The Walking Dead, “Safety Behind Bars”
After being forced off Hershel’s farm, Rick and the survivors have found a seemingly abandoned prison – after they clear out the zombies first. While Rick, Tyreese and Dale formulate a plan for clearing the zombies, the other survivors return to Hershel and invite him to stay with the group. Rick and Tyreese stumble upon a cafeteria occupied by four convicts and while happy to find the place stocked with food that the convicts are willing to share, certain members of Rick’s group, especially Lori, are wary of them.
With Hershel, his three daughters and Glenn adjusting to their new home, the silence is broken by the sound of gunfire. Rick and Tyreese run to the source, only to discover his daughter Julie dead and her boyfriend Chris cowering in the corner. As it turns out, the two had planned a murder suicide pact that went wrong and to Tyreese’s dismay, his daughter comes back to life as a zombie. After Chris shoots her, Tyreese strangles the boy until he dies and waits for him to turn. Seeing this causes Rick to head back to their old camp to see Shane once more.
Things get worse in the prison as one of the convicts, Thomas, makes gets friendly with Otis’ girlfriend Patricia before seeking out Hershel’s two youngest daughters. Hershel himself wanders the prison looking for them and stumbles upon a grisly scene of his two decapitated daughters. Suspecting the prisoners, the crew force them into a locked room, which doesn’t sit well with their leader. Things come to a head when Thomas attempts to attack Andrea who manages to get away (after suffering a deep cut on her face) and runs to find the others. When Thomas’ true nature is discovered by everyone, Rick beats him within an inch of his life, severely disfiguring his face and breaking his hand in the process. Rather than kill him outright, Rick establishes a “You Kill, You Die” rule in order to maintain some semblance of social order.
This rule is put to the ultimate test when the convict leader, now armed, tells Rick at gunpoint to leave.
Adults: Rick, Lori, Allen, Donna, Carol, Shane, Jim, Andrea, Amy, Glenn, Dale,Tyreese, Julie, Chris, Hershel, Billy, Maggie, Otis, Patricia
Children: Carl, Sophia, Billy, Ben
Safety Behind Bars is the first volume in the series in which zombies are not the primary cause of death among the survivors. The prison, as secure and comfortable as it is, is where we start noticing Rick’s sense of territoriality. He seems to operate under the pretense that because he and his group found the prison, it is theirs to live in without stopping to consider whether or not others have occupied it. After discovering that four convicts have been living in the facility, Rick chooses to trust them fairly quickly, unaware that Thomas is actually a brutal murderer.
Thomas is another part of what makes this volume interesting. Even in the face of utter ruin and chaos, some habits are hard to break. He shows no remorse for murdering Hershel’s two daughters and is unrepentant when Patricia attempts to save him. His beating at the hands of Rick shows his fierce defense of his own people, but that the stress of living day to day is getting to him. Only when he sees the survivors look at him in shock does he stay his hand and implement some form of order.
We also find out how the zombie infection works in this volume. Thanks to George Romero, we’ve been trained to believe that if you are bitten by a zombie, you become one. In Kirkman’s world, however, we’re already infected and will become a zombie regardless if we are bitten or killed by other means. This certainly raises the stakes, as it means that even in safety, there is a risk of turning into the undead. It is a great twist on the formula and keeps a popular genre fresh.
Adlard’s more realistic rendering of the characters makes many of the grisly deaths all the more disturbing for me. Seeing the mutilated corpses of Hershel’s poor daughters was difficult to see again.