The Walking Dead Novel Series

 

authors Jay Bonansinga (left) & Robert Kirkman

authors Jay Bonansinga (left) & Robert Kirkman

Do you like THE WALKING DEAD? Have you ever wondered exactly why The Governor is the way he is, or why the people of Woodbury accepted him in the way they did? Possibly not, but these were questions floating around in my mind as I read the graphic novel, and then watched the TV series. How nice for me, then, that the legend behind THE WALKING DEAD, Mr. Robert Kirkman, has hooked up with Jay Bonansinga to write a few Walking Dead novels. Yay! (this yay includes hand capping).

BUT, before I start I will caution you on one thing. If you have never set eyes on an issue of the graphic novel series, these books may come as a wee bit of a shock to you. The Governor of the novels is a far harsher and far less likable beast. He’s not a flaxen haired southern gentleman that appears somewhat normal, despite the floating heads and his murderous habits. He is dark haired, has a handlebar mustache and is a complete freaking psycho, the kind of guy you KNOW would have severed heads floating in a fish tank display and a little girl zombie tied up in a closet. The whole thing has a bit of a Nazi feel really…. the little despot who gets to rape, torture and kill while the towns folk turn a blind eye, “the greater good” and all that jazz. I could have a literary analysis field day here, but I won’t, I swear.

TWD rise coverOh… and one more thing: this review is actually in three parts. Each of these books is to a certain degree stand alone, however you obviously maximize narrative flow reading them one after the other. Because the stories are interconnected, and because all three are not on the long side, I thought this was the way to do it. I hope you don’t mind, but I must say, too bad if you do (and here is where I would insert a smiley face, if I were not so professional).

Anyway, book one is entitled THE WALKING DEAD: RISE OF THE GOVERNOR and its plot is exactly as described. We leave Rick, Carl, Glenn and the rest and focus on one Phillip Blake, and his mission to save his daughter Penny. There will be some spoilers in here if you haven’t read the graphic novels or seen the TV show, and I am sorry for that, but there is no real way around this. Be warned!

So Phillip Blake and his daughter Penny have hooked up with his brother, Brian Blake and two high school buddies Nick Parsons and Bobby Marsh. Obviously Penny is still alive at this point, which is both nice, and maddening at the same time. Intentional or not, knowing that the little girl is going to turn at some point adds a certain feel or urgency and doom to the reading experience.

Together the group travel around from place to place just trying to survive, in traditional zombie narrative form. Philip is the boss, as one would expect, and he is the complete opposite to his brother Brian, who is, on the whole, an average person. The main problem this novel seems to focus on is the inability of “normal” humans to adjust to such extreme circumstances, and the uncanny ability of the more hot headed of us to adapt to these same situations.

Phillip is the younger brother, yet holds no respect for the older Brian. He sees him as a liability, blames him for the death of their parents, and pretty much just regards him as a weak human being. Brian views himself in much the same way. Throughout the novel it is Brian’s job to look after his niece Penny, which I guess is an attempt to feminise him, though I won’t go into all that right now. It is Brian who cowers in the closet with Penny while the three other men take out the zombies infesting a house in the gated community, known as Wiltshire Estates. But, it is also Brian who paints a warning sign (All Dead, Do Not Enter) advising that the gated community is full of zombies, once they are forced to leave their hidey-hole after losing one of their number and being invaded by upper class zombies wearing suits (apparently stemming from a nearby golf course).

TWD road coverEventually, as will happen, the Blake group hooks up with another small band of survivors, the remnants of a family folk band known as the Chalmers. The Chalmers consist of the ailing father David, the charming and attractive daughter April, and the less charming pot-head daughter Tara. The expanded group holds-up on the outskirt of Atlanta, and everything seems to be going good for a time. Penny starts interacting more, Philip gets a chance to chill out, and they become sort of like an extended family. They clear out their apartment-block, take rooms for themselves and things continue on, that is until David Chalmers succumbs to his lung cancer, reanimates and attempts to take a bite out of Tara. Philip kills the David zombie in a fairly graphic manner, and things start turning sour. Tara sees Philip as a murderer and starts making things hard for him, however the encounter seems to bring April and Philip together, and romantic feelings develop.

