Written by: Bruce Priddy
The Governor. There is perhaps no more infamous villain in modern comics. So great his evil, Philip/Brian Blake is one of few comic book characters to transcend the series that gave him birth; even people who have never read The Walking Dead have heard of the Governor. Despite his short time in the series, the Governor’s presence is felt in every issue since his death, his legacy carved upon Rick Grimes’ body.
If Rick Grimes is an imperfect example of who we’d hope to be in a zombie apocalypse, the everyman doing his best to survive, the Governor is what we fear we’d become, the person doing his worst to survive, perhaps even more inhuman than the flesh-eating monsters infesting the world. For more than 100 issues of the comic, we have seen Rick’s journey and how the world of The Walking Dead has transformed him. But how did Philip/Brian Blake become the psychopathic ruler of Woodbury and the fatal confrontation at the prison? A trilogy of novels seeks to fill in the Governor’s back story.
The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury, while about the Governor and his infamous town, is told through the eyes of Lilly Caul. Astute readers of The Walking Dead will recognize Lilly as one of the Governor’s henchmen, responsible for one of the most heinous acts in comic book history, one that destroys the Grimes family. But the Lilly we meet at the beginning of the novel is not the same woman who committed such brutal acts at the prison. This Lilly is a coward, who’s spent her entire life running from everything, before and after the apocalypse. But even as we run away from something, we are still running towards something else, often much worse than from that which we flee. The Road to Woodbury is not simply Lilly’s journey to the town, but the hand she plays making Woodbury the town we recognize, the Governor into the man we fear, how her fears change her from coward to murderer.
This descent into madness and savagery should be a fascinating read. Unfortunately, The Road to Woodbury is hobbled by inexpert writing, the book getting in its own way.
The Road to Woodbury is the kind of book that cheats its readers. Never are we allowed to enjoy the experience of living the characters’ experiences with them. Instead of seeing it reflected in their actions and words, we are simply told what the characters are thinking and experiences. For example, we know Lilly is a coward because we are constantly told she is a coward.
Characters are two-dimensional. Perhaps the most egregious is that of Josh Lee Hamilton, Lilly’s ill-fated love-interest, who is nothing more than the stereotype of the African-American gentle giant. One cannot help but to imagine him as a more intelligent version of Michael Clarke Duncan’s, John Coffey.
The motivations and actions of characters are often inexplicable. Potheads spend their time getting high, despite the constant danger to their lives. This is not to mention they somehow manage to still score weed despite the end of the world. A decision at the climax makes little sense, given what we known about the characters and their behaviors. It seems shoehorned in to fit in with the comic book’s story line.
This isn’t to say The Road to Woodbury is without its merits. The descriptions are vivid and often, fittingly, grotesque. No zombie is simply a zombie; each is described in great detail, so you know the horror the characters are facing. The action sequences are face-paced and exciting. But this is not enough to save the Road to Woodbury from being a chore to get through.
The Walking Dead is a media-franchised blessed with strong, incredible writing across the board, from the original comic book source material, the TV series, to the amazing video game from Tell Tale Games. It is a shame to see this trend did not continue with The Road to Woodbury.