Published: 2011 – 2014
Selected By: Elle
“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 of the appendages of those who cross him. Now, fans will discover how The Governor became the man he is, and what drove him to such extremes.” – from the Goodreads & Amazon summaries.
Elle Tea’s Review
This is a general review of the The Governor Series novels which are centered within the The Walking Dead universe; this universe, as most of you probably already know by now, also includes a highly successful series of graphic novels, as well as an even more successful television series, a video game series, and an upcoming original television spin-off (not to mention a magazine). The novels included in this particular review are:
The Rise of the Governor (2011)
The Road to Woodbury (2012)
As of the date of this review, there are also a short story and two other novels included in the series; however, I didn’t purchase them prior to reading the books specifically marketed as being related to The Governor, and, now that I’ve finished those, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to ever read any others. They are:
Now, because nothing about TWD universe can be simple and cohesive (more on this later), it should be noted that the first four novels listed (i.e., those covered in this review) and the short story (which was initially released in TWD Magazine and is now available for digital download) are specifically referred to as The Governor Series, which, depending on where you look, also includes the two most recent novels… but the series as a whole is also referred to as The Walking Dead Series, which, in the end, really makes more sense.
To be fair, since it’s rare to find a series in which every single book is always great or always horrid, I’ll provide a review for each book, then end with my overall review of the series. And without further ado, let’s get this party started:
The Rise of the Governor
Fans of any of the incarnations of The Walking Dead should definitely check out this, the first book of The Governor Series. As with all things TWD to date, the plague itself is already in full swing when the tale begins, but this story is comprised of entirely new material, giving readers a bit of a glimpse behind the man later known as The Governor.
Philip Blake, his brother Brian, and his buddies Bobby and Nick spend a majority of the book trying to claw their way through the detritus of our fallen civilization. The novel eventually leads to Woodbury, of course, but it begins in a private neighborhood with our hungry band of survivors doing what so many of the survivors in the TWD universe are shown to do in the early weeks of the outbreak: pinning all their hopes on Atlanta. And, like so many other survivors, it doesn’t work out, and they’re forced to keep moving, without direction, without hope, without any sort of plan, and it’s only a matter of time before the strain of survival begins to take its toll. Philip’s young daughter, Penny, features quite heavily throughout the novel, but her story arc is not so much about a girl-and-her-dad as it is about what a child can come to symbolize to those with whom she travels.
The writing style effectively conjures the “feel” of the universe, so much so that on a couple of occasions I actually found myself humming the television theme song to myself while reading it! The pace of the story itself is one with which fans of the television show in particular will be familiar: periods of calm interspersed with bursts of frantic action – and, as with the show, it works.
And the way it ends?! Yeah. Bam. Slap in the face. It had me rattled for days… and then I had to go back and re-watch Seasons 3 and 4 of the AMC show, which aired after this book was published. (FYI Kiddies: this story deviates from what you have seen on television… but the AMC show does give a few nods now and again to things covered in this novel.)
My only complaint about this first novel is one that can actually be extended to the TWD universe as a whole: each piece of the The Walking Dead pie is excellent when taken singly, but when you try to make sense of the pie as a whole, it becomes a gloppy mess of similarities mixed with inconsistencies. For example: in The Rise of the Governor, David Chalmers, a cancer patient who must use oxygen tanks to assist with his labored breathing, resides in an apartment building with his adult daughters, Tara (the eldest) and April. In Season 4 (2013) of the AMC television series, David Chambler, a cancer patient who must use oxygen tanks to assist with his labored breathing, resides in an apartment with his adult daughters, Lilly (the eldest) and Tara, as well as Lilly’s young daughter, Meghan. (And to add another pile of confusion, the Lilly Chambler of the television show is not to be confused with the Lilly Caul character of the graphic novels, neither of which should be confused with the Lilly character of the Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead video game, who was, not so very long ago, also called Lilly Caul.)
The Road to Woodbury
Okay, take as much as I liked the first novel and flip it around: that’s how much I didn’t like this second installment.
Remember when I said the previous novel ended with a bang? Yeah, well… That moment has to sustain you for 352 pages while you slog your way through this book. To be brief, it’s as if the authors had a list of things before them that they had to provide or explain – the origins of the arena and the “Governor” title, for example – and they quickly stuck in a few extra characters and events as filler to tie it all together in order to achieve that goal.