Alas, alas….Philip Blake ruins everything. He goes on a little walk with Miss April, and one thing leads to another thing, which leads to a horrible thing, the end result being their ejection from the apartment block by a very pissed off, very armed Tara. Philip becomes uncontrollable after this, wreaking revenge on the zombies, and causing his two adult companions to worry about his sanity. They stop at various places, have various encounters with the dead, which result in Penny withdrawing even further into herself as she is unable to handle her father’s increasing violence. With Phillip either drawing into himself as well, or psychotically braining the zombies around them, Brian is left looking after Penny alone, once again.

Eventually they find an abandoned plantation house and plan to stay there through the bad season. They survive for a while there, until they are attacked by a band of heavily armed junkies. Things take a worse turn. Penny is shot. Brian is blamed. Phillip turns into a maniac and vengeance is his, in a most horrendous display. The group is fractured, and never really ever reforms. They move on, and land in Woodbury, with little zombie penny chained and in tow.

NOW….I can’t tell you what transpires in Woodbury. If I did there would be no point in reading the book. I will say this, you are given information here that is vital to understanding The Governor, a surprising twists that I don’t think many would see coming. Suffice to say, by the end, The Governor is born, and has just elevated himself within the Woodbury community, the rest of his group gone.

This leads us to:

THE WALKING DEAD: THE ROAD TO WOODBURY

TWD KirkmanWe leave The Gov for a bit here, and take off with a separate group of survivors who have set up in an old orchard. There are a lot of survivors here, but we are mainly focused on Lilly Caul, who had been an aspiring fashion student and now finds herself woefully underprepared for the apocalypse; the gentle giant chef Josh Lee Hamilton who has a massive crush on Lilly; the “town” drunkard and veteran medic Bob Stookey; Lilly’s slutty high school friend Megan Laffery, and her stoner hook up Scott Moon, who we are told looks a fair bit like Kurt Cobain. So, there are around a hundred people living in the orchard, and of course the survivors learn the all too common lesson in zombie narratives: lots of people = lots of zombies.

They get attacked, of course, but devastatingly so, and when a child is lost, poor Lilly is blamed. Due to an angry father and the temporary insanity of the gentle giant cook, the small group of friends are forced to leave. We follow this quintet throughout their ordeals, including as they set up shop in an abandoned service station not far from the original camp. They settle into some sort of routine, which includes pilfering supplies from their tent dwelling neighbors. During this time, Josh Lee Hamilton goes from being smitten to in love with Lilly Caul, and Bob develops a small infatuation for Megan, while Megan and Scott simply get stoned and bang their brains out. Of course, zombies are everywhere, but things are going well for a time, their only real worry is getting food during winter, until, that is, one night they hear engines roaring towards them.

The tent city has been attacked again, this time destroyed, and those trying to escape accidentally trash the smaller group’s hideout, forcing an immediate scramble for greener pastures.

Soooooo……this is where things intersect. They come into contact with Martinez, who takes them to Woodbury, but Woodbury isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and things turn from bad to worse. I mean, shit really does get fucked up. The Governor is at the helm, and as a result things are kind of out of hand. You have to trade for foods and items, which usually ends up in the women working off their debts in a rather supine fashion. There is corruption, thievery and a feeling of ill-will. People fight, get drunk, fight some more, and people get killed. Oh yeah! And let us not forget that the Governor has his little zombie girl tied up in a laundry somewhere, and feeds her fresh meat every so often, which requires some form of human death. And he likes to decorate his house in severed heads bobbing about in fish tanks. In fact, they are in his bed room……

In Woodbury, over half the group dies separately, and just in horribly insignificant ways. This culminates in an attempt to overthrow the Gov, a sudden change in town rules, and the creation of the zombie death fight club ring. It also leaves Lilly in a fairly uncertain position.
Throughout this there is also a massive weather event, a massive zombie attack on a glass mansion and a mega-horde near the town.

