Updated: Jan 19, 2020
" 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. Now, for the first time, fans of The Walking Dead will finally understand what drove Philip Blake to become... The Governor. "
I love the Walking Dead. And,personally, I love any book that has a great apocalyptic world in it, and even more so if it has some pretty good characters in it, too.
Cue Brian and Philip Blake: in The Walking Dead's 'The Rise of the Governor,' we meet two brothers who barely have anything in common; Brian is a laid back, music-loving hippie, while Philip is a hard-headed, tough guy. In the story, we follow both brothers along with two of Philip's best buddies and his daughter, Penny. The focus is on the brothers almost the entire time, and quickly, the reader finds out that, surprisingly, Brian is the oldest of the pair, but yet, Philip is the one making all of the decisions. As we continue on, the dynamic between the brothers becomes clear - we start to understand that Brian has always been the cautious one of the family, while Philip quickly learned to be a fearless leader from an early age, making this odd dynamic seem right.
Most importantly, what the two have in common is their love for Penny. If you have ever watched the TV show, The Walking Dead, then you will recognize the little girl and the tragic fate that became her. But, we never knew the backstory of how Penny was turned into a zombie, which is one of the few reasons this book series was made. Penny spends much of the time as a background character, but her part plays a very important role on the development of the man we know becomes 'the Governor.' She reacts as most children would be expected to if the world were ever to suffer from a zombie apocalypse- she withdraws, barely speaking and hardly eats. When one of Philip's longtime friends gets bit by a zombie, Penny reacts with a cool casualness that seems troubling from early on. On another note, if it wasn't for her uncle, Brian, Penny would have probably died much earlier in the book, but because of his father-like protectiveness of her, she is kept alive until the end of the book. But when it does happen, I don't think I could blame Philip for keeping his daughter as a zombie-type of pet.
During the book, 'Rise of the Governor,' the group with the Blake brothers travel to Atlanta, Georgia in hopes of finding a refugee camp to hunker down at, but instead, they find that Atlanta has practically been turned over to the walkers. It's here that they fortunately meet a trio that is held up in an apartment building- this trio is the Chalmers family, which consists of David and his two grown daughters, April and Tara. The transition between the group fighting their way through the hordes in Atlanta to meeting the Chalmers family is done perfectly to the point that is it very believable that this could actually happen in real life.
One of the few problems I did have with this book were the authors' afterthoughts: too many times throughout the book, characters would suddenly show up with a new weapon or item that the authors would literally backtrack to explain how they found it, when it could have been easily shown while the character was in the area of where it was found.
Much of the story, appropriately, shows our main group of characters killing zombies with an array of weapons and such, but Kirkman - or co-writer, Bonansinga- seem to like to show off their knowledge of the brain a little too much:
"The business end of Philip's pickaxe lands squarely in the monster's head, cracking the coconutlike shell of the old man's skull, piercing the dense, fibrous membrane of the dura mater and sinking into the gelatinous parietal lobe. " The use of scientific terms just seems like an egotistical move, one that could have been avoided if they weren't used throughout the book.
In the middle of the book, there is an odd thing that happens which the reader may connect to the story or may not, when David Chalmers is meeting his end (Chalmers was suffering from advanced lung cancer before the group meets him), gives almost a prophetic speech on his death bed. We can either take this as he was speaking about who Philip was going to become or he was talking about the apocalypse as a whole, but the reader is never really told and the dying words are never discussed among any of the characters:
" 'The devil has plans for us.'... The voice that comes out of David Chalmers is low and gravelly, an engine dieseling: 'The day of reckoning is drawing near... the Deceiver walks among us.' "
Eventually, the group is forcefully thrown out of the Chalmers' apartment building due to a horrible mistake between Philip and April. To not give too much away, here is the part where Tara tells them to go away: " He whirls around and comes face-to-face with Tara Chalmers, who holds the Ruger pistol, the muzzle raised and aimed directly at Philip. "
The story continues on with the Blake brothers, Penny and Philip's friend, Nick, as they try to find shelter once again in the dead congested Atlanta. Early on, we learn that Philip has a bad temper, and as the book continues, his temper becomes more volatile and more important to the characters and the reader. Philip's personality changes are understandable in the story, but Kirkman/Bonansinga suddenly make Brian unafraid of his brother at a point where Philip's anger is almost at its worse; this isn't believable to the readers, especially because a few pages later, Brian changes back to being scared to even speak to his brother.
Overall, the story isn't about the zombies or Penny's tragic death, but rather about Brian and Philip; how the family dynamic plays out when everything is at it's worst. Also, when you read the story, there is a point where it seems that Brian is more of a father to Penny than Philip ever was, showing also the Uncle and Niece dynamics- something that will make complete sense near the end of the book. Whether you like The Walking Dead or not, the book is well done, but I believe it would only appeal to those who like survival type stories.