It’s been a crazy few weeks, but I’d never leave you hanging. November marks the start of the mid-season build to a final climax, and who better to catalyze it than the Governor? “Live Bait” finds him collecting a weakened family to use as such, and “Dead Weight” finds him ridding himself of, oh, you know, dead weight. And oddly enough, of the two, “Live Bait” feels unevenly paced and strangely written; I get that we’re supposed to think of the Gov as an antihero, but the writers pushed a little hard on the pity buttons. In this Sunday’s “Dead Weight,” though, we got him back in his full, psychopathic force.
Two weeks ago, The Walking Dead picked up from the end of season three, just as the Governor slaughtered his flock and drove away in the pickup. The writers give us a brief montage of the Gov’s activities since he left the Prison crew. He stares blankly into a fire as a walker stumbles through it, moaning and reaching. Martinez, ever the protector, shoots the walker, shaking his head. The Governor awakens in the morning to find he’s all alone with the embers – nobody wants him. What to do now? Obviously, he crashes through the Woodbury gates and lights the town on fire. Through Woodbury’s formerly idyllic streets shamble walker after walker, oblivious to the flame, oblivious to the Governor. As the days go by, the Governor gets weaker, slower, his hair scraggly and unkempt. He stands staring at a barn on which mourning people have scrawled messages: “We found Ken Jones,” “Brian Heriot,” messages from lonely people who want to let someone know their friends and family have died.
Just as he’s nearing the end of his proverbial rope, he looks up to see a little girl peering out a window. He climbs the building’s stairs to investigate and discovers two women, a little girl, and an old man with a respirator. He tells them the abbreviated story of Woodbury, tells them “the man in charge just lost it.” He gives them the name “Brian Heriot,” linking himself inextricably with the dead.
“When my girls were born, that’s when I finally figured out what it was to be a man,” the dying patriarch says, wheezing through his oxygen tube. Meghan, the little girl the Governor spotted in the window, doesn’t talk since “the shit hit the fan,” and her dying grandfather appeals to the Governor to go find her Backgammon (I think?) set. Maybe she’ll speak again, he thinks.
Upstairs, on a mission for Meghan’s game, the Governor finds bullets, a prosthetic leg, and an eyeless, limbless walker in the bathtub. Tara had been trying to kill the zombie, and nobody understood why he kept coming back. Honestly, of all the frustrating aspects of this show, this one irks me the most. What year is this? 2011? In what alternate universe have people not heard of zombies? In what world do people not have ANY prior knowledge of this mythology? At least acknowledge it, guys. COME ON.
After he finds Meghan’s game, Lily sends him out on another run: oxygen for her dad. The Governor enters the hospital and, obviously, discovers a lot of walkers. He doesn’t fear them, or even mind them much anymore; he just walks among them as long as that’s possible. Instead of confronting them, he closes a door on one; he shoves a wheelchair out of the way, walks rapidly past as one grabs for his shoulder. He’s pretty comfy surrounded by the dead, these days. After he’s proven himself trustworthy to the family, he teaches Meghan chess (she draws an eye patch on the King). He lets Lily cut his hair and begins to regain some of his (surface) sanity. “You can lose a lot of soldiers and still win the game,” he tells the little girl; ostensibly he’s talking about chess, but there’s more to the Governor than meets the eye, so to speak. (Sorry.)
When the grandfather dies, Lily leads Megan into the bedroom to have a brief viewing. “I think he’s been gone awhile,” she says, and the Governor becomes visibly alarmed. That means a very different thing now. He’s coming back; we know it, the Governor knows it. And yet somehow, this family of ladies doesn’t understand (ARGH) – so when he smashes the walker’s face with a fire extinguisher it’s pretty damn traumatic for everybody. Tara forgives him with a fist pound. Everybody loves a hero. The Governor sets a match to the photo of his family, starting with his own face – two eyes and all. Burn the past, burn it all down.
He tries to leave, but Lily won’t let him go alone. The four of them travel together in an abandoned food truck. In the back of the truck that evening, Lily gently touches him with her shoulder as they lie side by side. Her hands moving beneath the covers, and his on her shirt. Meanwhile, I’m over here remembering him with Andrea, and what he did to Michonne. Not entirely sure what the writers are up to right now, but if the point is to make me uncomfortable, they’ve done that.
