"The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor" Book Review
Written by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
2011, 308 Pages, Fiction
Released on October 11th, 2011
The world of comic book villains is pyramid shaped. Rarely do characters reach that upper echelon of villainy. For every Joker there are a dozen Rainbow Raiders. In recent years there's been one new member to this elusive club: The Governor. He rules over the town of Woodbury in Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead and is one of the most despicable characters ever created. This makes him incredibly entertaining to read because you just can't believe what he'll do next. Whether it's feeding body parts to his zombie daughter or cutting off a main character's hand, this guy is pure evil. This is why I was so excited to read The Rise of the Governor, the first novel from the Walking Dead franchise, as it tells the story of how Philip Blake became such a ruthless tyrant.
The Rise of the Governor picks up days after the zombie outbreak. Philip is heading for Atlanta with his daughter Penny, brother Brian, and a couple buddies from high school. He's had a rough life but his kid keeps him going. As we all know, Atlanta doesn't turn out to be the safe haven that everyone thought it would be, so Philip and his crew set out for a place to rest for a little while. During their trip they end up at Wilshire Estates, a gated community later found by Rick Grimes and his group of refugees. Of course, things get worse and worse for the survivors as time goes on.
Knowing how Philip ends up in the comic made this a tense read. With each turn of the page, I thought "Is this where everything goes wrong?" At the start of the book, Philip is a somewhat normal guy. He's tough but there's something dark lurking within him. It starts to crack through to the surface with each zombie he has to kill to save himself and his family. Every battle and every step I had to wonder if this was where he would snap, if this is where his shy daughter meets her end, where he takes control. The closest things I can compare The Rise of the Governor to — at least in theory — are the Star Wars prequels. In those you know that Annakin Skywalker grows up to become Darth Vader but you don't know the path he takes to get there. It's a similar idea here, but without Jar Jar.
At the onset of the book I saw the possibility of a twist ending. I say that mostly because I forgot a few details about The Governor's appearance in the comic. As the book continued, I dismissed the idea of the twist because I didn't think it could possibly work. When I was most of the way through the book I realized I was right, but the authors decided to go with it anyway. I'm obviously not going to go into specifics on the ending, but suffice it to say that it doesn't make a bit of sense. It feels like it was thrown on for the sake of having a twist ending and it ruins the journey that the reader takes throughout the majority of the book. To put this in perspective, I haven't been this angry about a twist ending since High Tension. I'm not saying all this as a comic fanboy or anything like that. I'm not mad because of something they did with the characters. Robert Kirkman owns them all and he can do whatever he wants with them. The ending is bad from a storytelling perspective. It just doesn't work.
The Rise of the Governor isn't a sub-par book. On its own it's a satisfying and gripping horror story focusing on a small group of people struggling to make a life for themselves in a world where the dead walk the earth. It can certainly be read by people unfamiliar with the Walking Dead franchise. If you're a fan of the comic, there's a much bigger payoff and you'll recognize many nods to it such as the aforementioned Wilshire Estates. That ending should be avoided though. I'd suggest you read the first 90% of the book, then put it down and make up your own finale. Anything you come up with will probably be better than the nonsensical twist that actually finishes the book.