In fact, that sums up the entire novel pretty well, I think: it’s filler. And not even good filler – the characters fall flat and, for the most part, are just a collection of undeveloped stereotypes, the writing seems rushed, the dialogue is clunky and, at times, infuriatingly condescending / chauvinistic, and the huge bomb that was dropped on readers at the end of the first novel is simply left to fizzle out to nothing.
I read the synopsis of this novel prior to reading it, so I already knew that Lilly Caul would feature quite heavily – but I hadn’t expected the authors to simply skim over so many potentially interesting opportunities, such as the process of transforming Woodbury from a settlement of individuals into a community (Book 2 begins after Blake is already officially in charge of Woodbury) and the firsthand transformation of a man into a ruthless megalomaniac (after Blake decides who he must be at the end of Book 1, we are simply fast-forwarded to a point where it’s almost as if he has always been so). I do realize that the 32-page short story Just Another Day at the Office is supposed to explain all of this, but I’d already heard from a friend who did read it that (a) part of those thirty-odd pages is a retelling of The Rise of the Governor, (b) the rest could have been added as a Prologue to Book 2 rather than charging readers extra, and (c), the explanation provided is lackluster at best.
The Road to Woodbury focuses primarily on Lilly Caul – a character who should be very familiar with fans of the graphic novels. What Rise is to The Governor, Road is allegedly supposed to be for Lilly: a fleshing out, and an answer to the questions “How did you get here,” and “How the hell do you become the type of person who can do that?” But while Rise adds to The Guv – turning a character that everyone loves to despise into a human being who, if only for a moment, readers have to admit wasn’t always a total monkeysh** lunatic – Road does Lilly a disservice by effectively saying, “Underneath this ball-breaking b*tch with a mean temper and a grudge is a… whiny, weepy, sissy little coward. The end.”
And the dialogue..! It almost seems petty to complain about a single word in a novel one dislikes as much as I disliked this book… but I can’t help it – reading this has rendered me unable to even think of the term “baby doll” without developing a nervous tic. That word shows up in every conversation in which Lilly is a participant, often multiple times during that conversation, to such an extent that it is sometimes the only thing on which readers can even focus. “Babydoll… Babydoll… Babydoll…” I’ve thought of a lot of names for Lilly Caul, depending on whether I’m reading the graphic novels or playing Telltale Games’ TWD, but “babydoll” was never one of them.
And, as with all things TWD, there’s the great big pile of confusion that comes from trying to make sense of the universe. The original Lilly Caul of the comic books is a minor character who forces some major shake-ups within the “core group”; she is shown to be a strong-willed Woodbury resident with a vicious temper. And all of this jives with the USAF Lilly character of Telltale’s TWD. But then there’s the Babydoll Caul of this novel, who worked for the USAF prior to the outbreak but is so far removed from the Lilly Caul of the comic books that they almost shouldn’t even be classified within the same species. (And because the one thing the TWD universe really needs is more confusion on Canon Conundrum Lane, Robert Kirkman initially gave Telltale the go-ahead to include Lilly Caul and her back story in their game; however, he then decided after this little conversation that he would write his own novel about Lilly which would not tie into the Telltale game… and, because of this change of heart, Telltale was then forced to remove any mention in their already-developed game that their Lilly was the Lilly, which Kirkman still explains away by saying that it’s simply a different Lilly. Yes. Because we’re stupid.)
The Fall of the Governor, Part I
Okay. I’ll be the bad guy here – I’m fine with that; I’ll be the first Lady to give a book no cups at all (i.e., “Hated It”). In my defense, I will say I wrestled with the score for a while before finally deciding that, in the sense of fairness (not just to our readers but to those authors who put some actual thought into their novels), this book truly warranted the lowest score possible.
If I had to select just one word from the English dictionary to succinctly describe this book, that word would be this:
It’s not just that it’s dull – so dull, in fact, that reading it proved to actually be a pretty reliable cure for my insomnia. Seriously. I fell asleep so much for the first 3/4 of this novel that I almost gave up even trying to finish it.
