Book Two picks up where Book One left off, with the group outside the gates of a giant, zombie-filled prison. Getting into and securing that prison becomes the big push of the first half of the book, while living within those walls and dealing with other survivors – some of whom are prisoners who were still inside – takes up the second.
The prison becomes somewhat of an iconic location for The Walking Dead. In fact, I’ve heard more than one person refer to it as “That zombie comic in the prison”. Its entrance into the comic is suitably grand. We get a giant splash page at the end of book one, and getting it secured is a monumental effort on the part of the survivors.
Finding the prison also represents a shift in priorities for the cast. Instead of a desperate search for shelter and food, they can start settling into more natural rhythms. That means we can see a little bit more of their day to day life, like what they’re doing for clothing, and how they’re trying to prepare for the long haul by planting crops in the prison yard.
The prison brings with it security and permanence. Inside its walls, the zombies can’t get to the survivors. They have an ample supply of food, and even things like books and a limited amount of electricity courtesy of a massive generator. While that sounds like a drama killer, it turns out to be anything but. Security, or at least the illusion thereof, tends to lull survivors into a sense of comfort and normalcy, and when that’s inevitably shattered they’re that much less prepared to deal with the cold reality of the undead world.
While the zombie action is generally front-loaded in this book during the prison clean-out, there are a lot of well placed action sequences throughout. Book Two is also were we start seeing non-zombie antagonists becoming more prevalent. The human monsters are, like in most zombie stories, far more dangerous than the walking dead. They can be sneaky, conniving, and hide in plain site. They can work longer angles, and work to psychologically undermine the stability of the group. While the human enemies in Book Two are a threat, they pale in comparison to what’s left to come.
The Walking Dead Book Two also introduces us to an important character, Michonne. She shows up amid a giant action scene, wielding a katana and trailing two armless, jawless zombies behind her in chains. It’s not a subtle entrance, but it gives us a lot of information about the character. Instead of being weak like Carol, passive aggressive like Lori, or desperate and stupid like Patricia, Michonne is ruthless and aggressive. She’s like Andrea turned up to eleven, without the anchor of Dale to tie her to reality.
I’m not a huge fan of Michonne personally (and I’m sure I’m in the minority on that), but I like what she brings to the comic in terms of shaking up the group. Her biggest impact is on Carol, who doesn’t need much pushing to go over the edge to begin with. I won’t spoil the particulars, but it sets up a pretty important series of events the resonates with both the plot and the underlying themes of The Walking Dead.
Where Book One put all the pieces into place, setup the world of The Walking Dead, and showed us the awful consequences of living in it, Book Two is where the series really hits its stride by injecting human drama into the zombie survival story.