Turns out what this series really needed was an outside villain. I'd heard about The Governor, of course, but I didn't expect that his presence would mean a change in the way Kirkman has been telling his stories, but that's exactly what happened. For as scary and tense as the first four volumes have been, there has actually been relatively little movement on the plot front. Moving from place to place, moping around and crying, talking to one another, fighting and having sex with one another, yes. But most of the conflict has come from within the group. There's just something about the Governor that puts a kick in the rest of of it. Everything moves along faster, less time is spent with whining and moping characters, and more time is spent exploring different corners of the post-zombie apocalypse world. Plus, well, the Governor is a singular creation.
A helicopter crash in the woods a couple of miles from their prison prompts Rick, Glenn, and Michonne to leave to go check for survivors. What they find is a small town called Woodbury that, like most places in this book, very quickly goes from 'pleasant surprise' to 'horrifying nightmare.' In exchange for him keeping them safe from zombies (Woodburians call them 'biters'), the town's residents pretty much let the Governor do whatever he wants. I won't go into any details, but trust me, it's all mondo-yuck. Pretty soon the Governor is threatening to feed them to his pet zombies, he rapes and tortures Michonne, he chops off Rick's hand and feeds it to his zombie daughter. Glenn gets off light with only a little emotional terror. He wants information on their prison, and the Governor always gets what he wants.
Besides being terrifying, the Governor is an interesting villain. He's the kind of guy that would only let his inner freak out like this in place without civilization. Without laws or social mores to keep him in check, he's free to let his inner freak do whatever it wants. Just because he can.