Next, then, is:

THE WALKING DEAD: THE FALL OF THE GOVERNOR PART I

TWD fall coverA little time has passed at Woodbury. Lilly is not the same meek little thing she once was, and she has made a new friend, a lovely little stoner chap named Austin. While Lilly and Austin get close, the Governor has other issues at hand…almost literally. For one, three strangers have turned up wearing riot gear and jumpsuits, one of which severed his ear with a shiny sword. In reparations Phillip Blake takes the leaders hand, locks the Asian kid in a storage room and, next door to that, repeatedly rapes and brutalises the women. This of course is Rick, Glenn and Michonne. DUN-DUN-DUUUNNNNN…..

Well, now. Here is where I shall launch into a small variety of spoilers for those who have not picked up the graphic novels. Kirkman and Bonansinga allow us to see the inner workings of the Governor’s plan, including Martinez’s fake escape with Glenn and Rick, a longer version of the death of Dr. Stephens, the Gov’s eventual torture at the hands of Michonne, which include two inventive uses for a spoon and who can forget, nailing his wang to a piece of wood.  It is graphic, it is disturbing, but it is also riveting. It also uses matches the graphic novel to a T. The novel stops when the small group of escapees pass the wall, Lilly has just decided that the Governor is her best hope for survival and her future after some unexpected news and Gabe has just found the Governor bleeding on the floor of his apartment missing an eye and his penis. I assume from the title will be picked up again in Part II, and here I am going to make a rare prediction and we shall see if I am correct. Lilly is going to be the woman who shoots Phillip in the head at the prison after he shoots and kills Lori and baby Judith during their attack. Just a hunch, however I will be slightly disappointed if this turns out to be the case.

I am aware that some reviewers have given the series bad reviews, so here are some of the more technical reasons I like it. It is written in second person present tense, which isn’t so easy to pull off, but Kirkman and his two sidekicks manage to do it quite well. The novels are all well paced, and the use of suspense is perfect. There are a few twists thrown in here and there as well. Mostly, these narratives revolve around psychological processes, and the change in these processes after the individual has lived through a prolonged period of trauma. As all good zombie narratives must to work, these novels focus not on the dead, but the living, and all the complications the act of living involve. The characters are believable, mostly likable, and are most definitely understandable, even the big evil that is The Governor. But, they also make you wonder about yourself, and what actions you might take if you were in such a situation, not to mention questions about society, and how easily the definition of normal behavior can change.

But, all in all, I guess what I am saying is, if you like zombies and if you like the walking dead, then you will like these books. Period.

Extract from THE FALL OF THE GOVERNOR PART I:

     Michonne stands over him. She slams the sole of her boot down on his head a second time.
     The heel cracks his jaw, and all at once, the Governor is only half awake . . . not wholly conscious, and not really unconscious.
     He lolls and moans and giggles behind the tape in a sort of neurological fog, the higher functions of his brain shutting down and going to the default program: his primal self. He feels as though he is a little boy in Waynesboro, and he’s sitting in his dad’s lap at the carnival. He smells the popcorn and horseshit and cotton candy. He hears the calliope playing a comical little tune, and the star of the show – the Dark Warrior Woman from Borneo – slowly circles him, slowly circles his seat on his dad’s lap in the front row.
     “I think I kicked you too hard,” she says in her funny little voice. The audience claps and laughs. “It looks like something ripped.”
     He wants to laugh at her funny joke but somebody – his daddy, maybe? – holds a hand over his mouth. Which makes everything seem even funnier. The Dark Warrior Woman from Borneo kneels down really close to his face. He looks up at her. She looks down at him and grins a funny grin. What is she going to do with that spoon? Maybe she’ll do her greatest trick yet!

Anything Horror Scott’s Summary:

Authors: Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga

Plot: 8.5/10

Horror Elements: 9/10

Zombie Mayhem: 8/10

Stay Bloody!!!

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