The Walking Dead has taken some interesting detours from the main action (so far) this season, first with a road trip away from the prison, and now with an episode totally focused on the Governor.  Given the character revelations we have gotten in both of these episodes, the deviations seem to be working.

We open this episode right after the events of the showdown with Rick and his group.  The Governor, Martinez and Shumpert have set up a makeshift campsite in a field.  Soon after, Martinez and Shumpert take off in the middle of the night, leaving the Governor behind.  Left alone with a big truck, the first thing the Governor does is barrel through a barricade and torch Woodbury.  The scene with David Morrissey silently standing as the whole town burns behind him is pretty darn cool.  A still of that would have made a great part of this year’s promotional poster (the one with Rick posing in front of a downed fence), but of course that would have been way too spoilery.

After the fire, the Governor walks on aimlessly, backpack strung over his shoulders, to the tune of Ben Nichols’ “The Last Pale Light in the West” -which provided the perfect tone for this opening.  The scene with the Governor passing by a building covered with messages from survivors hoping to communicate with loved ones – while he narrates how he was in a town where the “man in charge” lost it – was one of the series’ best moments thus far.  

After a time, the governor is so forlorn and exhausted that he can’t even be bothered to kill the walkers (who knew just sidestepping out of the way could be a defense?) that he encounters.  He spies a little girl out of the top floor of a dilapidated apartment building.  It quickly becomes obvious, then, that some parallel to the Governor’s dead daughter will be drawn at some point in the episode.   

When the Governor knocks on the door, he finds Tara, her sister Lilly, their terminally ill father, and little Meghan, who have been holed up in their apartment since the zombie apocalypse.  When the sisters ask the Governor’s name, he takes on the identity of Brian Heriot (one of the names scrawled on the building he passed).  The Governor is shedding his old self, but neither he, nor we, know who this new person is yet.  The family gives him the apartment across from theirs and feeds him (though he dumps the food, because random people who take you in might try and poison you, right?).  The Governor is then left alone with all his war-worn fatigue.

The Governor acts morose and detached, but when the father asks for a backgammon game because it might make Meghan talk more, the Governor obliges.  After he obtains it, we see the Governor looking at the family picture of him, his wife, and his daughter Penny.  One can’t help notice the pillow with “This too shall pass” stitched on it, strategically placed in view, as the Governor folds the corner of the picture over, covering his own face.  The Governor’s old life is passing away, and someone new is emerging.  When Lilly comes to thank him and bring him food for the road, he lets her know a head shot is needed to kill the walkers (I guess in The Walking Dead universe, there were no zombie or vampire movies to provide clues!).  Lilly asks for one more favor of the Governor – to go and get oxygen for her dad’s last days from the nursing home down the street. 

The Governor agrees to do it, continuing the character’s transformation as he puts himself at risk yet again to help this family.  Afterward, Meghan comes around, sweetly asking questions about his eye patch and the events surrounding it, and his gentle demeanor with her made it difficult to believe that this is the same man who had severed heads in the Woodbury basement and slaughtered his own people just a short time ago.   

Despite the Governor getting the oxygen (which won’t help extend the life of someone with end stage lung cancer anyway), the father dies.  When the Governor learns that the dad has been dead awhile, he tries to shuffle the girls out of the room, but the father turns and grabs at Tara.  The Governor saves her life, but in the process proceeds to bash the skull of her father to smithereens while Meghan looks on in horror.  It’s evident that although “Brian” is starting to emerge from the Governor’s transformation, remnants of his old self still remain.   

Back in his temporary apartment, Brian sets the picture of his family on fire, attempting to leave behind Philip Blake and the Governor forever (but I still want to call him the governor!).  The Governor tries to leave for good, but Lilly begs him to take her family with him.  At first he protests, but he knows that they are all now connected, so he concedes.

They take to the open road in the father’s food truck, and along the way the Governor and Lilly get a bit friendly (with Tara and Meghan sleeping right beside them— ewww!).  The truck then breaks down, as it has to of course, because this is The Walking Dead after all.  To top it off, Tara unluckily twists her ankle, and then we are all set up for what we know is coming next.   

The foursome encounter a large group of walkers on the road, and the Governor tells them to run.  When Meghan freezes in fear, the Governor prompts her to come to him, and the moment she runs into his arms, his commitment to her, and her family, is sealed.   
As the Governor is running while carrying Meghan, they both fall into a pit with some walkers.  The true “Governor” surfaces once again, as he utilizes some inventive and brutal ways to kill the zombies before they get to Meghan.  Afterward, Meghan reaches out for Brian, he lifts her up into his arms and promises to protect her – and the moment is so affecting that I’m now buying into the Governor’s transformation.  Redemption may not be so easy to come by, however, because the Governor’s past comes rushing back at him as we see Martinez at the top of the pit.    

David Morrissey was excellent as the weary Governor undergoing profound change, and I commend the show for taking the chance of letting him carry an episode.  Though the action moved slower than usual, the character depth we got was worth it – the well written script, along with Morrissey’s stirring performance, had me actually rooting for the Governor.   

At the end of this episode, we’re left with many questions:  Is the governor truly transformed?  Will there be a showdown between Rick and the prison group?  If not, will the Governor enlist the help of Rick to watch over his new family?  If so, would Rick do it?  Or, will the real showdown be with Martinez?  Will the Governor, Lily, Tara and Meghan ultimately survive?  

Miscellaneous tidbits:

This episode was so well done that I didn’t really miss Rick and the prison.  The next episode looks like we still might not be seeing them, so we’ll have to see if this sustained departure from our main group works.  

The show continues to come up with new, gruesome ways to kill walkers.  This time the Governor didn’t even have a weapon other than his own two hands- well, unless you count the human femur.

We’re seeing a lot more child characters this season; maybe it means something regarding hope for the future.

This episode was a complete surprise.  I was a bit skeptical last week of how they would pull off the Governor’s return, being that it seemed like that story was all played out, but the changes the character underwent made the Governor’s return captivating.  I’m anxiously awaiting how this all comes to a head.  I absolutely want the Governor to be redeemed.  The theme of redemption is often explored in this show – just look at Daryl and Merle (and even Rick).   Maybe the Governor’s crimes will come back to haunt him; knowing this show, they most likely will.  But for now, I’m enjoying watching “Brian” be protective over his new family, and I’m willing to gamble that the show may just choose the Governor’s story to depict the power of redemption.  

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