One of the things that has made The Walking Dead such an interesting read is how Kirkman keeps his readers on their toes. Like George R.R. Martin, he's known to off a main character when it suits the story, and in pretty brutal ways. It's become so common in the series that readers are expecting it. Hell, in my review of All Out War, Part One, I even toyed with the idea of Andrea or even Rick getting killed in Part Two. But Kirkman surprised me again by keeping the main characters alive, and only killing off some secondary and tertiary characters.
The thing is, Kirkman has been using those deaths as a way to remind us that the world, post-apocalypse, is a brutal place where even the good guys can't survive for long. With the Governor, he showed us that sometimes the only way to deal with a threat is to excise it completely. When Nagan came along, he presented us with an even more psychopathic enemy, who was willing to go to even greater extremes with his methods. So as the battle escalated, I was expecting the same thing as, I presume, every other reader of the series -- for Nagan to die. But Kirkman surprised me again by keeping him alive.
I have mixed feelings about the ending. For one thing, I find it a little hard to believe that Nagan would accept what Rick had to say during their parley so easily. Sure, he's an unpredictable sort (he didn't kill Rick or Carl when he had multiple chances to), but to be swayed that easily? I expected more resistance. The point wasn't to win him over, but to get close enough to critically injure him, but I still had a hard time believing it. And good-intentioned or not, I thought Rick's speech was a little over the top.
For another thing, there's the way that the TV show handled the story with the Governor. I know that the show and the comics have pretty much parted ways, but when the show gave the Governor an opportunity to redeem himself, it turned out that he was still as crazy and unbalanced as ever, which meant he still had to die. I have a feeling that keeping someone like Nagan alive is only going to raise more conflicts in the future. Maybe this is intentional on Kirkman's part; he's built up the characters of Rick and the rest of his survivors to make it reasonable for them to go along with Rick's choice to keep him alive. But I can't help but be reminded that this world isn't one of tea parties and sponge cake. Does it make sense to keep someone as unstable as Nagan alive?
When I initially finished this collection, I didn't like it, but the more I thought about it, the more I wound up liking it. It has complexity, and it makes me waffle with how I wanted it to end. It turns the story back on the readers to make us confront our own expectations of that world, and question whether they're right. Maybe Rick's right, that there's a way to make that world better by not killing our threats, and simply bringing them to justice. It's certainly not an easy choice, but is it the right one?
Time will tell, I suppose. I expect Kirkman will use that as a basis for the next major story arc, and I'm sure that I'll enjoy it as much as I have the rest of the series.