Saturday, 24 November 2012

'The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury' - Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga (Tor UK)

If you follow 'The Walking Dead' in any of its incarnations (I didn't even realise that there was a video game until today...) then you/re not just in it for the gore. You want to see just what regular people will do in order to survive one more day of the zombie apocalypse. Either that or you want to see the real psychos cut loose when law and order stop working. How do I know this? I'm still one of those readers.

Even though I no longer read the comic book (it was a little too much, even for me), Kirkman and Bonansinga's filling in the Governors backstory is still required reading. We're talking about a character who has done some absolutely vile things. Even if you know his ultimate fate, don't you want to know just why the Governor turned out the way he did? I do (despite some initial reservations) and that's why I'm sticking around for the time being.

Lily has been running all her life so, in some respects, the arrival of the walking dead hasn't changed her life that much. Zombies are just another thing to run from after all. Running away is easy though, it's what you run towards that's the clincher. Lily and her friends find herself in the walled community of Woodbury, a community beginning to turn on itself as tensions grow. As the Governor's rule brings new dangers, Lily realises that she has nowhere left to run. Sometimes you have to stand your ground and fight.

'The Road to Woodbury' doesn't have quite the same impact as its predecessor. The big revelation has come and gone, leaving us to wonder what the final volume of the trilogy has in store. There was a sense that the book was really just marking time until that final instalment, laying a few more foundations (so we can say, 'oh... that's where the bit in the comic book came from...') but not really doing much that's new. At least, not to those of us who have read the comics.

I'd say stick with it though, while 'The Road to Woodbury' may not have the urgency that 'Rise of the Governor' did, it's actually a very thoughtful piece that rewards continued reading. That's not to say that the gore isn't there (or that sense of creeping terror as zombies crowd outside a house), this is 'The Walking Dead' after all! Lovers of gore will get what they came here for (and then some), there's a little bit more to this book though...

Lily and her friend Megan are essentially the same kind of person, defenceless against this new threat and looking to survive in any way that they can. The big difference is that Megan believes she is more honest in how she goes about it, giving herself to men for protection as well as satisfying her own urges. Lily wants to be with just the one man (Josh) but isn’t sure why. Does Lily love him or is she using him as a barrier between her and the zombies? This makes for an interesting internal dilemma that you don’t normally come across in zombie fiction (even though it’s a valid question for this setting) and the addition of Megan makes for some thought provoking comparisons. Is there room for a conscience in the zombie apocalypse? Fair play to Lily for trying to do the right thing but, by the time she has figured it out, this is the world of ‘The Walking Dead’… Tragedy is never far away.

At the other end of the scale is the Governor, a strangely subdued character given that this is meant to be his tale and the focus lies on another character entirely. Not that he doesn’t have his moments though; if you haven’t already seen what he keeps in those fish tanks… Well, you’re about to and it’s just as grim as it was in the comic books.
What’s more interesting to follow though is the way that the Governor stamps his authority on the people of Woodbury. It’s cruel, and the arena makes for some brutal reading, but all the Governor is doing is giving the people exactly what they want. It just so happens that offering a release to the tension neatly coincides with the Governors need to stay in control. It’s very cleverly done and offers another dimension to this character. A large chunk of us probably already know how the story ends but treatment like this hints at a potentially explosive finale that could still spring some surprises.

I’d say that ‘The Road to Woodbury’ does suffer from being a ‘middle book’ and the shift in focus isolates the Governor in the wrong kind of way (it’s meant to be a series about him). Despite that though, Kirkman and Bonansinga have come up with the goods again. ‘The Road to Woodbury’ has everything that makes ‘The Walking Dead’ such a compelling read; I will be there to see how it ends.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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