I'm glad I took time off from reading this series. That last volume was brutal.
Vol. 9 of The Walking Dead handles the events of Vol. 8 the only way it could (and still keep readers from wanting to kill themselves from sadness). The first half is relatively quiet, with Carl and Rick moving slowly down the road, ambling to nowhere basically, and dealing with their grief over the loss of Lori and baby Judy, as well as their other friends. On top of being physically ill, Rick seems to be losing his mind, hallucinating and just generally feeling horrible about himself. Carl has a really neat -- and sad -- moment where he realizes he's not a kid anymore, and he could survive without his dad if he had to. Thinking about kids living in this world Kirkman has created is just the worst.
As the story goes on, Kirkman adds characters back in little by little, reuniting Carl and Rick with Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, Dale, Andrea, and Sophia. And just when they're about to get comfortable, some newcomers show up and convince everyone that staying in the same place (Hershel's farm) is the same thing as asking to be found and killed by Roamers. One of them even claims to have the secret to getting things back to the way they were before (I'll believe that when I see it). But for now, they're on their way to Washington D.C. with a new goal and new companions, and the only thing they can do is keep moving forward.
I can't help but feel like there's no way any of this could ever get better, that the series will inevitably end with literally everyone dying, but until that last shred of hope is extinguished (and Kirkman won't do this if he has even one working brain cell in his head), I guess I'll keep reading.