Walking Dead 11: zombie comic is a parable about the ethics of survival and disaster

The Walking Dead Volume 11: Fear The Hunters came out this month, and I happened on it this weekend and promptly fell into it, emerging an hour later feeling like the world was coming to an end.

For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead is Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore and Cliff Rathburn's superb and terrifying zombapocalypse graphic novel series, in which a band of survivors overcome zombies, internal power-struggles, traumatized family, zombie-bit lovers, and, of course, other survivors who've been turned even more feral by the walking dead.

The pacing never lets up -- something amply demonstrated in this volume, where a new rival group of survivors has something awful planned for our heroes, a plan that involves terrorizing them as much as possible, keeping them off balance.

What makes The Walking Dead so compelling to me is the way it asks you to decide, over and over again, do you bug-out (get away with your loved ones) or bug-in (help your neighbors and let them help you), or both? I've always hoped that I'd be a bug-in person, that in a disaster I'd work for the mutual aid of everyone. But bugging in works best if the rest of the world does it with you -- a few selfish buggers-out shatter the social bonds that make it possible for the most people to survive a terminal prisoner's dilemma. But even for us bug-in types, Kirkman wants us to ask ourselves, how far will you go? Who gets to come inside the shelter with you, and who gets left outside to die?

This is the kind of ethical question that underpins our responses to everything from humanitarian crises like the one in Haiti to the health-care debate to immigration and refugee policy. It's at the core of racism and sexism, at the core of xenophobia and discrimination. In its most extreme form, it can give rise to horrors like the American eugenics movement or Naziism, but who among us doesn't have a secret kernel of it lurking in our breast?

Reading The Walking Dead is never easy for me. I had to stop and put down the current collection several times, as the creators made my heart thud and my mind whirl. But when I was done, I immediately wished for the next volume to hit the stands.

The Walking Dead Volume 11: Fear The Hunters

Link to Volume 10, Link to Volume 9, Link to Volume 8, Link to Volume 7, Link to Volume 6, Link to Volume 5, Link to Volume 4, Link to Volume 3, Link to Volume 2, Link to Volume 1


  1. I was having the “What would you do at the end of the world?” chat with some friends the other night. I kind of scoff at most survivalism. The whole “I’m gonna get some guns, MREs and hole up” seems so short sighted. If something truly catastrophic occurred (whether it was a “long emergency” or social collapse or the undead) I’d rather build a community than start sizing up my neighbors for viking raids.

    I kind of take the “Canticle for Liebowitz” view. Someone’s gotta hang in, keep the fire burning, even if that fire ends up burning the world all over again.

  2. For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead Compendium is well worth the $40-50. It’s massive, over a thousand pages, and you can’t put it down. You keep “just a few more pages”-ing until it’s 2 in the morning and you have to force yourself to put it down.

    I think I might re-read it, actually.

  3. I’ve just finished Volume 7 (basically where the shit starts to hit the fan again) and am pacing myself before jumping into the next few volumes – given the slow release schedule, I don’t want to hit a wall.

    Regardless, it’s a fantastic bit of work and the no-compromise attitude that commercial works often lack these days is always sitting there, under the surface, just waiting to snap at the readers preconceptions of just what a graphic novel should be.

    Watchmen for the 21st century?

  4. KirkMAN, btw. He also did Tech Jacket, Capes, and Invincible, which is good for those of us who aren’t into zombies.

  5. This is a great series. Very mature writing and full of genuine characters. Hope the upcoming movie doesn’t mess it up.

  6. It’s a great story and some great artwork, especially the early issues. The author’s name is Robert Kirkman by the way.

  7. The Walking Dead is probably my favorite horror comic of all time… and I read a lot of them. It’s about the most sadistic comic, as well. Compelling doesn’t even approach how readable it is and in spite of several extremely heavy moments (the final pages of issue 48, the wrap up of the ‘Prison’ arc) I keep on reading it. Each time Kirkman pulls the rug out from under us and yanks readers out of the false sense of security, it’s a heart rending affair that makes me wonder if I should keep on reading.

    But I do.


    @MAdB: There isn’t a movie in production, Frank Darabont wrote the pilot for a TV series that AMC has ordered a pilot for. The script is making the rounds now and according to those who have read it, Darabont takes a few creative liberties but remains remarkably loyal to the source material and it’s supposedly gory as hell.

  8. In addition to the trade paperbacks, they produce nice hardcovers that are each compilations of two of the trade papers. The fifth one is coming out soon. :)

  9. I absolutely love THE WALKING DEAD, but there are several recent plot elements that feel to me as less than organic, more like a one-upmanship with the series CROSSED written by Garth Ennis.

    Since inception, CROSSED (a very different sort of apocalypse than the one depicted in THE WALKING DEAD) has dealt with sexual violence and cannibalism. Those elements feel, to me, very out of place in THE WALKING DEAD.

    Your mileage may vary, of course.

    (Also, if you have a strong stomach and can handle some bursts of sorrow and beauty surrounded by pitch-black nihlism, I can’t recommend CROSSED highly enough. It’s the Rolling Stones to THE WALKING DEAD’s Beatles.)

  10. Cory, when you talk about “bug-out” or “bug-in” I think to a certain degree it comes down to egoism versus altruism. It’s not that either motivation is universally better or more right than the other, but there’s a ying-yang like conflict between them that comes out really well in Walking Dead, and is often reflected in a lot of social and political struggles.

