Robert Kirkman

We Are The Walking Dead
[(Essay date June 17, 2013) SS examines the effect that a lifestyle focused on survival has on the moralities of the characters from Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” graphic novels.]
“We are the walking dead!” exclaims Rick Grimes, the protagonist of Robert Kirkman’s popular and long-running graphic novel series “The Walking Dead.” Forced into a position of leadership during the zombie apocalypse, Rick eventually comes to a realization in regards to his and his group’s new positions in life. “You see them out there. You know that when we die—we become them. You think we hide behind walls to protect us from the walking dead! Don’t you get it? We are the walking dead! We are the walking dead.” This phrase, while it may also reference the fact that humans morph into zombies upon death, refers to a dark truth about humanity. Rick is telling his group how their new world has and will change them. They must become savage, pragmatic, and merciless if they hope to survive. Trauma from their new lives of hardship will shape them into killing machines. In this way, the zombies are not the true monsters, but the humans are. “The Walking Dead” demonstrates how a [[#|survivalist]] lifestyle can cause people to lose touch with their humanity.
The earliest example of mankind turning its back on traditional morality is Shane’s descent into darkness. Once Rick’s best friend, Shane begins an affair with Rick’s wife Lori while Rick is in a coma and believed to be dead. Once Rick finds his way to their camp and reunites with Lori and their son Carl, Shane realizes he is about to lose the family that he had supported and that had supported him on their hard journey to Atlanta. The first warning comes from the character Dale, who warns Rick “But that Shane… he’s a good man… he helps out a lot around here… he took care of your wife… But he’s not glad you’re back. He’s had his eye on Lori for as long as I’ve known them.” Still new to the world of the apocalypse and naïve to its effect on people, Rick dismisses Dale as a “crazy old man.” As Rick takes a more central role in the group, Shane becomes more aggressive and angry. With Lori officially committed to Rick, Shane’s roles as both the leader of the group and Lori’s lover are threatened. Shane’s strategy for survival, which is to wait for the military to arrive and rescue the survivors, becomes more of a delusion with each passing day. Eventually, Shane snaps, and runs into the forest, with Rick behind him. Shane blames Rick for everything going wrong, including the army not arriving. “I thought I could make it… I thought I could hold out… wait until they came and rescued us. They would have brought us nice beds… and hot showers… and fresh clothes! They were coming Rick! We were going to be okay!” He views his post-apocalyptic life as being “perfect” before Rick’s return. Shane’s obsession with his own survival, and the survival or Carl and Lori, made him lose touch with reality and caused him to shed his morals. Before he has the chance to shoot Rick, he is killed by Carl.
Carl is another striking example of a focus on survival reshaping the personalities of people. Carl is about seven years old at the beginning of the series, and acts as a child in his circumstances would be expected to. He has trouble sleeping in such an insecure environment without his mother, he preoccupies himself by playing with the other children, and he is overjoyed to learn his father is still alive. It is only after Rick gives Carl his sheriff’s hat that Carl begins to change. He is overjoyed to have the opportunity to be taught how to use guns, despite his mother’s obvious displeasure with this dangerous activity. Carl even asks his father if he could carry his own sidearm, which is a request that Rick obliges. Carl eventually uses this gun to kill Shane, and tells his father “It’s not the same as killing the dead ones, Daddy.” Rick responds with “It never should be, son. It never should be.” However, Carl’s empathy soon drains to a very low level, and Carl begins seeing himself as if was one of the adults, especially after recovering from a bullet wound from a hunting accident. The inheritance of his father’s hat is seen by Carl to symbolize the inheritance of his father’s role. Carl must become a protector, one who must make hard decisions when he needs to. At some points, it seem as if he tries too hard to be an adult, but as time wears on his stoicism, seriousness, and ruthlessness become all the more real. This is often unnerving to other characters. While still a child, Carl is more serious about the survival of the group than many of its adult members. This is shown when he takes the role of the strongest supporter of killing Thomas after the murderer is caught by the group, supporting Rick’s “You kill, you die” ruling. Carl changes much more quickly than many of the other characters because his personality is in a stage of development anyway. Since he is still in the process of growing up and doesn’t have much experience in the world, Carl finds it easy to adapt to the bleak world of the zombie apocalypse. A child is the product of his environment.
The other members of the group cling to their old ideals for as long as they can, hoping that things will return to normal. However, their hopes are shattered by Rick’s speech. After this declaration, they all realize that in order to survive, they may need to do things that in their previous lives would have been considered disgusting and despicable. They must prioritize survival over peace of mind. When put into life-or-death circumstances, people will do whatever it takes in order to live one more day. Robert Kirkman’s characters in “The Walking Dead” all learn this important lesson through personal experience.


The Governor Rises
[(Essay date June 17, 2013) In this essay, SS analyzes the plot twist in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor and how the reader’s expectations are defied.]
The Governor is one of the most iconic and influential characters in the Walking Dead franchise. One of the earliest villains to appear in the story, the Governor has made a lasting impression on the audience of the Walking Dead comic books and television show. With The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, Robert Kirkman sheds some light on the origins of the character. The story focuses on Brian and Phillip Blake, two brothers caught in the zombie apocalypse with two friends and Phillip’s young daughter Penny. Phillip, strong, capable, and increasingly morally ambiguous is built up in a way to make readers believe that he goes on to take the role of “the Governor.” However, the weak and sickly Brian takes his brother’s name after his death and in the end becomes the leader of Woodbury. Through the entire story up until his death, the story is written to make Phillip seem like the perfect candidate to be the Governor.
