Written by: Joe Hempel
Written by Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga, The Walking Dead novels are set before the times of the comic books and tell the story of the Governor Philip Blake, and the rise of the Woodbury community. The Road to Woodbury is the second novel of a planned trilogy, and features the character Lilly Caul, and her journey to Woodbury. It was an interesting story that sets up nicely for book three. But was it as good as the first book?
From the Cover: The zombie plague unleashes its horrors on the suburbs of Atlanta without warning, pitting the living against the dead. Caught in the mass exodus, Lilly Caul struggles to survive in a series of ragtag encampments and improvised shelters. But the Walkers are multiplying. Dogged by their feral hunger for flesh and crippled by fear, Lilly relies on the protection of good Samaritans by seeking refuge in a walled-in town once known as Woodbury, Georgia.
At first, Woodbury seems like a perfect sanctuary. Squatters barter services for food, people have roofs over their heads, and the barricade expands, growing stronger every day. Best of all, a mysterious self-proclaimed leader named Philip Blake keeps the citizens in line. But Lilly begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. . . . Blake, who has recently begun to call himself The Governor, has disturbing ideas about law and order.
Ultimately, Lilly and a band of rebels open up a Pandora’s box of mayhem and destruction when they challenge The Governor’s reign . . . and the road to Woodbury becomes the highway to hell in this riveting follow-up to Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga’s New York Times bestselling The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor.
**Before you continue, read book one, Rise of the Governor**
Setting: The book starts out in the outskirts of Woodbury in a tent city that has been setup with quite a few survivors. For the most part, people live together without much of a fuss, and are generally safe, until there is a zombie swarm and the survivors are left to flee. Some of then band together and move on to the town of Woodbury, where they see people barter for goods, there are lights, heat, places to live, and everyone seems happy. They really give the impression that it’s a nice place to be, but something is just a bit off. Little by little that is revealed.
Characters: The one thing that I keep hearing about, is that this is not the Lilly Caul they know from the comics. She’s so much different, what the hell is going on? Well, it’s a prequel folks. This in fact IS NOT the same Lilly Caul from the comic books. It’s about how she became the person in the comic books. You slowly see her evolution from a self-doubting, co-dependent individual into the strong character that she is. I really enjoyed watching this evolution. Her internal struggles were well documented and placed in the right places in this book.
The thing that DID bug me, is that you really get to know Lilly in the Telltale Game The Walking Dead. That is not the same Lilly as in this book, despite what is being said. She has a different father and back story. So I’m not sure what happened there. My guess is that the two sides just weren’t on the same page and by the time things got rolling it was too late to change.
The supporting characters are Josh Lee Hamilton, a guy I imagined as Michael Clarke Duncan type of guy. Big, strong, protective. Turns out I was right as the line “Hey, Green Mile!” came into play while in Woodbury. He’s a stereotypical “big guy” character that has his own set of issues. But he always is there for Lilly. Megan and Scott are a couple characters that are basically whimsical stoners. Megan is a character ready to trade her body for…well…anything. She was actually pretty intriguing for not being a main draw. And the emotional turmoil when things got serious were actually portrayed quite well. Her boyfriend, or whatever you want to call him, Scott, is a stoner and was one-dimensional and really didn’t serve much on his own except to provide a better foundation for Megan’s character.
Bob Stookey is the other group character to go into Woodbury. He’s a former Army medic and a drunk. He is easily swayed by the Governor of Woodbury and finds himself falling deeper into the darkness that is this perceived utopia. He was to me the most interesting side character of all. He’s an Army medic, but he was perhaps the weakest in mind of the entire group, ready to just do whatever for the promise of safety, throwing his own values out the window.
Plot: The plot is something that is going to be hard to describe here. There wasn’t much of one. But to me, it this book was more of a character spotlight/profile. Yes, there was conflict, and it was written well. When the zombies were attacking, the action was well paced and believable. When there was conflict within the group, or internal conflict, the authors did a great job of effectively getting that across. Perhaps there were a bit too many metaphors being used, more to the side of telling not showing in some places, but if you are reading this, you’ve probably seen the show, or read the comic, and already have the image in your head so it doesn’t distract. If I had to say what the plot was, it was the moving of Lilly, and her small group from the tent city, coming across Martinez looking for supplies in a local Target store, and going with them to Woodbury. There they meet the Governor and see how safe things are, but what price people pay in order to be safe.
The other big issue for me was the character of the Governor. These books were supposed to be about his rise, and at the end of the first book, Rise of the Governor, they did a good job starting the transformation between Brian Blake into Philip Blake. However even after reading the short story that came out in between, it never delves into exactly how he went from being someone who is cautious and caring, into someone that is just bat-shit crazy and has a funny sense of law and order. The Governor is true to the comic, but I would have liked to see more transformation.
The book does have a nice climax with Lilly tired of how things are and trying to start a coup d’état. It’s exciting, fast paced, the characters are all larger than life with the typical grandiose speeches you would expect from a grandstand. The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Really leading into the 3rd book. I’m really hoping….and it may be a pipe dream here, but it would really be cool to see the comic scenes played out in the 3rd book from the Governors perspective. If it’s done right, this could set the 3rd book high above the other two.
Bottom Line: Despite its flaws, and my own personal nit-picks, it was an enjoyable read. I had fun in the world of The Walking Dead, and needed something to quench my thirst before the last half of the third season starts on February 10th. The book isn’t going to break any new grounds, but it does exactly what it was supposed to do in my opinion, be a compelling character sketch of Lilly Caul. I like her character in this book, I like her transformation, and I think you will too. Just ignore the game version of Lilly if you’ve played it, and remember, this is a prequel, so she may act in surprising ways against the comic version of Lilly.
Was it better than the first book? I don’t think it was. The first book actually made you feel for the man who would be Governor, and understand why he was the way he was. There was real emotion behind Brian/Philip Blake that you didn’t get in this book. I think if we saw in this book more of how he became the crazy version of the character in this book, it could have been better.
People talk about books being too long, I think maybe this could have had an extra hundred pages dealing with just the Governor and his group as he overthrew the old regime (some of which was chronicled in the short story Just Another Day at the Office).