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The Walking Dead: Rise of The Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
Review by Drew Bittner
Thomas Dunne Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312547738
Date: 11 October 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Brian Blake is the scrawny, perennially terrified older brother of Philip Blake, a badass with a little daughter and two gun-toting buddies. Treated largely as dead weight by his brother once the dead start to rise, Brian has to prove himself and survive in the world of the Walking Dead--no matter what it takes.

A spinoff tale from Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comic book series (from Image Comics/Skybound), Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor tells the tale of the Blake brothers, Philip's daughter Penny, and his pals Nick and Bobby. Forced to leave their home in Waynesboro, Georgia, the five of them hit the road and cross the state, seeking safety as the undead threat grows.

Philip and his friends are the gunslingers of the team, while Brian looks out for Penny. Brian is physically frail and sickly, with a wracking cough and a weak stomach. He tries to help out, surprising his brother when he proves capable once or twice, but he knows he's the weakest link.

At first, they hoped the problem would be handled quickly, that the authorities would come and clean up the zombies. But that didn't happen. Now, day by day, more zombies are showing up around their yard and the path of escape gets more risky. Finally, however, they have to risk it; they've run out of supplies and can't forage for more. Early on, they find a luxurious family home that they're able to clean out, but it's an uncertain sanctuary and soon they are on the road again.

Ultimately, hearing the last feeble radio broadcasts announcing refugee centers in Atlanta, they set out for the big city. Their path only grows more dangerous, as they clash with highway bandits, meet a family of entertainers and evade growing mobs of the undead. Rising tensions within the group, followed by a shocking loss, drives Philip to increasing savagery, making his hair-trigger temper a danger to everyone.

Atlanta proves to be a disaster, with a catastrophic bad decision blowing up what might have been a workable situation. Thrown back on their own resources, the group finds a remote farmhouse--but trouble has followed them even there, and a harrowing battle against survivors even more ruthless than Philip changes things for all of them...forever.

Rise of the Governor serves up a backstory for one of the series' great villains. The struggles faced by the man who will become a vicious dictator in his own right darkly mirror those of Rick Grimes and his family, setting up a nice contrast. The proto-Governor makes serious mistakes along the way, with the endpoint being a stark choice--one that is common to nearly every survivor in the series: is one's humanity an asset or a liability in the struggle to survive?

Kirkman and Bonansinga don't stray too far outside the Walking Dead template here, which itself follows the George Romero model of 1) survive zombie attack(s), 2) cobble together a mismatched group of survivors, 3) find safety, 4) have something happen internally that shatters that safety or invites attack (or both) and then 5) move on in search of a new safe place. It's a comfortable and familiar trope but doesn't offer much that's new or revolutionary; besides, readers of the comic (who are likely to be a major target readership for the novel) have a pretty good idea how things are likely to work out.

It's a solid and worthwhile story, likely to please fans of the comic book series as well as offer a preview to fans of the TV series on AMC. Kirkman and crew have not committed to introducing the Governor in this season, but his time is surely coming, especially now that the series has been renewed for a third season.

Recommended.

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