And it’s not just that the love story drizzled throughout the chapters is a huge waste of space, words, and time. The whole relationship is pitifully rushed – and I don’t mean in that poetic sort of “it’s the end of the world and we’re all so desperate just to feel something” way. No, I mean it is a footnote, written hastily and in such a slapdash, half-hearted manner that it could have been omitted in its entirety and had absolutely no impact on the rest of the story whatsoever. In an effort to make the relationship more of a struggle – as if simply trusting another human being enough to love them in a post-apocalyptic trash heap wouldn’t be difficult enough – the authors have added a few lovers’ spats, which are almost as trying on the patience as the “babydolls” of the previous book. In one exchange, one of the lovebirds actually chides the other for having chosen to attend a technical college in order to pursue a career as a paralegal prior to the outbreak. I’m sorry, correct me if I’m wrong, but a graduate degree doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent for zombies, cannibals, or marauding bands of raiders in the TWD universe, and I have yet to see a movie or read a book set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which one of the characters states something along the lines of, “Thank goodness I got this MBA!”
It’s also not just the fact that, when read immediately after its predecessor – which it ought to still be in line with, considering these are supposed to be part of a series – it makes almost no sense. Lilly & Co. were adamantly against The Governor in the last installment; not only did they agree that he was a monster and a madman, but they were staging a coup and preparing to do a little housecleaning of their own. A couple of threats and a new book later, and presto chango, everyone’s drinking The Guv’s brand of Kool-Aid. It’s such a complete 180 that one of the other characters actually tells Lilly that he doesn’t trust The Guv, to which she replies that, sure, the guy might be a little naughty sometimes, but, hey, he might just be what they need to make their new civilization work. What the what?! I mean… what the what?!
And it’s not just that the violence found within these pages teeters perilously close to being obscene. This is a series about zombies, so you have to expect a certain amount of evisceration, head smashing, and blood squirting. But after readers wake up from their boredom-induced comas, they find themselves inundated with chapter after chapter of what amounts to nothing more than torture-porn. The scenes that make up a good chunk of the last bit of this novel are no surprise to readers of the graphic novels; however, to have them so neatly wrapped and spoon-fed to us, morsel by gooey morsel, is entirely unnecessary. Those who read the graphic novels know that, when it comes to the rape of Michonne and the disfigurement of Phillip Blake, the sordid details were unnecessary, yet we still got the gist – we got it without needing to have our faces smeared in it. For those who haven’t read the graphic novels, the lingering pauses taken to admire the handiwork of a sadistic lunatic and a victim hell-bent on exacting revenge simply come across as some sort of personal fetish. The aforementioned love story thrown into this book gets no actual love from the authors who insisted on including it, but the torture scenes are positively dripping with adoration for all of the juiciest and tenderest bits of human anatomy and the many ways the human body can be tested to its limits.
But even after all of those issues, I may have been able to give this book one cup of tepid tea (i.e., “Didn’t Like It”), because, hey, I might not have cared much for this novel, but I’m still a solid TWD fan… except… well, except for one glaring, unavoidable fact:
From start to finish, this whole book is completely, entirely, 100%, without a shadow of a doubt unnecessary. After you take away that useless quasi-romance and clip out all of the extra-special rape and torture details, you are left with nothing but a retelling of the story told almost ten years ago in issues 27 – 33 of the graphic novels. Sure, it’s from a different perspective – beginning with Lilly & Co. watching a helicopter go down overhead and ending with the “breakout” scene – and this tactic has been successfully used in the past to bring extra depth to novels and characters. But it doesn’t work for Kirkman and Bonansinga – they don’t make it work – and I, for one, was left with the impression that Kirkman will milk this cow for all its worth, even if it means sullying forever the memory of the fantastic original concept it once was.
The Fall of the Governor, Part II
Well, at least it didn’t fizzle completely out in the end, I’ll give it that. As with its predecessor, anyone who read the comic books is already well-familiar with what happens in this novel and how it will end; unfortunately, it also follows in its predecessor’s footsteps in that choosing to retell the tale from a different viewpoint could have been so much more… and then…
And then it just isn’t.
I will say that, while the first 40% of this final novel was a slow, steady march towards the inevitable, the chapters pertaining specifically to the attack on the prison and the subsequent stand-off were a great deal more gripping than any others since The Rise of the Governor. Though those familiar with the graphic novels and / or television series are well-aware of how things will end for everyone, this book did offer a bit of insight into what was happening on The Other Side during the confrontation.
The not-romantic-at-all romance is just as pointless as it was in Pt. I, and Lilly as a character actually becomes less likeable than she was during the comics or any of the previous novels. This is due solely to the inconsistency of her actions and thought processes, which, by this book, are finally revealed to have been nothing but lazy gimmicks to explain why she takes certain actions near the end of this novel.
