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It's about the living; not the undead
on March 20, 2014
Kirkman's frighteningly realized world of the zombie apocalypse hits its stride in the second compendium of this graphic serial. The ground rules have now been firmly established: a mysterious viral infection has turned most of humanity into shambling hordes of ravenous creatures. Society has collapsed, resources are scarce and no where is really safe. Desperate choices have to be made at every turn. Beloved characters can and do die with heart-breaking frequency. And every day, horrible things happen to fundamentally decent people; man, woman and child.
And then there's this chillingly unique spin on the time-worn zombie trope: in Kirkman's universe every living soul is already infected. Regardless of how they die, everyone is doomed to rise as a zombie. The only thing that can spare you that grim fate is a well-placed blow or shot to the brain.
But throughout it all, Kirkman keeps us focused on one central premise: in the time of the apocalypse when the dead roam the earth, it is the living that one must truly fear; not the undead.
Thus the titular conceit refers not to the undead ghouls, but the hapless survivors themselves; constantly on the move, always one step away from death, and steadily losing the last shreds of their humanity. The survivors are already walking corpses save one scant biological distinction. What does it mean to be human when survival often comes only at the expense of others? Who are the real monsters when both the living and undead prey upon those struggling to survive?
This central theme is the essential genius of this comic series, beautifully illustrated in lavish, gruesome detail, peppered with chilling dialog and some the tightest, most soul-searing plotting outside a Cormac McCarthy novel. This is a very dark, very adult "comic" series; but it has profoundly insightful things to say about the nature of humanity.