Written by: Matt Molgaard
Reading Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga’s Rise of the Governor conjures a uniquely intricate confusion. We’re walking into the story of a character we think we already know, at least fairly well. We know that the story functions as a chronological telling of The Governor’s descent into madness, from man to monster. But what we don’t know is that a rather bold twist is revealed in the final portions of the tale that completely forces readers to rewire their process of thought and logic.
While it’s an absolute blast getting a look at what used to be the life of “Phillip Blake”, and what it’s rapidly morphed into as a result of the zombie apocalypse, there are elements established early that are severely contradicted as we near the climax of the novel. While I think Kirkman does a great job of shedding an illumination on life-altering moments for The Governor, I don’t think the significant decisions are necessarily the most logical, plausible, or embraceable. The big reveal is just a bit too… out there to swallow without a cold glass of memory failure or complete disregard for sensibility.
But here’s the strange thing about Rise of the Governor: it’s still an engrossing, unforgiving, rancorous piece of fiction that ensnares the attention, infects the emotion, and leaves you completely addicted. From page one to the final piece of punctuation. It’s an absolutely amazing read that exhibits time and again, the savagery that Phillip Blake and his band of traveling survivors are willing to exert in order to survive, and simultaneously, the compassion they’re all easily capable of extending. It’s a tug-of-war at the heart strings at times, and a downright sinister tale of terror at others. And it’s highly enjoyable, with some serious longevity attached: there’s no problem reading the story more than a single time. It kind of, calls to you.
To give you an idea of who our players are, and what they’re about, I’ll sketch a very vague outline. You (should) all know my practice: nothing close to a spoiler from me, but I’ll try to bring you up to speed, to an extent. Phillip is the rugged leader (willing to make the difficult decisions) of four survivors – Brian, Penny, and Nick – being the other three. Brian is the elder to Phillip, but he’s of the timid sort, small, fragile, and hesitant when rapid fire response is required. Penny is Phillip’s daughter, and she’s everything you’d expect of a young girl fighting to survive in a foreign world where the dead walk, and eat the living. Nick is the story’s genuine sidekick, tough, but heavily religious; a man with a conscience no doubt.
They’re a misfit of a bunch, who seem to stumble over one another on a fairly frequent basis, but they work singularly, and they work as a functioning, cohesive unit. That matters, and it’s one of many elements that make this such an awesome read. Each personality is thoroughly illustrated and, even Phillip, who can indeed be quite repugnant from time to time, possess very endearing traits and an absolutely unwavering love for his daughter. It’s the simple insanity of what the world has heaped upon them that works to drive the group to the brink. And, even in the mix of all the carnage and violence, somehow Nick manages to keep about as level a head as possible.
The same cannot be said for the Blake brothers. At odds with one another for many years, the two don’t completely jive initially. There’s a bit of disgust that brims within Phillip and a trace of resentment on Brian’s part: both easily detectable emotional elements, both quality internal conflicts. There are a few sequences that further extrapolate the friction, and a few that manage to completely sway the tides between the two. Ultimately, it proves to be one specific moment in the novel’s latter portions that triggers a major game changer in Brian, who is left overwhelmed with respect and adoration for his brother. Ironically, it comes after a brutal physical assault from the younger Blake. Again, I emphasize the amalgamation of conflicting ideas. And, again, I stress that somehow, a sizeable portion of these character decisions are successful in execution.
Without spoiling everything, I’ll bring this coverage to conclusion. Having (of course) not yet read The Road to Woodbury, there are obviously some question marks that still loom in regards to the mental deterioration of The Governor. Given the quality of Rise of the Governor, I fully anticipate Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga to fill the gaps seamlessly. My only issue at this point, and believe me when I say I consider it a serious issue, is waiting for the novel!