  11. I can’t stop reading The Walking Dead but I do get very angry at characters. The number of times they suffer through their own dammned stupidity riles me something awful.

  12. Volume 11!!!??

    Jeez, does it get better after volume 2?

    I’m trying to read this at the moment because it is so loved but I can’t see how it could continue for so long and be interesting?

    Any praise that could change my mind?

    1. It’s one of the best comics I’ve ever read and I highly recommend you stick with it. Does that change your mind?

      1. IMHO, if you don’t like it and you’re into volume 2 you may want to give up. I think the only way you wouldn’t be into it is if you don’t really like zombie stories, or are sick of zombie stories. Maybe take a break and pick it up a few years from now?

        I, however, looove zombie movies/books/graphic novels/videogames and I can’t seem to get enough of them. I hope the upcoming zombie backlash doesn’t wipe out the production of good zombie art.

        1. I too am a zombie movies/novels/graphics lover! I just stumbled on this post from another post of the author.

          My last zombie books were the “As The World Dies” trilogy by Rhiannon Frater. (Found it on the Indie ebook site Smashwords).

          Now, I have no idea what “Walking Dead” will looks like, but I have to say that I am appealed and will definitely give it a try!!

          As for if I would be a “bug-in” or “bug-out” kind of guy… I admit I have no idea! How are you suppose to know?

          Z-day comes, it’s no ordinary disaster! It’s not a one time thing, a storm that blows everything then you start over… It’s a continuous quest for survival while a threat is growing on you and your attempts to build a new world…

          Seriously, can’t say how I would react.

  13. I read the books in my mad scientist office with this light that isn’t installed correctly. The light flickers randomly from a naturally dim state to a blinding white and evokes the same fear response as lightning. Haven’t had to put a book down yet, but I did have to take several moments after a page turn made me jump out of a blanket. Looking forward to the fifth followed by a sleepless night, wide eyed in the dark, waiting for an “UNGHHH” at any moment.

  14. I read the first four volumes at the library, and love this series. My own response to “bug-in, bug-out” is colored by having done earthquake recovery operations after the Loma Prieta quake (flattened multi-deck freeways during rush hour, etc).

    I think that whether you “bug-out”- ie, flee the scene to a more tenable location, or “bug-in”, hole up with your supplies has little to do with whether you are self-centered or community-centered. There are plenty of people who would walk or run somewhere else and take/steal what they can from there only for themselves. Likewise, most of the people that I personally know who would “bug-in” are folks who also have a large cache of ammo and don’t plan on sharing with other survivors. I can contrast that selfishness with the way I saw people after Loma Prieta giving out their food and drinking water (in short supply after the quake) to volunteer recovery workers and people doing traffic control, etc. Also, there are plenty of people who were mobile during the event who needed to get to a better location, who felt it was their responsibility to help others along the way.

    We have a “bug-out” bag in the house, but that is because I know three things about the area I live in: it is flood prone, and that is likely the disaster scenario here, and we live in an a secondary risk area; our city has shown almost no disaster preparedness interest (as evidenced in our national homeless issue coverage); there is no way I can guarantee that I will be placed into a class of people who will be granted access to food and water (recovery staff, HAM operators, etc), but I can relocate nearby to family and others who will share food, etc, by bicycle. That is not being selfish, that is making sure we are not going to become a burden on an environment with very limited resources.

    And as for Z-Day, we would be heading for a handful of “ideal locations”. I really wouldn’t want to try and hide out on the bottom floor of an old victorian in the middle of a city. Not a recipe for success in that scenario.

  15. The “who do you let in” issue is one that’s probably already been answered quite a few times in history– check out any hunter-gatherer bands for examples of how it works. You have a tribe that consists of the people you can trust, or who have some stake in your mutual survival– maybe your kids share their genes, maybe you knew ’em from childhood, whichever.

    The guy who you don’t know? Might just be safer to gang up, kill him, and take his stuff.
    Sure, you might have been better off befriending him. Want to risk the lives of everyone you love over that?

    1. Some might. We aren’t hunter-gatherers any more, and it’s no longer so clear exactly who our in group is supposed to be.

      1. Post zombie-apocalypse, we’re back in hunter-gatherer territory.

        But to grasp the metaphor– people who agree with what you consider important to your survival are in your in-group. People who do not and (as far as you can tell) will not agree with what you consider important to your survival are not.

  16. I haven’t really heavily gotten into a comic/graphic novel before, but upon discovering The Walking Dead I was fairly astonished to find myself mowing through about 5 years of Kirkman’s work within a week.

    Have also been watching a really good BBC series called ‘Survivors’ (a remake of a series from the 70s) about a different sort of post apocalypse, but that deals with a lot of the same social issues Kirkman covers (though with much less gore!).

    I’ve started feeling like I should work on my post apocalypse skills, I’d be DEAD MEAT trying to survive out there with my current skill set.

  17. Dissenter here, it was good and I had great hopes for the Washington storyline, but the writer warns us that he could go on forever. Like a zombie, kill it while you can.

  18. I’m kinda burned out on zombies, but this sounds worth looking into.

    On the larger subject of bug-out or bug-in, you have to remember that you can’t help anyone else if you’re dead, disabled, or destitute. You’re just making yourself a burden on someone else. That’s selfishness, not altruism.

  19. I’m a confirmed zombie fan and so the praise for The Walking Dead filled me with anticipation. I just finished reading the first collection and… won’t be reading any more. I found the writing to be terribly leaden and exposition-heavy. Very disappointing.

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