Mounting Tension & A Rare Moment Of Pure Happiness In The Walking Dead #176

by CJ Stephens

The Walking Dead #176 continues to increase the anxiety regarding the The Commonwealth, without giving any concrete evidence of wrongdoing on their part. But damn, they are suspicious as hell…


There will be spoilers…

Last issue ended with the revelation that Michonne’s daughter Elodie might still be alive and living within the Commonwealth. Needless to say, Michonne doesn’t have a lot of respect for bureaucracy in the face of this discovery, but that’s exactly what she gets in the form of three different government functionaries. Lance, the skeevy corporate-seeming representative of the Commonwealth introduced last issue, continues in his role of “uncaring tool.” He is either unaware of the emotional weight of this revelation, or doesn’t care, as his job is simply to deliver the group to the next point in the intake process. In the face of Michonne’s grief-stricken eyes and tear-soaked cheeks, the best he can offer is that he doesn’t know if her daughter’s alive, but they can maybe find out if they’ll just hurry along to the next spot on the tour.

(Charlie Adlard’s minimalist emotion is stark and powerful visual realism)

Lance’s disconnect from basic human emotion could be interpreted as a warning to the group. He’s the highest ranking member of the Commonwealth they’ve met so far, and based on his actions, he could be a psychopath, or at least a malignant narcissist. And we all know how dangerous such a person could be in any position of authority. But then again, he could just be an asshole, a petty functionary who has a little bit of power in dealing with people and enjoys using it. Everything about the Commonwealth screams bureaucracy, which is a legitimate and necessary aspect of government, but not always a pleasant one. Lance could be dangerous or he could just unpleasant. We don’t know yet, but I still wanna punch the guy.

Continuing further into the Commonwealth, Eugene’s initial contact, Stephanie, is introduced. She’s so very Velma, and I’d bet money I don’t have that her sweater is orange. She yells to attract Eugene’s attention in order to let him know it wasn’t her choice not to be there for the initial meet. Stephanie tries to reassure Eugene about her home, but does more to raise the tension level in her admittance that “This place has its flaws, but…We’ll talk after your orientation–okay?”

Even worse, Lance gives her a brutal verbal dressing down in public, threatening her with even worse punishment than whatever she received for contacting Eugene and setting up the meet in the first place. Again, there’s nothing concrete here to paint the Commonwealth as bad guys, but it’s uncomfortable. We’ve seen that just about every other large group Rick and friends have run into turn out to be bad guys or pawns of bad guys. As longtime readers, we’ve been trained to see the bad in outsiders. And the leisurely introduction of whatever’s really going on in the Commonwealth ratchets that expectation up to 11.

(Jinkes, Lance, calm down!)

Government functionary #2 is a smiling bald man in a suit named Maxwell Hawkins. He’s friendly, but like Lance, doesn’t really answer anyone’s questions, and doesn’t really care about the specifics of their journey. He also seems more interested in building a positive narrative of the group for their introduction to the leadership of the Commonwealth, as if he’s advocating for them. He questions them about their lives prior to the dead rising, and quickly settles on Michonne, a former lawyer with a private practice, as the most respectable of the group.

Her companions are left to wait outside with Lance as Michonne is introduced to Governor Pamela Milton, apparent leader of the Commonwealth. Governor Milton immediately makes things awkward by taking credit for the return of civilization, order, and that shining beacon on the hill commonly associated with American mythic identity. There’s no way to read her welcome speech without pretension. No real malice, but definite proof of  elitism and privilege. She does everything but specifically say “Commonwealth = Remnants of American Government.” She, like Lance, seems to struggle with authentic emotional connection. And once again, we’re given hints of danger and secrecy regarding the way things are in the Commonwealth…

(“Civilization is a Machine.”)

These little hints, and warnings, and traces are all tiny indicators of fascism, of course. And of course, in this post-apocalyptic society still threatened by zombies, fascism has been shown as effective in keeping people alive. The entirety of the Rickocracy’s odyssey has focused on what certain groups give up in attempting to create order and some form of society in the face of the end of the world. And this fascism was often overt. The Governor was very evidently a bad guy, from early on, as was Negan, and they both ruled by force. Same with the Whisperers. Even Rick’s group, to a certain extent, has broken bad in regard to the norms of pre-apocalypse society. Some forms of liberty have definitely been sacrificed for some forms of security, even among the good guys. But again, it’s all been overt, for the most part. Obvious.

It’s not obvious in the Commonwealth, though, barring the stormtrooper armor worn by the guards. It’s a nagging anxiety, a recurring lack of sympathy, or a vague sensation of hidden danger, but not obvious. And that’s what makes it feel so tense, and maybe even so relevant. That, and how long is it going to take for one of these people to help Michonne find her daughter?

Governor Milton rises to the occasion, after being advised by Michonne that she’s just about out of patience herself, and for once, Robert Kirkman gives us a happy ending. For now. I still don’t trust the Commonwealth, but that hanging tension makes the reunion between mother and daughter all the sweeter.

So far, the New World Order storyline continues to shine. Here’s something to think about, as we continue to find out more about the Commonwealth: What if they’re not really that bad, compared to Rick’s group? What happens then? Do we really think Rick and company will submit to anyone, even supposed good guys? Or will they continue their tradition of attempting to seize control, by whatever means necessary, only this time against foes who aren’t obvious villains?

The Walking Dead #176, published on 2/7/18 by Image Comics, features writing by Brian Kirkman, lettering by Rus Wooton, and art by Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, Cliff Rathburn, and Dave Stewart.

CJ Stephens

CJ Stephens wants to be a ninja or a rock star when he grows up. For now he works as an Adjunct Professor of English. He may one day actually finish his PhD, but at this point in time his part-time superhero gigs and binge TV habits tend to take up too much time. He taught himself to read at the age of 4 using a secret combination of Sesame Street, superhero comics, and the love of his mama, and once came in 4th in a High School spelling bee… when he was in 6th grade!!! Cash him outside at https://twitter.com/CJStephen1 and http://cstephensjr.tumblr.com/.