The Bookshelf: The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga


If you are a fan of the television series The Walking Dead, you have no idea who the Governor is… if you are a fan of the comic, this is the back story to how Philip Blake became the monster we all love to hate.  Written by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga, this is the first of a planned series of back and side stories that Kirkman has planned in an effort to both expand the universe of The Walking Dead and to fill in a number of gaps in our understanding of certain characters who have come and/or gone throughout the seven and a half year run of the book… and the Governor was the perfect place to start.

Television viewers may wish to stop reading now… how the Gov. fits into the entire story arc is extremely spoilery for events that may, or may not, occur in either the coming second half of the second season, or in the third season.  And frankly, I can’t avoid talking about certain plot points.  OK… you have been adequately warned.

The novel opens a week or so after the zombie apocalypse has begun… keeping with the mystery of how and why is all started, this is never explained.  Philip Blake, his older brother Brian, his daughter Penny and his two friends Bobby and Nick are doing their best to find shelter and a safe place to live, as are our intrepid heroes in the main story.  Immediately, we see the roles each character plays… Philip is clearly the cool under fire type leader, Brian is, and always has been weaker and less charismatic than his older brother and their two buddies are Philip’s fairly well fleshed out entourage of ne’er-do-wells.  Although Philip has a rough back story, he is still a caring brother and father… as the story progresses, he takes more and more actions that cause his small group and others they come into contact with to question his methods and ultimately, his sanity (how generalized was that description??).

That is the basic story in a nutshell.  Much of the action that happens in this novel is fairly standard genre fare.  What sets this novel apart is that foreknowledge of what he will become and trying to pick apart the psychology of someone as sadistic as his character becomes.  This, unfortunately is where the book falls a wee bit short.  It’s great fun to read, quick and enjoyable throughout… but certain events occur that push the limits of believability a bit too far… and that is not easy to do in a zombie apocalypse story.  I shan’t spoil too much here… but something happens towards the end that will leave you gape mouthed and calling bullshit.  Don’t get me wrong though, exciting read with a number of truly creepy and frightening moments.

“I always kind of looked at it like Rick and the Governor were two sides of the same coin, and if Rick had gone down a certain path he could have ended up exactly like that guy.  And so I had a story in mind of how he became that guy and what caused him to be that bad of a person.”  This is a Kirkman quote from the Wikipedia entry on the novel, which nicely sums up not only the reason for the novel, but also the reason for the character himself.  Not only is he a fantastic foil for Rick, he is also that dark mirror that, if you have read the comic, you realize Rick has dipped his toe into more than a few times.

There are only one or two cross-over events between this novel and the comic… the first, is Wiltshire Estates (I love that this novel clears up one little mistake from the comic.  The first time we see Wiltshire Estates in the comic, that is the name.  All subsequent appearances of the name of the gated community are Wilshire Estates… minus the T.  This always bugged me… now Kirkman seems to be saying, no, it was Wiltshire).  As you will know, this plays a significant role in the story arc and for our group, happens just before heading to Hershel’s farm.  Obviously, this has been excised from the television show.  Bummer… because the novel explains the set up for the awesome reveal at the end of that particular arc… and it felt very rewarding to have that explained, and more importantly, felt true and germane to source material.

The second cross-over is towards the end… where inevitably, we know, the Governor will arrive at Woodbury.  I won’t say how far into that story it delves… but it does end there.

Will The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor win any awards?  Probably not.  Will reading this satisfy a hard core zombie fan’s bloodlust?  Perhaps.  Will a fan of The Walking Dead get all the answers we want in the question of “where did this monster come from”?  Maybe not all, but we get answers… they may not be perfect, or expected in some cases… but I can’t imagine a fan of the series not reading this novel.

The moment I finished the novel my mind suddenly raced with all of the potential novels in the future.  How about a novel for Michonne’s story before she arrives at the prison?  Maybe a book about Alexander Davidson and the beginnings of the Community?  Or… and this is a favorite possibility of mine that would tie together all versions… maybe a Daryl back story… because if you are current with the comic, you would have noticed a mysterious person with binoculars looking at the Community… any chance that could be Daryl Dixon?  I know Kirkman has mentioned adding him to the comic since he has become a fan favorite (this fan included).  This is all pure speculation on my part… but if anyone reading this has Kirkman’s number, feel free to let him know of my ideas… I’m sure he’s interested! (that was a joke… my head isn’t THAT big)

Also… if they are going to bring the Governor into the show in season three… I want to start a campaign to try to hire Danny Trejo.  He would be perfect… probably too expensive… probably too on the nose… but that would be my dream casting.  I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be the guy taking care of old people from the season 1 episode, Vatos.  That would annoy me… but would also make sense.  Time will tell…

In the meantime, while waiting for the second half of season 2, treat yourself to The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor.  And if you haven’t read the comic series, what in the fuck are you waiting for?  Plus, why did you read this far?  What is wrong with you?

Give that man a hand,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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