Walking Dead 14: taking things-get-worse stories as far as they'll go

Robert Kirkman's and company have been producing Walking Dead comics for for eight years now, hewing to a simple and effective formula: put intelligent people in a terrible situation, have them try intelligently to solve their problems, have them fail, and have things get worse. This is a surprisingly effective means of generating dramatic tension, because who the hell can look away when someone is trying to solve a problem, but landing in a worse problem? Generally, there are limits to this sort of plotting: eventually, your characters have nothing left to lose, things have gotten as bad as they're going to get, and it's time to raise the stakes, get to the climax, and wrap things up.

A remarkable thing about Walking Dead: this is a zombie comic where, I'm pretty sure, nothing will ever get substantially better, and yet, somehow, Kirkman hasn't run out of plausible ways for things to get worse for his characters. Every month, a new issue hits the stands in which people who seem to have hit bottom continue to lose in bigger and more meaningful ways. Sometimes, Kirkman has to give them a bit of a reprieve in order to have more to snatch away from them — this has been the arc in the last couple collections — but these reprieves are necessarily filled with dread because you just know that things are going to start going downhill any minute now.

And yup, here we have The Walking Dead Volume 14: No Way Out, and things are getting worse for the entirely likable, plucky, hard-working survivors of the zombapocalypse — without going into spoilery specifics, let me say that if Volume 13 felt a little too talky and not kill-y enough, Volume 14 is going to make you a happy, sadistic reader.

Me too. I'll keep reading these for as long as Kirkman keeps finding novel ways to torture these poor bastards, and there's a tiny kernel of hope in my heart that they're going to beat zombiism, stem the plague's tide, and rebuild — despite the disease, despite the marauders, despite everything. I'm probably an idiot for hoping this, but I go on hoping. When it comes to zombie plagues, I'm just a starry-eyed optimist, I guess.

The Walking Dead Volume 14: No Way Out