The Walking Dead, “Fear The Hunters”
At the end of “What We Become,” we started seeing some dark changes in our character’s demeanor in the face of their everyday survival. During a confrontation with a gang of rapists, Rick managed to tear the throat out of one and stab another repeatedly with a rather vicious hunting knife. Morgan, whom Rick met in volume one, hardly resembles the man we used to know as he kept his undead son chained and fed by animals and other humans Morgan had trapped, believing them to represent a significant danger to him and his son. In “Fear The Hunters,” Rick finally takes a stand against those who wish to do harm upon his own and one of the survivors that has been with Rick since the very beginning doesn’t live to see Washington D.C.
“Fear The Hunters” begins on an ominous note as Andrea stumbles upon a grisly scene: Ben has stabbed his brother Billy to death. Shocked by this terrible sight, Ben tries to assure his “momma” that because he didn’t stab Billy’s brain, he will “come back.” This horrible act forces Abraham to call a meeting with the adults and decide on how to handle a situation – made worse by the fact that Ben doesn’t truly comprehend what he’s done. Recognizing the child as a danger, Abraham suggests that he be dealt with accordingly and makes the point that Ben could easily kill them but before a decision can be reached Rick suggests everyone sleep on it. Their slumber is disturbed by the sound of gunfire – Ben has been shot and killed and no one knows who did it, although the shooter is obvious to the reader. The next morning, a priest named Gabriel Stokes wanders into Rick’s camp and joins their group, pointing them to the direction of a nearby chapel they can use for shelter.
While out searching the woods, Dale is knocked out and kidnapped by two men who bring the old man back to their own shelter. After coming to, Dale is met by a man named Chris who leads a small group of men and women who have resorted to cannibalism. To the old man’s horror, his remaining leg has been cut off and eaten and after getting over his initial shock, he bursts into laughter and gloats to Chris that he and his brood have eaten “tainted meat,” revealing a zombie-related injury he received during an earlier skirmish, but he had kept it hidden from Rick. This angers Chris who proceeds to beat Dale unconscious and decides to take him back to Rick’s camp in order to “scare the game” as it were. If it were any other group, Chris’ gang would have no trouble killing and eating the survivors. As we’re about to find out however, Chris is about to tangle with people who are at the end of their rope.
The next day, Andrea discovers Dale unconscious body near the chapel and after getting him to safety, she angrily storms out to search for those who brought him harm. Rick manages to calm the woman down and suggests they wait for Dale to recover which soothes Andrea and offers to stay by his side until he comes to and recounts his experience with Chris. Allowing his anger to get the better part of him, Rick decides that he’s had enough of people pushing him and his people around and searches for Chris’ camp with Abraham, Andrea and Michonne. At the house, Rick approaches Chris’ gang alone and calmly asks for them to leave his people be. The man laughs off the suggestion and the two talk about Chris’ descent into cannibalism and how it was done out of necessity (the grim confession reveals that their own desperation forced the group to even eat their own children). Disturbed but not phased, Rick gives Chris one last chance to leave his people be. Chris denies this ultimatum causing Rick to signal his people to attack the group. Andrea, proving to be a fantastic shot, takes off the ear and a finger of one while Abraham and MIchonne take care of the others while leaving Chris alive. In tears, the man begs for his life and promises to leave the others be. Instead, Rick tells his team to “hold him down.” We don’t get to see exactly what Rick has done to Chris, only the aftermath: Rick, Michonne, Abraham and Andrea stand defiant as they watch the bodies burn in a pyre.
With the dark deed done, everyone returns back to camp. Andrea rushes off to be with Dale and Rick informs Stokes of what they did to Chris’ gang, mortifying the priest. Andrea and Dale share a tearful and tender moment before he asks to be killed, lest his wounds cause him to change and become a danger to her. A gunshot rings out, but no one reacts. Stokes, still shaken by Rick’s actions, presides over Dale’s funeral. The final pages of the chapter feature Rick speaking with Carl about the deep remorse he feels over the recent acts of violence and how he is haunted by all the grisly scenes of death around him. Carl begins to cry and tells his father that he was the one who shot Ben.
Adults: Rick, Andrea, Glenn, Dale, Maggie, Michonne, Abraham, Rosita, Eugene
Children: Carl, Sophia, Billy, Ben
Losing Dale made me sad. He was one of my favorite characters in the series and to see him go out the way he did was pretty depressing. Still, Kirkman said that no one is safe and although it is easy to tell me not to develop emotional ties with the characters, I find that a difficult task. How can you not feel something for these characters? My ability to feel pain and loss for these people speaks volumes about the quality of the writing.
“Fear The Hunters” ranks pretty high on my list of favorite Walking Dead chapters because we get to see Rick stand up against those who wish to do him harm. For the most part, Rick was a naive fellow who wanted to see the good in people and often expected others to get along in order to survive the greater threat. The Governor, the prison inmates, the highway rapists and Chris’ cannibals have proven Rick wrong time after time and after Dale’s attack, Rick finally says, “You know what? No more. This ends now.” Previously, Rick would have attempted to negotiate with Chris or move onto another camp site, but considering the state of things he’s instead opted to confront his tormentors head on and deal with them accordingly. When the attack leaves Chris as the only survivor, old Rick would have let the man go – earning him a few shakes of the head from certain followers – but new Rick chooses to kill the man in a (supposed) brutal fashion. Chris certainly deserved the actions committed against him, but it’s hard to not feel even a shred of pity for the man and those under his charge. Like Morgan, they all entered into a phase of their life where they grew desperate and fearful in the face of the apocalypse. As we’ve seen before, desperation makes people do terrible and questionable things.
Rick’s defining moment in this volume gets a large, two page spread. In most comics, a two page image would usually be a close up the character’s face and a large, stylized word bubble with lots of thick black lines and a bevy of exclamation points. What we get here is a small, conservative bubble with the words, “Hold him down” in a small, almost somber-looking font. A wise move, considering that the latter would have been considerably out of place for this scene.