Book: “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
Publishing Info: Macmillam Audio, October 2011
Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Following in the footsteps of the New York Times best-selling graphic novels and the record-breaking new television show, this debut novel in a trilogy of original Walking Dead books chronicles the back story of the comic book series’ greatest villain, The Governor.
In the Walking Dead universe, there is no greater villain than The Governor. The despot who runs the walled-off town of Woodbury, he has his own sick sense of justice: whether it’s forcing prisoners to battle zombies in an arena for the townspeople’s amusement, or chopping off the appendages of those who cross him. The Governor was voted “Villain of the Year” by Wizard magazine the year he debuted, and his story arc was the most controversial arc in the history of The Walking Dead comic book series. Now, for the first time, fans of The Walking Dead will discover how The Governor became the man he is, and what drove him to such extremes.
Review: I am a casual fan of “The Walking Dead” television show, and I used to be a huge fan of the comics (that is, until I found that moment that just made me say ‘okay, this is far too depressing now, I’m done’). One of the most jarring, upsetting, and well thought out storylines from the comics, and probably the show too, was that of Woodbury and it’s despicable leader Philip Blake, aka The Governor. While he is an antagonist in both mediums, I would say that I probably prefer him on the show as opposed to the comics. In the comics, The Governor is supremely evil, but almost in an over the top kind of way and just there to shock and disgust you, without having any depth or dimension to him. On the show he was more complex and nuanced, so while he was still reprehensible in a lot of ways, he at least remained interesting. And plus, it helped that David Morrissey played him and made him super easy on the eyes.
I’ve known about the prequel “Governor” trilogy for awhile, but I just decided to give it a go recently because it’s been awhile since I’ve read the comics, and I sort of wanted to see if Robert Kirkman was going to make him a bit more rounded by showing how he became the monster that he is. The first in this series is “Rise of the Governor”. Going into it I knew to expect something dark and nasty. I guess I just wasn’t prepared by how dark and nasty it was.
Kirkman achieves giving one of his most notorious villains a back story that both humanizes him and shows just how he could turn into the monster he becomes. And I mean a monster. In this book we follow Philip Blake, his brother Brian, and his daughter Penny right after the zombie infection has taken hold. So we get to see Philip turn from doting father with a sweet daughter into a blood thirsty murderer/rapist who is toting his zombified daughter around on a chain leash. How fun. But even though it’s incredibly depressing and incredibly dark, giving The Governor a back story ultimately does a service to the character. It’s not that we feel sorry for him after all of this has happened. I mean, we do, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. What it does do is show how even a normal guy like him can be so transformed and so mutated that you don’t even recognize him anymore. Philip’s relationships with his companions are all intricate and special in their own ways. Yes, he has a touching relationship with Penny (I will never, ever not be saddened by sweet innocent Penny), but I also liked the complexities and realism of the relationship he has with his older brother Brian. Brian is a very fascinating character as well, and his point of view is the other dominant one in the book. He’s a man who has always been seen as a loser and a black sheep before the world ends, outshined by and dependent on his little brother. And when he finds himself in a new world, he too starts to slowly transform from kind of a weenie, into a protector (as he is the one who cares after Penny the most), and finally into a hardened and cold person who is on a dark, dark path. The transformations of the two brothers are slow and agonizing, and I found myself aching for them both knowing what was coming. After all, The Governor has no brother to speak of in the comics, and you get attached to Brian as the voice of reason and the guy who is just trying to keep everything together. But even then, Kirkman manages to surprise his readers, as this story isn’t without it’s twists to keep us on our toes. I had an inkling that not all was as it seemed, but the fact that I could still just be gutted by the big reveal near the end (no spoilers) really goes to show how Kirkman relentlessly goes for the jugular.
That said, while I did enjoy the background given to The Governor, and while it made me want to smother myself because of the feelings, this book sort of reminded me why I gave up on these comics when I did. I was able to get through some of the darker arcs in the series, The Governor included, but there were many times that I was so disgusted and upset that I had to pace myself through the panels lest I feel sick, until I just said ‘okay, that’s enough’ and just set it down for good. And this book was a grim reminder that Kirkman pushes boundaries and doesn’t hold back. So I have to give this book a lot of trigger warnings, not the least of which being graphic depictions of rape. There are two rape scenes in this book, both of which are brutal and very hard to listen to or read, depending on your medium. Like many people, I have a hard time when it comes to rape in storylines, and I am always very conscientious to try and disseminate to what end it is being used in regards to the story. While I know that these two separate scenes are important turning points in Philip’s arc, that’s just the problem: they are all about him and never about the women that he is victimizing. That isn’t to say that it isn’t absolutely horrible; I never felt that it was exploitative or titillating. But I did feel that Kirkman used rape as a way to show how horrible Phillip is, when there were PLENTY of other reasons to think that he was horrible. I don’t know. I have a hard time. It didn’t feel totally distasteful like some portrayals in recent pop culture. But it certainly didn’t feel necessary either.
Finally I should note the format. I did listen to this on audiobook, not sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. The narrator, Fred Berman, did an excellent job. His voice was malleable enough that he could change it effortlessly. All of the characters had distinct tones and voices, and he managed to believably play Penny, which I have to give him serious props for. Not all grown men can pull off the voice of an eight year old girl and not sound at least a little ridiculous.
This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but then again, what “Walking Dead” fan is faint of heart? “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” is a great addition to the universe, and I think that all fans who enjoyed the Governor storyline should give it a go. Just be warned: it goes about as gruesomely as a Governor story could possibly go.
Rating 8: A well written backstory to a very dark character, “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” is brutal and devastating. Though sometimes it piles on the violence in an unnecessary way, it is ultimately a great addition to “The Walking Dead” canon.
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