Ahoy fellow zombie lovers, welcome back to our (belated) weekly analysis of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, where we go through each issue and look at what each arc is trying to say.
This time, we are looking at Volume 2: Miles Behind Us, commonly known amongst fans as “the farm arc”.
Yes, the farm. The Walking Dead show watchers out there will feel a lump at the back of their throat; they will feel the hair rising on the nape of their necks. Some of you may have understandably repressed season 2 of The Walking Dead. It is even used as a form of torture by the CIA, where they play it on loop to interrogate foreign agents. It is the single most inane, horrifying piece of television ever put on screen. Endless talking and talking and talking, problems being resolved in one scene before being unresolved the next. Soon you begin questioning your sanity: “Did I watch this episode before? It feels like Sofia has missing for years. Why am I still watching this shit? Have I already stopped watching? Why can I smell almonds?”.
Well, luckily for us literate people out there, Kirkman’s version of this story is way less painful. To recap quickly, our crew start the arc by hitting the open road, as Rick suggested in the last volume. They find out that the nomadic lifestyle ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, as they struggle to find food, medical supplies and other valuable items. What they do find is diversity, as they encounter the zombie tackling badass himself, Tyreese.
Sadly, he comes with his dull daughter Julie and creepy boyfriend Chris, but hey, net gain overall. We also discover that Lori is pregnant.
Our heroes find also run across a gated community which they briefly consider staying in, until they meet the neighbours. Donna is killed, which should be a cause for celebration but the useless Allen bums everybody out. The group set out into the wild once more, returning to their struggle to find food and shelter.
Eventually Carl is shot while he, Rick and Tyreese are out hunting one day. The shooter, Otis, helps them get Carl to Hershel’s farm, where the titular owner can patch him back up. Hershel lives on his farm with his army of children and their neighbours Otis and Patricia.
All finally seems well for the gang for a while, until Rick finds out that Hershel is keeping his undead son and neighbours trapped in his barn. You can literally see the moment in Rick’s face when he realises he is staying with a nutjob:
Hershel believes that we simply do not know enough about the zombie condition to just kill them, as it is entirely possible that they might fight off death and magically return back to life. Whether or not Hershel believes that his fairy godmother will help with this is not known. Inevitably, these zombie prisoners break free and kill two of Hershel’s children.
Tensions run high on the farm after this, and eventually Hershel threatens to backhand Lori. Sadly he is interrupted by Rick, the spoilsport.
Hershel has a breakdown, threatens to shoot Rick, and the gang decide to leave the farm. All except Glenn, who has been bonking Hershel’s daughter and doesn’t want to return to his life of forced celibacy. Our zombie killing pals return to their shitty life on the road, until they discover one of the most famous locations from The Walking Dead: the prison.
See, that was nowhere near as painful as the farm arc on the show?
So, what can we say about Volume 2 then, eh? Well it should be fairly apparent that the main theme of this arc is loss and how we try to cope with it. We open our story with the gang saying goodbye to Shane, who died after attempting to murder Rick. We see two different ways our characters react to death; We have Rick, who tries to learn from this loss, and we have Lori who aggressively rejects her feelings for him. Rick sees that the world they now live in can drive people into insanity, even someone he had known and trusted for years. He speaks about this frequently across the arc, voicing his disbelief at Shane’s descent into madness and wondering if this could happen to Rick himself. Lori’s aggression, meanwhile, only manifests as trouble. When she confronts Hershel at the end of the arc, she shouts at him, plainly refusing to offer any understanding to the loss of his children. She even accuses him of causing their deaths, which, while true, only drives a damaged man like Hershel to throwing them off the farm.
Feelings of loss manifest in many of our characters in this arc, and it seems that Kirkman wants us to see that the best way to cope is to reach out to someone else. In the case of Dale and Andrea, this is romantic. When we left Andrea at the end of Volume 1, she was still devastated by the loss of her sister, and barely spoke at all. Similarly, we see her do little at the beginning of this volume until she has sex with Dale. As icky as it may be, she regains a sense of agency, and begins helping the group to survive once again. Dale is also still struggling over the death of his wife, but in connecting with Andrea he too benefits. He advises Rick and Lori frequently over their own personal problems, and this advice seems to sink in as both characters follow it.
