If you are not current with Season 3 of The Walking Dead, there will be some big surprises in store.
The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor is a prequel novelization co-penned by comic creator Robert Kirkman and author Jay Bonansinga. As the title suggests, this novel details how the Walking Dead villain The Governor started in this zombie afflicted world and what it took to create one of fiction’s iconic villains.
What I expected was a cataloging of how The Governor, or Philip Blake, came to Woodbury and gradually took power. What I didn’t expect was the majority of the story being Philip, his daughter Penny, his brother Brian, and friend Nick traveling from here to there trying to scrape by a semblance of a living. Much of the storyline doesn’t have much of an overarching plot, but is a basic survival story. Midway through the book, the group reaches an apartment building in Atlanta where they meet the Chalmers family who used to be a folk band.
It’s an insightful character study, but this ultimately leads to one of the darkest points for Philip Blake, when he gets too emotionally involved with April Chalmers. This eventually leads them to move on from Atlanta, and accidentally discover the fledgling town of Woodbury.
At just over 300 pages, the book is still a fairly fast read. The chapters have multiple breaks in them, with each section lasting about a page or two. It gets right into the head-smashing goodness from the start, as Brian Blake hides with his niece Penny in a closet, while Philip and Nick take to clearing out a house full of walkers. Rise of the Governor is also written in a surprisingly smart way. I don’t mean it reads like a textbook, but the language and style don’t talk down to the reader. It really shows how far the zombie genre has come. This is not just a horror, but a dissection of the human psyche during a crisis and that’s what really makes the Walking Dead universe so fascinating.
The tale is told loosely from Brian Blake’s point of view. He’s the middle guy, not as strong willed as his younger brother Philip, and not a holy roller like their friend Nick. In fact, Brian is seen as the weakling of the group, unable to adapt or cope with this new world. It’s made clear early on that without his brother as an ally, he would have never survived this long. One is left wondering when Philip (soon to be the ominous sounding Governor) would kill his brother out of spite or pity.
Why Read the Book?
Rise of the Governor correlates well with both the comic and television series, establishing the same themes. There is the bleak acceptance that normal people have with an abnormal problem, such as cleaning an apartment complex of walkers or dealing with brutish forces ruling a town of people (not yet the Governor, either!). It deals with the gray area between right and wrong, and asks whether or not certain “good” people should be sacrificed because they can’t contribute in this new world. Brian Blake is such a powerful character and from his viewpoint we can see his fear that maybe his brother will decide he’s no longer worth saving.
Another major point this book explores that we see neither in the comics nor the show is how Penny becomes a walker and how Philip Blake is unwilling to do what is necessary and kill her. The book describes a father-daughter bond that was strong before all this happened and how horrified he is that Penny looks increasingly melancholy and apathetic. When Penny is accidentally killed by a violent, marauding band of survivors, it’s almost a relief that the little girl no longer has to cope with an unhappy life. Philip is more than heartbroken by this tragedy and cannot do what needs to be done. Something in him snaps and he takes another big step towards his inevitable future.
It was a good read, but possibly the best part about it was the ending. The ending was darker and faster paced than the rest of the book and packed in a twist, so mind-bogglingly good that Shyamalan should no longer use the term. Okay, maybe not that crazy, but it really sold the story for me. Now, I felt this particular twist coming a few pages before it happened, but I count it a win on Bonansinga’s and Kirkman’s part that I didn’t see it coming halfway through the book. For the sake of not being totally spoilery, I won’t divulge the twist here, but let’s suffice to say that The Governor, Philip Blake, is definitely not who you would think he is.
Jay Bonansinga has a nice little point of view piece posted on his website(http://www.jaybonansinga.com/archives/123) about the book. He goes on to describe how zombies are this generation’s monster, representing more than just a monster-of-the-week. He points out that zombies in fiction represent whatever our fears are, whether it’s terrorism or global warming or something more personal like an inability to pay a mortgage. They are any fear projected on a shambling, rotting corpse that was once living. A great quote from his site sums up this idea: “It sounds grim but the zombie is the personification of the blunt, impassive, inexorable obsolescence lurking beneath the shiny surface of modern life.”
About the Authors:
Robert Kirkman is the creator of the Walking Dead franchise and is a partner at Image Comics. Jay Bonansinga is an author of numerous titles such as The Killers Game and Twisted, as well as an indie filmmaker. Rise of the Governor is part of a trilogy of prequel novels, which include The Walking Dead: Road to Woodbury and The Fall of the Governor which is to be released September of 2013. Bonansinga has also written a Walking Dead short called “Just Another Day at the Office” available on Amazon for the Kindle.
Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 stars