In 2011, The Walking Dead was enjoying a sudden surge into the upper tier of mainstream popularity. The TV series had surpassed all expectations, and the Walking Dead universe was looking to be expanded further across other mediums. A novel would be released which dove into the backstory of one of he most compelling characters of the series— the Governor. Called Rise of the Governor, the book was co-written by series creator Robert Kirkman and horror author Jay Bonansinga.
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Perhaps the craziest of all villains seen in the franchise (especially in the comics), I always wondered how the Governor became the monster that he was. Did the apocalypse traumatize him so badly, he morphed from a normal person into an unrecognizable maniac? Or was he always a lunatic, just waiting for the right opportunity to unleash his sadistic mayhem on the world? Rise of the Governor completely fleshed out the story behind the Governor, answering those questions and more, with a compelling story that made it very difficult to stop turning the pages.
After Rise of the Governor, several additional novels followed suit, now following the character of Lilly Caul— a Woodbury resident briefly seen in the comics. The Road to Woodbury, along with The Fall of the Governor: Parts 1 & 2, showed Lilly’s path to Woodbury and then the prison, where she played a very vital role in the main story by killing two very important characters. Rick, Michonne, and other characters were featured in bit parts, outsiders to this main story, showing the battle between the two groups from the other side of the fences.
While it was entertaining as a comic reader to learn more about the prison and Woodbury war, as well as reading about the fallout with what happened to the prison and Woodbury afterward, these sequel books just weren’t as gripping as Rise of the Governor. They were interesting books, but perhaps only because we already knew half of the story going in to keep things more interesting.
Unfortunately, several inconsistencies compared to the comics— including mismatched timelines and dialogue written differently from the comic panels, often spoken by other characters— made the books seem more like fan fiction or an alternate timeline. That wouldn’t be so bad in itself, except for the fact that Robert Kirkman has insisted that the novels and comic books are supposed to be canonical with each other.
Following the conclusion of the Governor’s storyline, a new four-part book series based on The Walking Dead was announced, with Jay Bonansinga continuing the story of Lilly Caul past the fall of Woodbury. The first book, Descent, was a step up from before, because at least Bonansinga was now free to write the story however he wanted, without being inconsistent with the comics. It introduced a new interesting villain while the Woodbury survivors find a new source of safety in the realm of underground tunnels.
While I did enjoy Descent more than the 2 or 3 books before it, it wasn’t by a huge margin. So when the next one, The Walking Dead: Invasion, was released last fall, I was in no rush to read it and ended up forgetting about it, only recently managing to snag a copy. And maybe it’s because I wasn’t expecting much, but just a few pages into Invasion, I was quickly unable to put it down, ultimately breezing through the entire story. I’m surprised to say the least, but Bonansinga was finally able to capture those same feelings of dread and suspense that hadn’t been as strongly felt since Rise of the Governor.
The story features a rather simple tale of revenge, with an old nemesis reorganizing a new militia to bring vicious payback to the Woodbury survivors. As the plot moves forward, switching between Lilly and the others preparing for the impending invasion and the antagonists slowly making their way back to Woodbury, it was easy to get invested in the story and its characters. My only qualm with the storyline was how it seemed the villain’s rise back to power was a little too reminiscent of how the Governor did so in his 2 bottle episodes during season 4 of the TV series— but interestingly enough, those episodes were heavily inspired by Rise of the Governor. I guess it’s all come full circle.
Without getting into spoilers, I’ll say that it’s not absolutely necessary to read all of the previous novels to enjoy Invasion. I would recommend starting with the previous book, Descent, however, for a better understanding of the characters and their predicament. Even then, it’s not totally required. What we have here is an old-fashioned tale of revenge and impending doom, making the best of a tried and true formula that still works incredibly well. In fact, that simplicity is what makes the whole franchise of The Walking Dead as magnificent as it is.