All hell is breaking loose at Alexandria, and despite this, Robert Kirkman produces a subtle, character-driven narrative that is as emotional as it is intense. In The Walking Dead #164, Kirkman focuses the narrative lens in on Negan and Rick Grimes and their relationship, and the result of this unique framing is amazing. Amidst darkness, there is light. Amidst pandemonium, there is order. Amidst a relationship that is built upon fear and skull-crushing, somehow, there is mutual understanding.

The Walking Dead #164, “A Fallen House,” immediately follows the events of Issue #163; the book starts out with Rick barely escaping from a massive herd of walkers. If it hadn’t been for the help of an unlikely ally, Rick would have met his end…

Just seconds before Rick would have fallen into the clutches of the hungry horde, Negan (of all people) pulls Rick into a house, and in doing so, saves his life. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Negan has been placed on a path that potentially leads to redemption, I was just as shocked as Rick when Negan saved his life.

Once ushered to safety, Rick is clearly uninterested in the conversation that Negan works to create, and is angry for having to rely on Negan. Negan, of course, realizes this and steps up his conversation game and tries intently to make Ricks converse with him. Ultimately, Rick does ‘open-up,’ and in doing so, he inspires Negan to offer up a genuine, heartfelt (I can’t believe that I’m using this word in the same sentence as the name Negan) explanation of why he is the way that he is.

For a moment, Negan’s defenses come down, he is vulnerable, and in this moment, Negan offers up an explanation of why he killed Glenn in such a brutal way. Negan looks to Rick and says, “I just lost all respect for the human race.” He then continues, adding, “Makes it really easy to bash a man’s brains in when you think it might actually save all his friends.” Intense.

Not only does Negan’s brain bashing come up in conversation, but his wife does as well. In speaking about the worst thing that he has ever done, Negan refers to his wife, saying, “She’s a pile of dry bones rotting on a f****** floor… My Wife… Because of me.” In a single, beautiful exchange of dialogue, the emotional torment that Negan experiences from day to day becomes clear. Excellent work Mr. Kirkman, excellent work indeed.

Outside of the home where Negan and Rick are having their heart to heart (again, heart to heart and Negan in the same sentence, I’m giving myself the creeps here), Andrea, Jesus, Maggie, and Michonne attempt to steer the herd of walkers away from Alexandria. Carl, who is forced to stay behind, rallies the Alexandrians together to kick ass and take out the already thinning herd. Way to go Carl. This is a brief but exciting moment for the son of Rick Grimes.

After reading The Walking Dead #164, I cannot wait to see how the next chapter in Rick and Negan’s relationship continues to develop. Definitely, read this issue.