkman is definitely pushing a button, but also sending a message. Sophia's mental illness is chilling not because it represents a grave threat to the survivors (as Michonne's or Rick's might), but rather because it suggests an uncertain future for the clan. Mental disease has spread to the most innocent among them. What hope remains? What is there worth fighting for?
In the last few pages, we meet three new characters who rescue the cast from the unspeakable boredom that was sure plague us all back on Hershel's farm. These three proclaim that they know the cause of the phenomenon and are headed to Washington, D.C. They invite our familiar survivors along for the journey. The three characters themselves, of course, are horrendously flat archetypes with mercifully unique visages. (Grayscale printing is no friend to large casts of middle-aged white folk without access to razors.) But that doesn't matter. Sure, Kirkman will give them some kooky interests or traits later, but for the time being, they're machines. They're a trio of Clydesdales that exist only to haul the story forward.
As you might know from reading the series, the ranks were viciously thinned a few issues back. We had some recovery time isolating just Rick and his son. (No more bible of characters in the back of the book. None needed.) Kirkman demonstrates superb timing by adding these three (very distinct) characters now, and pushing the story in a radical direction. I, for one, can't wait to see our heroes back in a big city, on an actual mission.
Again, while not a lot happens, issue #53 holds great promise for the series. Frankly, I'm more excited about The Walking Dead now than I have been in several months.