Book Review: The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Yeah, my summer reading is in a funny cycle right now, and my current bender has been focused on The Walking Dead.
Anyhow, I pretty much have to cut this whole review for major spoilers, and it’s a little hard to talk about the story without talking about the biggest spoiler of them all in this book. So, I’ll just use this little quote from the book as a spoiler warning and for spoiler space:
As they drive off, each and every one of them–even Penny–glances back through the rear window at the little square sign receding into the distance behind them:
DO NOT ENTER
Rise of the Governor is the first book in a trilogy that sets the foundation for Philip Blake’s reign as “governor” of Woodbury. The story begins with two brothers, Philip and Brian Blake, and Philip’s daughter, Penny. The brothers, Penny, and two of Philip’s friends, Bobby Marsh and Nick Parsons are hiding out from walkers in the affluent neighborhood Whiltshire Estates. The decision to hide in the neighborhood seemed the best idea at the time, but the gated community had been ravished hard and fast by the outbreak. They try to stick it out and fortify their position at Philip’s demand, but after a zombie kills one of Philip’s friends, they finally decide that it’s time to cut their losses and move on to Atlanta where they receive the Rick Grimes zombie horde welcome, which eventually leads to their departure and taking up residence in Woodbury.
Much of this book is told from the point-of-view of the brothers, and they couldn’t be more different if they tried. Brian is the oldest, but he’s frail and a bit sickly. Before the outbreak, he’d been living with their parents mourning another failed business venture and the loss of his Jamaican wife (seriously). He admires his brother’s toughness and dominance even though Philip is younger, but I didn’t really feel like Brian wanted to be an alpha male more than he wanted to be seen as someone who contributed something to their survival.
On the other hand, Philip is blessed with all the “good genes.” He’s tall and intimidating. He’s a manly man tempered with a little softness thanks to his daughter. He looks out for his brother, but thinks Brian is pretty useless. The only thing Philip really trusts Brian to do is look after his daughter, who is beginning to pull further and further into herself, during attacks. After the death of his wife, Philip’s main concern became Penny and doing whatever he needed to do in order to make sure she had everything she needed. He takes charge of their group, often making decision without much input from them (or still outright ignoring their suggestions). He has the presence of a leader, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the various leader types shown in the comic, on the show, and in this book, people are going to lean on the leader with an almost blind loyalty because of the high stress situation.
One of the enduring themes I’ve noticed with Kirkman and his leader-types is that many accept or put themselves in these positions, and eventually, the stress seems to work them over double time, as it should. It’s not an easy task to try to ensure the survival of a group of people or make most of the decisions that could potentially get them killed. You have zombies to worry about, but you also have the pressure of everyone looking to you for answers, support, etc. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting, and the leaders suffer so much more for it. Some of them still try to rise above that. They try to adapt this new harder stance they have to take while still maintaining some sort of decency and fairness. However, some take the other road and decide that you have to be a monster to survive the monsters. Philip falls in this latter group.
We watch Philip tread further and further down away from his own humanity while reasoning he’s doing these things for his daughter’s safety. After his daughter’s death and return as a walker, he becomes downright vicious and insane. None of the these things are surprising. This is the Governor after all, and we know that he employs some brutal methods. At times, though, some of his behavior makes you wonder how he comes back from that insanity at all to be able to put up the facade of the Governor.
Answer: He doesn’t.
Philip Blake is not the Governor. Philip eventually forces the hand of his friend, Nick, who fatally shoots him. In turn, Brian murders Nick and holds his dying brother in his arms. Assuming the identity of his brother, Brian takes over the town of Woodbury from its current governor and begins preparations to take the town back from the walkers.
While I liked the little twist at the end, it’s also one of my chief complaints. Brian’s decision to take on his brother’s name at the end of the story didn’t really seem like the thing he’d do. The two brothers didn’t seem particularly close, even as they survived through that horror together. Brian sought Phillip’s approval, obviously, but beyond that I don’t really feel like Brian wanted whatever alpha male presence his brother possessed.
Maybe this is Brian’s way of dealing with the loss of his family. Maybe this broke him in some ways, even though he sees his actions following the death of his brother as sensible and strong, and there were a few instances in the book where he’d thought about wanting to do the “manly” things Phillip and his friends had done. He also mentioned early in the novel that his brother was changing for the worst and this change reverberated through him. Also, the book makes it a point that Brian is out of place in the world and doesn’t really know his calling. Apparently, the outbreak showed him his place in the world. So, I’m trying to look at it in that vein.
I had some other minor annoyances with the book. There were parts that I wished were fleshed out more, and there were some things that I felt were just unnecessary. While this is a decent foundation read even for those who aren’t familiar with the show or comics, readers jumping in from this point may find the world building lacking in some ways. Overall, however, I enjoyed this more than the comics. Also, I really appreciated this look at how the Governor came into power.