After the truck breaks down, the four of them set out on foot, Meghan with her little pink suitcase. The Governor’s spider sense starts to kick in, and as he rounds a corner he sees a LIVE BAIT sign swinging in the wind, surrounded by a massive herd of walkers. The Governor has to coax a paralyzed Meghan to come to him before they all die together. She jumps into his arms with her little pink bunny, and they dive into the woods. When he and Meghan fall into a man-made home, he realizes he’s come across somebody else’s camp. Not that it matters – he’s supposed to die down here. Instead, he brutally takes out a bunch of walkers by ripping open their heads and throats in front of this poor little girl, and all she can do is grab for his hand, his bloody hand. The contrast between his gore-soaked appendage and her soft blond hair is jarring.
“Holy shit,” a voice says from above. Who is it, of course, but Martinez? Former assistant, bodyguard, and abandoner of the Governor, who’s apparently now leading a new camp. Holy shit, indeed. Martinez scoops Meghan out of the pit, then grudgingly lowers a rope for the Governor. When Lily asks if “Brian” is okay, Martinez gives him a squinty-eyed expression that says, “whatever you’re up to, I don’t like it.” The Governor successfully puts on the mask of Mr. Rustic, Mr. Laundry, calling Meghan “Pumpkin,” playing her at chess. The thrumming, pounding soundtrack playing beneath lets us know he’s still dangerous.
He heads out on a supply run with Martinez, brothers Pete and Mitch. On the trail, they discover a headless body strapped to a tree, a “LIAR” sign nailed to its camo-clad chest. Soon, another body, “RAPIST” nailed to it. “MURDERER” says the third one, but he still has most of his head, and he’s clutching a family photo much like the Gov’s.
There’s another slow, understated “bonding” scene as the guys find some old beer and tell their stories. It’s pretty unexciting, but Pete does reference “when everything went deads-up,” which I find witty for some reason. “If it weren’t for the people you were with, the girl,” Martinez says, he wouldn’t have brought him into the camp. Meghan is the reason he’s still alive, in other words. She was the bait.
Beer is worth celebrating. Last time we really saw somebody drink to celebrate, it was probably at the CDC in season 1. Outside the trailers back at the camp, everybody’s giggling, drinking beers. There’s a brief moment of lesbian flirtation, and then Tara and an ex-Marine named Alicia are together – which is cool, but feels like an aside.
The roof of the trailer is leaking. It’s a great metaphor. Shit’s going to come in anyway, and you can’t stop it with duct tape. On top of the leaking roof, Martinez and Governor play some golf. Martinez gets talky when he’s drunk – one of the many reasons the booze is a bad idea in the zombie apocalypse. “Maybe we can share the crown a little,” he says…and BOOM, golf club to the head. To its credit, that scene made me gasp and involuntarily draw my hands to my face. Well done, writers.
When Pete says he’ll take over the leadership for now, he proves he isn’t fit for the job. He doesn’t want to murder a camp of 10 whose supplies would bolster theirs. Mitch, on the other hand, falls more in line with the Governor’s point of view: kill ‘em all.
“Surviving” means killing everybody who’s a threat. He literally stabs Pete in the back. These people aren’t hard enough for the zombie apocalypse; they’re too trusting, too nice. The Governor intimidates Mitch into playing assistant (much like Martinez was before). “Brian” talks about his own family, tells stories we haven’t heard yet. His daddy was abusive, his brother a hero. “People believe what they want to believe, and everybody loves a hero.” They dump Pete’s body in the lake, where he floats, forever grasping, beneath the frigid surface – another of the Governor’s undead aquatic experiments.
We’re watching the Governor build a society. Is this how he built Woodbury? When a walker almost gets Meghan, Tara tries to pull it off and its flesh falls off the bone. The Gov steps in at the last possible moment to shoot it in the head – everybody loves a hero. In the last scene, he raises his pistol from cover of woods, points it at Michonne and Hershel as they smile and chat.
Did he let that walker into the camp on purpose, so he could be the hero? I think so. Did he find himself alone, spend some time “thinkin’,” and discover that he can’t change? He can’t be the good guy? I think so. Is he using these poor people as a means to an end? Yup. A confrontation is coming, and it probably won’t be as epic as I want it to be, but it should be good. (Also, damn you, writers. Enver Gjokaj was amazing on Dollhouse – a rather unamazing show – and you should’ve kept him around.)