Welcome back Walkerteers to another edition of A Deeper Look at the Walking Dead. This week, we are looking at Volume 4: The Heart’s Desire. Let’s do this thang!
Our story opens by introducing Michonne, the sword wielding zombie slayer straight off an anime series, who is walking across the desolated countryside accompanied by two dismembered walkers leashed to her with chains. She spots Otis racing towards the prison, deciding to follow behind him.
We now cut back to the rest of our heroes in the prison. The last arc left us on a cliffhanger; Dexter was pointing a gun at Rick, demanding that he and the rest of the survivors leave the prison immediately. Patricia, who aided their attempt to overthrow Rick, is shocked that Dexter, a convicted murderer, would threaten to murder them. Suddenly, the standoff is interrupted by hordes of the dead leaving A block, a still infested section of the prison that Dexter left unlocked when he went there to seize weapons. Don’t you just hate people who always forget to lock the door behind them?
Dexter returns their guns so they can kill the undead mob. During the fight Rick saves Dexter, who tells him it would have been a smarter idea to let him die. Rick considers this a moment, then shoots him through the head. Silly bugger should have just kept his mouth shut!
Somebody calls out that he must have been shot in the confusion, and Rick decides to just run with that. Meanwhile, Otis has returned to the prison to the sounds of gunfire and teamkilling, and decides to take on the zombie hordes with naught but a shovel. Naturally, he nearly gets himself killed, but luckily Michonne arrives to save his stupid arse. As payment, Rick and the crew decide to let her stay with them, albeit without her swords or zombie compatriots.
Much of the rest of this arc details the personal conflicts and drama brewing amongst the group. Think of it like your average soap, except instead of mindless, bloodthirsty savages you have the living dead instead. Some of the more notable plots are as follows: Oh no, Lori is vomiting everywhere! Oh no, Tyreese got a blowjob from Michonne! Oh no, Otis has been a secret racist all this time! The list of issues goes on.
One of the more exciting parts of the arc comes when the crew decide to clear out A block. Allen, post apocalyptic couch potato that he is, decides he wants to actually do some bloody work for once. Rick agrees, in much the same way a parent will take their child to work on a snow day, and so the fat lummox comes along. Presumably still suffering some brain damage from his coma, Rick is surprised when Allen starts fucking everything up, and even more surprised when he gets bitten by a zombie.
Despite this clearly being a cause for celebration, Rick decides to ruin everyone’s fun by trying to actually save him. He grabs an axe and begins hacking off the bitten limb. Hershel arrives and begins to explain the finer points of surgery to Rick, namely that you cannot just chop off someone’s leg and expect it all to be okay. Allen later dies, by not before dumping his two kids off on Dale and Andrea.
The internal conflicts end up spiralling out of control towards the end of this arc, as Carol attempts to commit suicide. Rick finds out that Tyreese and the aforementioned blowjob are responsible, and the two have an epic fist fight. I’m not kidding, check it out:
This fight ends with Rick falling into yet another coma. The guy is going to have pretty severe Alzheimer’s by the time he is forty. Rick wakes up a few days later to find the group in disarray. Dale tells him that they have all decided that Rick is no longer cut out to be the group leader, and that they will be a democracy from now on. This marks the abrupt end of the Ricktatorship.
Rick actually agrees to the idea, but not before going outside and filibustering about how the old world’s rules no longer apply and how they are…urgh…how they “are the Walking Dead”.
Sorry, that bit is so cheesy I feel my cholesterol levels shoot through the roof every time I read it.
So what can we say about this Volume of the series? A major issue comes up again and again throughout the arc is whether the ends ever truly justify the means. Rick, the alleged hero of the story, has come to believe that is certainly the case, and he performs some pretty horrendous acts for, in his words, “the greater good of the group”. Firstly, he murders Dexter during the shootout, then he hacks Allen’s leg off without a moment’s hesitation, and finally he attacks Tyreese, blaming him for Carol’s suicide attempt.
Rick feels no remorse for any of these actions, as he believes they were all for the group’s overall benefit. Killing Dexter? Had to be done, he was trying to throw the group out of the prison. Cutting off Allen’s leg? They had to do anything they could, he had two sons who needed looking after. Attacking Tyreese? He needed to be taught a lesson about his selfish behaviour.
Just how correct is Rick in following this train of thought? It’s hard to say. Kirkman presents Rick as a hypocrite and a violent brute throughout this story, yet at the same time it is Rick who gives the long filibuster at the arc’s conclusion, apparently laying down some hard truths to the other characters..
Perhaps we should delve into the other prominent theme of the Volume to help answer the question. Throughout the arc, our heroes begin to question just how savage they are becoming in order to survive in the world of The Walking Dead. Rick is the figure most associated with this trend, as he seemingly embraces the more savage aspects of himself in order to help the group survive, but we also see brutal aspects emerging in other characters: We see Tyreese cheating on Carol with a woman he has just met, we see Otis being disgustingly cruel towards Patricia, and we see Glenn enjoying his new system for killing the dead outside the gate. All around, we see our characters becoming more savage people for the new world.
