It's the end... and it's the right place for it. Kirkman still caught everyone off guard, mind you, even commissioning covers for fake additional issues so that people wouldn't know the end was coming. But even if he'd artificially extended it (which a part of him wanted to do), people would have looked back and said "the real ending was here". In this fourth compendium, The Walking Dead becomes something it had never been before. Instead of being scary, it's fun.
There's still danger, of course. People will die. There will be proper "armies on battlefields" war. There's also a photo-on-a-wall revelation that made me gasp. (Literally, I gasped. While I was sitting on the sofa with the book on my lap.) The series is still strong and it loses nothing even in this final stretch.
But it's definitely more fun, and even funny. I was laughing a lot. It has jokes and amusing characters. Our heroes on the point of winning, you see, and your stomach isn't being tied in knots any more. Civilisation will be rebuilt, or at least a passable Wild West approximation of the same, with horses and cool cowboy imagery. (Cowboys look awesome. It's nothing I can explain. They just do.) We can sense that this is coming and we're not really scared of the zombies any more, unless something extreme happens. The survivors have got too organised and too good at fending off the undead when they get close.
Of all unlikely people, Negan is the greatest. I love him so much. Yes, he's Rick's personal Hannibal Lecter and, yes, anyone who frees him is too dumb to live... but wow, is he entertaining. Negan vs. the Whisperers is glorious. You won't get scared or nervous, because there's no bad outcome if these people get killed, but it's funny. It's also thematically stronger, because Negan lecturing you on bad behaviour is more startling than similar sentiments from the noble Rick Grimes. And then, ultimately, improbably, I ended up caring about him and finding him one of the most emotionally unexpected characters in the series.
(Incidentally, I've just learned of two Negan specials that I don't believe I've read: Here's Negan and Negan Lives!. I'm thinking of buying them.)
Princess is enough fun that some fans complained she didn't belong in a series like this. "You didn't have to curse." I love her just for that line.
The Commonwealth is an interesting new direction for the series and there are admittedly moments even here where I got nervous... but it was a "first world problems" sort of nervous, compared with earlier in the series. The old world is back, including one or two aspects that our heroes could have lived without.
I've been talking to my brother-in-law about this series. He prefer the comics to their TV adaptation (but regards the TV version of Game of Thrones as an improvement on George R.R. Martin's novels, because of how it expands on them). Personally, I've never seen the TV show, but I've heard that it's been praised for "improving" on some of the comic's abrupt or anticlimactic deaths. Personally, I love those shock deaths. They're real. I love the fact that popularity doesn't necessarily entitle a character to plot immunity, a heroic last stand, a dying speech, etc. Being a fan favourite won't save you from a crossbow bolt through the head. A whiny loser can pull a gun on an iconic hero. Its willingness to pull the rug from under its readers' feet has been one of this series's defining qualities from the start.
The ending glorifies Rick Grimes to heaven and back, but I can accept that. If I'd lived in that world, I'd have that opinion of him too.
This series is outstanding. It's a 16-year, 4000-page post-apocalypse epic that maintains an exceptional level of quality from start to finish. It never flags. No sharks are jumped. It took an over-familiar genre that had never been universally popular and did something new with it. No one else had ever told a zombie story this long and good, all the way from the world-ending outbreak to the inspiring rebirth of civilisation. It leaves 99% of the Western comics industry's output in the dust. Also, every last bit of it was by one writer and almost all (bar issues 1-6) by one artist.
Even if you usually hate the zombie genre, this one's worth a look. It's not subverting anything, mind you. It's just exploring a nightmare scenario powerfully and intelligently.