After the dramatic events of the last volume, Rick, Glenn, and Michonne leave the prison after spotting their first sign of other survivors. Their search brings them to a small town called Woodbury where a large, well-armed and well-organized group of survivors have taken refuge, led by a man called The Governor. Rick and his comrades quickly learn, at terrible cost to themselves, that they have fallen into the hands of the most dangerous group of people they could have imagined.
While clearing out A-block, Glenn and Maggie discover the prison's armory, which contains shotguns and full riot gear. Utilizing the new equipment, the group plans to siphon gasoline out of the remaining cars in the prison parking lot to use to power the generator and Dale's RV. Glenn and Rick head out and soon spot a helicopter in the sky, which crashes. Glenn, Rick and Michonne find the crash site, but it is deserted. The only clues are several footprints and tire tracks heading from the wreckage. Rick decides another group that was closer to the site must have taken the survivors, and they decide to follow the tracks.
Back at the prison, Carol continues to act bizarrely towards Lori, finally suggesting a poly-amorous marriage between her, Lori and Rick. Lori refutes and Carol becomes angry and storms off. Dale and Andrea decide to raise Ben and Billy together.
Rick, Glenn, and Michonne eventually reach an idyllic community called Woodbury. They meet a guard, named Caesar Martinez, and an armed, organized group of citizens residing in four walled-off city blocks. Rick and his company come to learn that these people are being led by a man called The Governor. The Governor explains that the National Guardsmen abandoned a nearby station, leaving behind weapons and equipment. The Governor leads the group to an arena surrounded by a ring of leashed zombies, which is used for staging brutal fights between living humans. The Governor tells Rick they feed the zombies people that stumble into Woodbury. Before Rick can respond, Rick is interrogated at gunpoint by The Governor, who wants to know where Rick's camp is. When Rick and the others say they are the only ones, The Governor cuts off Rick's right hand after forcing him onto a table. Michonne tackles The Governor and rips off his left ear with her teeth. Rick is sent to the infirmary for immediate treatment by Stevens so The Governor can continue to extract information from him. Glenn is locked in solitary confinement, and Michonne is brutally raped and tortured by The Governor.
The next morning, The Governor returns to his home and it is clear that none of the other survivors in the town know of his true nature, as he acts friendly and fatherly towards them. The Governor returns to his home, where he has kept his undead niece restrained and several aquariums with zombie heads inside them. Later, he talks to Glenn, who has become deranged from his lengthy stay in confinement. He tells Glenn that he plans to question him, but begins by raping and torturing Michonne again, ensuring that Glenn hears her painful cries.
In the infirmary, a conscious Rick talks to Dr. Stevens about The Governor, whose pseudonym is also Philip (although his real name is Blake). Dr. Stevens tells Rick how Phillip emerged as a leader. It has become apparent that he is evil but no one challenges him because he keeps everyone safe from the zombies. The Governor then manipulates Rick into revealing that there is indeed a nearby camp, and he wants the supplies it has for Woodbury.
Back at the prison, the group begins to worry about Rick, Michonne, and Glenn, who have now been missing for two days. Otis tries to patch things up with Patricia. Lori worries about Rick, and when Carol tries to help, she is roughly turned away, as Lori mistakes her friendly comfort for another romantic approach. Tyreese returns to the prison after searching for the missing survivors and tells the others that he found the car stuck in the mud, but it was the only trace of their presence.
- This is the first volume in which the issue covers are drawn by Charlie Adlard.
- Walking Dead Vol. 5 Review Gruesome, horrific and shocking but still excellent, IGN, Richard George (October 9, 2006).