The plot twist of the Governor’s identity is very well hidden. Even the description of the novel in the book’s sleeve focuses on Phillip. After explaining that the Governor is the greatest villain of the Walking Dead series, it goes on to focus on Phillip’s role in the story. It ends with “But as their journey becomes more and more dangerous, Phillip will realize that he must do whatever it takes to save his friends and family… and his own soul in the process.” While it does build up the idea that Phillip is the main character of the novel, and thus the titular Governor, it is not completely untrue. Phillip does learn to be more ruthless in the protection of his friends and family, and ends up as a broken, vengeful man, having lost his grip on sanity after Penny’s death and zombification. In this way, his soul is put through its own trial. Also, Brian takes Phillip’s name after the latter’s death, so the ending sentence could be used to describe Brian, as it is still entirely applicable. While this is not an actual part of the novel, it does further Robert Kirkman’s goal of misdirecting reader.
From the very beginning of the actual story, Phillip, despite being the younger brother, is shown to be more hardened than Brian. While Phillip and his friends Nick and Bobby clear a house of its undead residents, Brian hides in a closet with Penny, absolutely terrified. “If only he possessed a second pair of hands, he could cover his own ears, and maybe block out the noise of human heads being demolished. Sadly, the only hands Brian currently owns are busy right now, covering the tiny ears of a little girl in the closet next to him” (Kirkman 3). The Governor is known as a confident man who is more than willing to take matters into his own hands, especially when it comes to killing. So from the very first scene Brian’s chances of becoming the Governor seem to be very slim. Phillip, on the other hand, fits the role of the Governor perfectly. He is immediately established as competent, powerful, and no-nonsense, matching the Governor’s characterization very well.
Phillip’s time in a post-apocalyptic world takes a toll on him, and he eventually becomes more twisted and violent, matching the Governor’s villainous tendencies in the Walking Dead graphic novels. Phillip first crosses into villainous territory when he rapes April Chalmers while on a scavenging run. After developing a sort of romance, the two begin to kiss, but as things become more serious, April tries to stop Phillip. “He can barely hear April’s voice coming from somewhere far away, telling him to Stop, wait, hold on, listen, listen, this is too much, I’m not ready for this, please, please, stop right now stop. None of it registers in Phillip’s brain as it swims with lust and passion and pain and loneliness and a desperate need to feel something, because now his entire being is wired to his groin, all his pent-up emotion coursing through him” (184). While Phillip obviously does not mean to rape April, he tunes out her cries for him to stop. After the deed is done, he realizes he had done something wrong, apologizing to her, asking if she is okay, and saying “‘Got a little carried away there’” (185). This is the first sign of Phillip’s descent into madness, but it does not lead to him becoming the Governor. However, it does succeed in misleading readers into believing Phillip is the Governor. Brian, as the Governor, uses rape as a weapon in the comics, raping Michonne to break her spirit while holding her prisoner.
His rape of April is not the end of Phillip’s fall, as his more sadistic side arises after Penny’s death. While being attacked by a gang of scavengers, Penny is shot and mortally wounded in the battle. Phillip takes two bandits, who he nicknames “Sonny and Cher” and brutally tortures them for their roles in Penny’s death. This would further cement his position as the future Governor, who punishes enemies in such tortuous ways as cutting off Rick’s hand and raping Michonne, as previously mentioned. Brian even tries to stop Phillip’s torture of the bandits, showing compassion one would not expect from the Governor. The reader’s expectations for these characters’ paths are set by this point, and are only supported further by Phillip’s interactions with the now-zombie Penny.
Instead of killing Penny to prevent her from becoming a zombie, Phillip keeps her in her undead state, tied to a tree. After the group leaves their base in the rest stop and move into Woodbury, Phillip keeps Penny in the group’s apartment room and even feeds her human body parts, reportedly taken from an already dead man who was going to be cremated. He later attempts to tie up a girl from town, meaning to feed her to Penny before being killed by Nick. When Brian confronts him earlier, Phillip refuses to put Penny out of her misery saying “‘I can’t let go of her, Brian… I can’t… she’s all I got’” (281). This mirrors Brian’s treatment of Penny as the Governor, keeping her chained up in a secret room and feeding her body parts. However, Brian manages to be more twisted, removing Penny’s teeth and kissing her.
After Phillip is killed, Brian uses his name after killing the town’s corrupt leader. This ends the novel, but acts as the beginning of Brian’s dark future as the Governor. In this way, Phillip Blake does become the Governor, just not the same Phillip Blake who is expected to. Kirkman created the character of Phillip Blake to misdirect readers, setting up a plot twist used to create a more emotional response from readers. Brian does not seem very much like the Governor at all, being very much less capable than his brother. He was a failure in his pre-apocalypse life, but eventually becomes a powerful figure in the post-apocalypse. This may seem unlikely, and while Phillip may match the Governor as he is seen in the main series, Brian still has time to grow into the villain that known as the Governor.