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Saturday, January 21, 2012

"The Walking Dead: Rise of at the Governor" by Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga

Authors: Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga
Title: The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor
Plot Type: Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Horror
Ratings: V5; S3; H1
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2011

     First came the graphic novels, then the TV series, and now the book. If you've read the graphic novels, you'll be familiar with the Governor, one of the most cruel and frightening villains to appear in in science fiction in recent memory. Wizard magazine voted him "Villain of the Year" in 2006, the year he debuted in the graphic novels (issue #27). But was he always such a cold and lethal man? Where did he come from? What were the factors that molded his post-apocalyptic identity? What is his real identity? This book provides all of the blood-curdling and sometimes shocking answers. Even if you've never read the graphic novels or watched the TV series, you can still enjoy this story.

     This novel was written by Jay Bonansinga from an outline by series co-creator, Robert Kirkman. There are plenty of shocking twists and terrors, with dark dread lurking beyond every turn of the page. The story reads almost like a screen play. As you read the frequent descriptive phrases, you can picture a camera coming in for a close-up shot. 

The story is divided into three sections: 

Part 1—The Hollow Men (Chapters 1-8): This section introduces Philip and Brian Blake; Philip's daughter, Penny; and their friends, Nick and Bobby. The action takes place during the first few days of the zombie plague as the group takes shelter in a McMansion in a Georgia suburb as they plan how to get to the refugee center that they've heard is operating in Atlanta. Philip is the fearless group leader, followed closely by Nick and Bobby, with Brian straggling behind, dealing with his multitude of overwhelming fears. Here is a scene between Philip and Brian just after Brian takes Philip's gun to kill a zombie, but then is unable to pull the trigger: "You listen to me," Philip growls in a threatening, husky voice that's both sober and drunk at the same time. "Next time you take a gun from me, you make sure you're ready to put it to good use...."You better get past your namby-pamby bullshit sheltered life and start carrying your weight around here and stoving some heads in because it sure as hell is gonna get worse before it gets better!...We're gonna survive this thing, and we're gonna do it by being bigger monsters than they are! You understand? There ain't no rules anymore!" (p. 96)

Part 2—Atlanta (Chapters 9-17): Now, the group is down to three men and Penny, and they are shocked to learn that the Atlanta refugee center is a myth. Seeking shelter, they settle into an apartment building with David Chalmers and his two grown daughters, April and Tara. For awhile, it looks as if they've found a safe place to stay, but Philip has a horrible moment in which he loses control, and they are forced to move on, this time with no weapons or supplies. In a foreshadowing of what is to come, this section opens with a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche: "He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you." (p. 105)

Part 3Chaos Theory (Chapters 18-23): Here, the group escapes from Atlanta on brand new Harleys and finds a new safe place in an abandoned Victorian country estate. Each time things get better, though, they soon grow even worse. Early on in the section, Brian wonders "whether Penny might actually be the glue that's holding them all together, keeping them from self-destructing." (p. 217) This turns out to be a prescient thought. Soon, a drugged-out gang invades their new home, imposing a horrible loss that drives the group into deep grief and triggers changes in all their lives. Philip begins to descend into a kind of madness as he dedicates his existence to taking care of Penny, while Nick buries himself in his Bible, and Brian keeps trying to cope, always unsure of what to do next. After that attack, they pack up and move on, eventually reaching the tiny town of Woodbury, where a small group of survivors lives under the sociopathic leadership of three former National Guardsmen who are more interested in power for themselves than in the survival of the townsfolk. In a stunning conclusion, everything changes for Philip, Brian, Nick, and Penny. Here is Nick as he explains to Brian his conclusions about the zombie plague: "What's the thing Satan hates the most? The power of love? Maybe. Somebody being born again. Yeah probably. But I kinda think it's when a person passes, and their spirit flies up to Paradise....That's what's going on here, Brian. The devil's figured out a way to keep people's souls trapped here on earth." (p. 251)

The Governor, in all his
frightening glory.
From beginning to end, we get inside these characters, learning what makes them tick. In an on-line interviewBonansinga explains how important that is: "That's how horror works. That's catharsis. Getting into the characters' souls and then twisting the knife."

Although there are a few rough spots (i.e., some over-used phrases and some lapses into blatant sentimentality), this is a plot that moves along at a fast pace while still allowing us to get to know the characters. I'm glad that the authors decided to go with a print novel rather than a graphic novel, because this way we absolutely do get into the characters' heads to a much greater degree than would be possible in an all-too-short graphic novel.

The zombie descriptions are, of course, graphic and horrible, but that's a big part of why we read zombie novelsright? Here is part of a two-paragraph description of an oncoming mob of zombies: "The greeting party, as copious as a Roman army and as slapdash as a swarm of giant arachnids...comes from a little over a block away....All shapes and sizes and stages of deterioration, they emerge from doorways and windows and alleys and wooded squares and nooks and crannies, and they fill the street with the profusion of a disordered marching band....each and every one of their faces uniformly pale and decomposed, like an endless orchard of shriveled fruit rotting in the suna thousand pairs of lifeless gunmetal-gray eyes locking in unison...a thousand feral, primordial tracking devices fixing themselves hungrily on the newcomer in their midst." (p. 103)

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