Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga explores the backstory of the most notorious villain of the Walking Dead world, known as Philip Blake or “The Governor.” The novel, the first in a series, begins shortly after the dead begin to rise, with Philip Blake, his daughter Penny, his brother Brian, and their two close friends looking for refuge while civilization implodes. They spend the majority of the story traveling as everything and everyone fall apart around them, until -in the final few pages of the novel – a villain is born.

More than anything else, Rise of the Governor shows how anyone can become a monster, given enough trauma and motivation. As the Blakes and their friends travel throughout the new landscape of their fallen world, they are forced to compromise their principles and commit ever increasing atrocities. The horror of watching good people that they love and care about become monsters – whether they’ve been bitten or not, eats at their souls. In this novel, the most terrifying things of all aren’t what the zombies do to humans, but what humans do to each other.

And there lies the true horror of Rise of the Governor. There are plenty of flesh-eating zombies, survivor gunfights, disgusting scenes of the dead coming back to life. But the title’s promise of the Governor’s backstory is fulfilled. Though fans of the series may think they know what’s coming, the true extent of this man’s personal hell is revealed gradually through increasingly deplorable actions by the main characters.

I can’t actually say that I enjoyed reading this novel. It was too disturbing on every level imaginable. I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t turn away, couldn’t go to sleep after reading it at night for fear of the dreams I’d have. However, Rise of the Governor does make good on the promise of its title and even delivers a few extra surprises along the way.

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