We also follow the grief of Allen’s loss throughout this arc. As useless as Allen was, he always seemed to be a good father to his two sons. Upon losing Donna, however, we see that this quality evaporates. He seems uncaring and is more than willing to leave his children in the hands of others. He remains disconnected from the rest of the group, and even lashes out at Andrea as she attempts to comfort him (though admittedly she is chastising him quite harshly). Allen becomes a liability for the survivors, as they have to watch over him in case he commits suicide. Allen’s eventual salvation comes as he realises he needs to raise his boys in order to honour Donna. Once again, it is external connection that allows him to let go of his grief.
The inability to let go of what one has lost is what characterises Hershel in this arc. Hershel is a conservative, traditional figure; he is a man who gave up his own passion of being a veterinarian to keep his family farm alive. He is so unable to let go of the loss of his son and friends that he keeps their cannibalistic corpses in the barn right next to where he sleeps. He is deceiving himself into believing he can regain his losses so much that he believes the reanimated bodies will just become fully alive again, and magically his family will return to him. This costs him the lives of two more of his children, and while he accepts the zombies are indeed dead, he still finds himself unable to let go of his children. He refuses to allow the group to stay in his dead children’s’ rooms because he still cannot let go of them, even though the world of The Walking Dead requires pragmatism in order to survive. Ultimately, this inability to accept loss begins to lead him down the path of insanity.
Glenn is another character who struggled to come to terms with the loss, though in a far less direct manner. Glenn was a person who struggled in the civilised world, as he discussed in Volume 1. He was in debt, was isolated from his own family and had no real career to speak of. When we meet him in The Walking Dead, however, he is one of the best survivors the group has to offer, keeping them alive through his daring trips into the infested streets of Atlanta. At the conclusion of this issue we discover the real reason for this reckless attitude though. Glenn felt as though he had nothing worth living for, so he didn’t really care if he lived or died. In meeting Maggie, he has overcome his disconnectedness and suicidal tendencies, and has finally found some form of peace. Love is what keeps us sane in the insane world of The Walking Dead. Yes I know that sounds lame, but that is what Kirkman is going for, and why not? You bloody cynics.
This theme will grow more and more throughout the oncoming issues, and is one of the factors that makes The Walking Dead rather unique amongst zombie media. As it runs on longer and longer, we experience the losses alongside our heroes. We see them suffer more and more, and we see them learn to cope with each loss and grow from it, not necessarily always for the better.
Overall, this is a pretty decent arc from the series. It lacks the shocking thrust into the world of The Walking Dead of the first volume, yet still packs itself full of drama. The addition of Tyreese is brilliant, as he is consistently a likeable yet clearly flawed man. Sadly, we cannot say the same for his daughter Julie, who has no character whatsoever, and her boyfriend Chris, who does nothing but have a few creepy moments littered throughout the issues.
Hershel’s farm is a fun setting too, with Hershel himself being a fascinating character who is very likeable yet still entirely deluded man. Watching him realise his mistakes after his children’s deaths is heartbreaking, and his mental breakdown the following issue is very believable. His whole story makes for some great drama, but the impact of his kids deaths is lessened somewhat in that they were not really characterised at all throughout the arc. The only one of Hershel’s family to be given much time is Maggie, and her romance with Glenn is also enjoyable to see.
Donna’s death is also a highlight, though it is blatantly set up by her suddenly becoming a friendly, hopeful person in contrast to the complete bitch she was in the first arc. Allen’s reaction to her death serves to make him a much more interesting character than the lazy, easygoing guy with saw in volume 1.
Volume 2 does lack any form of real antagonist for our heroes, the closest person to this being Hershel as he begins to lose his mind. This actually makes the arc more interesting, however, as instead of the usual greedy bastard type character you get in most zombie films, you have a believable drama between people who feel real. You always understand each person’s motivations and the action flows seamlessly.
The other notable thing about this arc is that we see a change in artist. Series co-creator Tony Moore left after the first arc, and we now have artist Charlie Adlard from here on out. Adlard’s style is much less detailed than Moore, and I feel the gritty style fits the tone of the series much better. We do still have some funny panels though; see the pained reactions of the group as they try to comfort Allen. Except for Rick, who is apparently thinking about filing his tax returns:
Well that’s all for Volume 2 folks, tune in next week for a look at The Walking Dead: Safety Behind Bars.