"The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury" Book Review
Written by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
2012, 277 Pages, Fiction
Released on October 16th, 2012
There are few things more popular right now than The Walking Dead. Seriously, creator Robert Kirkman can probably swim around in a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck if all of the tie-ins to the comic are any indication. Video games, magazines, action figures, and more are popping up all over the place. Kirkman is expanding the Walking Dead lore with a series of novels co-written by Jay Bonansinga. The first was published in 2011, entitled The Rise of the Governor, which focused on the origin of the most notable villain to grace the pages of the comic. The duo picked up where they left off with the next title, called The Road to Woodbury.
The sequel starts up with a new group of survivors struggling to stay alive in a world where the dead have risen. Lilly is a nervous twenty-something. Josh is an ex-football player. Bob is a drunk medic. They form an uneasy friendship but see eye-to-eye on some basic ideals. They quickly realize that the sprawling farmland that they're currently camping in is not safe from the horde and make for higher pastures. Being that the book is called The Road to Woodbury, it's pretty easy to guess where they end up.
When we last left the town of Woodbury, Brian...er...Phillip Blake had just freed it from the tyranny of some National Guardsmen. Since then he's begun calling himself "The Governor" and people have liked the nickname. He's seen as the man in charge and he's got some ideas for keeping the area safe. There are not a lot of people living here yet, only about 40 or 50, but they work on the barter system. If you've got something to trade, even if it's your body, you can bring something to the community. Lilly and Josh are unsure of this at first and for good reason. There's something strange about Blake. It's hard to walk through the town without wanting to look over your shoulder.
The Governor transforms Woodbury. This could have been a safe haven in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Instead it becomes a cancer under the rule of a mad dictator. Fans of the comic will know just how despicable a human being Phillip Blake can be. This is where everything starts. He keeps the undead corpse of his niece / daughter chained up in his apartment. He's got a wall of severed heads. The dude is not right. Kirkman and Bonansinga get into the insanity that goes through the Governor's mind. This man is clearly not right. He's battling with two personalities. There's Brian, the man he was up until recently. This was a timid soul and a bit of a screwup. Then there's Phillip, the confident and scrappy, take-no-shit, can-do man that has taken over Woodbury. For the most part, Phillip is the one in control, but every so often he slips and Brian comes to the surface and weeps for the havoc he's caused.
Despite the fact that The Road to Woodbury is a direct sequel to The Rise of the Governor, the focus isn't on Blake. Lilly and Josh take center stage. I hate to say it, but I really don't care about these characters. This is frustrating because here you have one of the most interesting and downright evil villains in comics and he's reduced to a secondary character. This feels like a missed opportunity. Sure, the Governor gets his time in the sun and the reactions from Lilly and Josh help solidify the heinous things that he's doing, but that's not what I want to read about. I want to get more from Phillip Blake. He's why the novels are being made in the first place, right?
If you haven't read The Walking Dead or seen an episode of the AMC TV show, you can dive right into The Road to Woodbury. There's nothing that requires any knowledge of previous canon. Fans of the comic will recognize some of the other residents that eventually make an appearance there. Martinez, Dr. Stevens, and Alice come to mind. Without this connection, the novel works like your average zombie story. People are scared. Zombies attack. They keep them back and live to fight another day.
The zombie attacks get somewhat repetitive throughout the book. I know it's stupid to say that when you're talking about a novel that's based on the undead, but what makes these kinds of stories so frightening isn't the undead, but the living. You can make a terrifying zombie movie where the people never actually fight the walking dead. The Governor definitely helps in this category, providing a true threat to Lilly, Josh, and everyone else in Woodbury. The walkers are always present though. They were often used as a way to close a chapter, but there was no variation. On several occasions, a chapter would wrap up explaining that the noise or commotion that was going on attracted a herd of the undead. The authors also made sure to point out each time that all of this was happening without the survivors knowing. We know that the zombies are all over the place. A reminder is unnecessary. What would have been more surprising would have been if they popped up out of nowhere instead of the advanced warning that often came well before any action happened.
Kirkman and Bonansinga don't have the ability to show you the carnage that appears in these pages. Charlie Adlard isn't going to draw these images. Instead they provide a ton of detail to help you paint the mental picture. Sometimes it can be a bit tedious, such as pointing out the specific brand of alcohol that Bob is drinking or the contents of a backpack that aren't used, but where it works well is when the zombies are being killed. Whether they're being shot with an automatic weapon, being clubbed like a seal, or being set on fire, you can see it in your head clear as day thanks to the authors' words. The bullets tear through the skulls of the undead with such clarity.
The Road to Woodbury expands on a backstory that you're not going to get in the comic. A third of the novel is literally a trip to the town, but things pick up once Lilly, Josh, and Bob get there and meet the true star. I just wish he was more front and center because that's what I came to see. I want to know more about how this man became such a vile human being.