There is some pushback against this though. Michonne, a woman who has been wandering out in the wilderness for months alone, surviving by trailing her dead boyfriend around with her to disguise her scent, decides to give up her weapons to join the main group. She wants to give up her life of savage existence for the closest thing to civilisation she can find. Similarly, we see the group decide for a change in leadership at the end of the arc, seemingly rejecting Rick’s savagery for a more civilised, democratic system to run the group.
However, Rick’s speech at the end seems to shatter all illusions of maintaining any semblance of the old world order. He claims that their old lives ended the moment they first killed one of the living dead, that the world has changed and is never returning to the way it used to be. Rick says that they must be, like the dead around them, creatures of pure survival in order to carry on living.
Rick’s comparisons of the survivors and the zombies is reflected in the rest of the arc. Lori and Michonne have a conversation where they note that small talk is becoming increasingly irrelevant, as questions like “do you have any brothers and sisters?” or “what do you do for work?” are starting to have little to no meaning. It is as though the aspects of our lives that make us human, that separate us from animals, disappeared when the dead began to rise. Additionally, Andrea announces to everyone that she has been altering prison uniforms to give them all new clothes to wear. She tells us that many of the clothes they have been wearing are starting to decay with overuse, so it’s probably best if they just get rid of them. Us dumb humans often define ourselves by the clothes we wear, but here we see the protagonists eschew this in favour of being utilitarian. Our heroes are shedding more aspects of their old lives, adapting to survive in the new world around them.
While our main characters are seemingly becoming less human, we have a long segment of the story where Axel and Billy consider the dead lining the prison fences. They wonder who these people used to be in their former lives, if they have any loved ones still out there, how they died. The two seek to humanise the dead surrounding them, a total inverse of what the narrative is doing to the human characters. Another section of the story has Carl and Sophia consider the zombies, and they both decide that they do not hate them but merely pity them. Again, we are being directed to not see the dead as the main enemy to the living, but something to feel sorry for.
So, in this world of survival where the monsters are human and the humans are turning into monsters, do the ends justify the means? The answer to that seems to be that the question is totally irrelevant. Why does it matter what is right or wrong when you have to fight to survive every day? In the last volume, we dealt with the issue of justice quite heavily, and Rick made one strict rule that they all need to abide by; “You kill, you die”. In this arc, Rick acknowledges that he was being hopelessly “naive” when he thought of that. To survive, our heroes will need to kill, they will have to do horrendous things that would be absolutely reprehensible if done in a civilised world. In The Walking Dead there are no real heroes, only those who are alive and those who are dead, and even then it is hard to make a distinction between the two.
So, how enjoyable is Volume 4 for the reader? Overall, I’d say that the arc is pretty solid, though that it suffers from a few pacing issues and lack of a clear narrative. The action slows down a bit from the previous Volumes, as the characters settle into their new lives in the prison. We see the protagonists begin working to ensure that the prison will be a permanent home to them, and it is great to see them using each other’s strengths in order to improve their lot.
With the slower pace, we get a lot more time devoted to some of the more minor characters, for better or worse. Axel, the sole remaining prisoner, is a source of great comedy but also of introspection; the scene noted above between him, Billy and Hershel is one of the best of the arc. On the other hand, the scene between Otis and Patricia was very awkwardly handled, with the reveal of Otis being a big old racist seemingly coming out of nowhere. He and Tyreese even had a scene together in Volume 2, where Tyreese gave him some advice on how to handle his guilt over shooting Carl. Nowhere did it hint that he harboured racist feeling towards him, so the shift in his character was quite jarring.
The introduction of Michonne is handled pretty well here, with her first scenes being fascinating as she ingratiates herself into the group. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the character that much, but she’s alright in this arc. Sadly, she has little to do in the rest of the Volume besides seducing Tyreese and feeling bad over Carol’s attempted suicide.
Allen’s death was well done, and it’s nice to see Rick make the first attempt at stopping a zombie bite from being a definite fatality. His character has never really made much of an impact in the series, but he went out in an interesting way that set the scene for more conflict in later issues. Carol’s suicide attempt was another shocking moment that is well set up. She is a character I have never devoted much time to in these features, but I think she is always fun to see. She always gives this impression of putting on a good face over mental instability. Watching her try to make out with Rick (only a few issues after trying the same with Lori) only to be rejected made for an enjoyable scene.
The arc does lack a clear narrative structure though, as the crew aren’t really aiming to accomplish anything in particular over these six issues. The abrupt death of Dexter at the opening of the arc leaves us with no antagonist for our heroes to overcome. If I were writing the story, I would probably left Dexter alive for a little longer and made his death all the more brutal. Overall though, the arc is pretty enjoyable and has some good character development. Of course, it does feature… that one line that makes me cringe even to think about. Maybe just tear that final page out of your copy of Volume 4and you’ll enjoy the arc much more.
See y’all next week for another exciting edition!