In The Road to Woodbury, Lilly does her level best to subvert The Guv’s authority; she and a few of his less gung-ho followers stage a coup and even go so far as to prepare a rather elaborate assassination which will permit one of them to take the reins and steer their town towards a safer, more sane future. This obviously doesn’t work, and The Guv makes a few threats which essentially come down to, “You do that again, and somebody’s going to get hurt really badly.” By The Fall of the Governor, Pt. I, Lilly is on-board with The Guv, considering him to be exactly what Woodbury and its residents need to secure their future. Not only that, but everyone else involved in the coup (with the exception of two characters) never questions whether The Guv might be lying through his teeth – despite the fact that his compulsive lies were something that set them against him in the previous novel. And by The Fall Pt. II, Lilly has gone so far towards The Guv’s side that she simply cannot understand why people would want to harm him, and she stands in vehement opposition to anyone who expresses the desire to leave Woodbury themselves. We’re not talking about a huge timeline here, either, folks – the events between Rise and Fall Pt. II span maybe a year… and in a year, she’s gone from trying to kill the guy to trying to kill anyone who opposes him?
No. In reality, no, that would make no sense. That would be crazy. Unless The Governor changed entirely – which he quite obviously does not in this novel – in a real-life scenario Lilly’s behavior would be, at best, wishy-washy and, at worst, its own brand of crazy. We’re eventually left with a vague idea that she’s accepting all of this as necessary because of her unborn child… but she was drinking the Kool-Aid before her pregnancy, so… no… I’m not buying that weak explanation. Nor does her 180-degree turn make sense in the grand scheme of the overall plot. The only conceivable reason for Lilly’s abrupt and ultimately nonsensical change of heart in Pt. I and the majority of Pt. II was to attempt to explain why it was she felt so terribly betrayed that she would do what she eventually does. The authors were obviously shooting for an “Et tu, Brute?” moment, but it falls flat and instead turns Lilly into a laughably oblivious moron.
Not only that, but her rage at one of her more heinous actions, which she blames upon The Governor as she did in the comic book, now makes her not only an idiot but one whom has no sense of their own accountability. Her cry of, “Look what you made me do!” was moving in the graphic novel specifically because of its hopelessness, its rage; however, by the end of this novel, it becomes nothing more than finger-pointing. No one makes Lilly do anything at any point; she knows with whom she is dealing, she knows which horse she is backing, and she makes a series of choices that lead her to a moment, to one action, and when she chooses to follow it through…
Well. Only one finger is on that trigger, and it is most certainly not connected to The Governor.
And the remaining residents of Woodbury are looking to her for leadership??
After having completed most of the novels associated with this collection, I have to say that I believe the choice to originally name this series after The Governor was mostly a marketing tactic; while not every TWD fan may be familiar with Lilly Caul (particularly those who are only fans of the television series and, therefore, know of a Lilly but not the Lilly) and most wouldn’t care two figs about the various residents of Woodbury, everyone interested in any incarnation of TWD knows who The Governor is – as has been established, he’s the guy fans most love to hate. Even calling it The Walking Dead Series is a little too much; to be accurate, it should really be called something like The Woodbury Chronicles. But then… well… would anyone want to read it? (Answer: No.)
I went into this hoping to learn more about The Governor himself – who he was before the outbreak, and how he convinced an entire town full of people that he was a stand-up guy who ought to be given control over their lives. Unfortunately, this is not the case with this series – instead, we are provided with a minute amount of substance and a whole lot of filler. And I’ve got to say that, with the exception of the first book in the series, all of the extra tidbits added about The Guv actually took away from him as a villain.
In closing, I’ll say that, after having read these four books, I can’t shake the image I have in my head of the creator(s) just slapping a TWD label on any ol’ pile of crap and flinging it out all over the unsuspecting masses. I, for one, do not wish to become a connoisseur of crap, so I won’t be reading any other novels associated with this universe. I’ve been a fan of TWD graphic novels for over a decade, but after finishing these books, I have had to admit to myself that I’m also pretty sick of the lack of continuity and overall sloppiness found within the sprawling universe (a universe which, for the most part, the creator oversees himself, so there’s really no excuse for it other than the call of the almighty dollar), so I’ll also be cutting any future installments in the graphic novels out of my life, as well. I’m simplifying things at this point and sticking with the versions of these stories which I personally find the most fulfilling: the writers for the television series and those at Telltale Games have handled the material quite well thus far.
Elle read the Kindle versions of the books in this series.