This week’s episode was whiplash-inducing, as the old Governor showed up and stripped away any traces of Brian Heriot that we saw last week. And silly and naïve as it may have been, I was disappointed that The Governor wasn’t able to hold onto his transformation despite the zombie apocalypse.
As this episode opens, we see the familiar chess board. Brian and his new “daughter” Meghan are playing the game outside while we are shown flashbacks of what happened as soon as the Governor killed the walkers in the pit. It turns out Martinez is the leader of a new group, and he agrees to take The Governor and his small group in, despite protests from a guy named Mitch, who seems to be second in command and doesn’t want more mouths to feed. We return to the chess game, where The Governor tells Meghan that she, he, Lilly, and Tara will make it. When Meghan asks if it’s because they are all good, The Governor never does offer an answer. Instead, as he takes his turn, he lets it be known that he is (in more ways than one) thinking of his next move.
Despite just coming into this camp, the Governor, Lilly, and Meghan are given their very own RV (which seems a bit generous, but ok). The Governor is already having reservations about being here, but Lilly tells him it’s good. Of course he, and we, really don’t believe her.
The Governor, Martinez, Mitch, and Mitch’s brother Pete go on a supply run. Mitch has already christened The Governor with the nickname “one eye,” helping us to quickly learn he is a jerk. Pete, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be like his brother.
Searching in the woods for a cabin one of the group told them about, they come across some decapitated people with signs like “liar” and “rapist” nailed to their chests. On the porch they find the probable culprit, who hung the sign “Murderer” around his neck before shooting himself in the head. Ironically, he also had a photo hanging out of his pocket which just happened to be of himself, his wife and his daughter. The Governor takes it -though it was unclear why, except to draw the parallel regarding family units and what happens to them in this world.
The next segment inside the cabin was effectively scary. The sound of the ominously slow banging and the flashlights illuminating the cabin’s dark passages created the perfect tension, and magnified the inevitable startle effect as the first walker jumped on Pete. In this scenario, The Governor proves his worth by taking out the wife and daughter, who have now turned, and the chattering heads on the floor – retained from the decapitations – are efficiently stomped on and crushed by Mitch. Now the only thing left of this poor family is the photo that The Governor seems compelled to carry.
In a quiet moment in the cabin, Martinez confesses to The Governor that he wouldn’t have brought him into the camp if it weren’t for the family the Governor had with him. Martinez also comments that The Governor seems changed. The Governor agrees, but just like Lilly saying the camp is good, it all seems too good to be true.
Next for the group, it’s all dinner, beers and laughter – for about five seconds. But then Martinez has to go and knock on The Governor’s door and ask him to hit golf balls like in the Woodbury days. When Martinez, who is hammered (not literally- yet), tells The Governor he would be too worried to sleep at night if he had a family, The Governor asks a fateful question: “What, You don’t think you can keep this place safe?” Martinez’s answer seals his fate when he says that “hopefully” they are prepared, and then seals it even tighter by asking The Governor to “share the crown a little.” The Governor really doesn’t want to hear that, and takes a golf club to Martinez’s head. After kicking him off the camper and dragging him to the pit, he hangs Martinez over the edge and lets the walkers tear him to shreds.
Despite a weekly barrage of gruesome deaths, this was one of the most chilling and horrific we’ve seen, obviously because of the deliberate nature of it. Though the Governor was shouting that he didn’t want it (presumably to have a leadership role), we see that he has already decided if Martinez isn’t sure he can protect the group, then The Governor will take matters into his own hands. And in true Governor style, that involves torture and murder.
The next morning, Pete tells the group about Martinez’s death and how he is temporarily taking on the role of leader. He gives them a “we’re all in this together” speech, and then tells The Governor to gear up for a hunt.
In the woods, Pete tells The Governor he needs some help leading the group. Poor Pete – he seems like a nice guy, but he just doesn’t realize what happens to people who ask the Governor to share leadership duties.
Mitch, Pete and The Governor stumble upon another group, and Mitch immediately wants to rob them for their supplies. Pete won’t have it, so the trio ends up with a few dead squirrels and some condensed milk for their trouble. The Governor heads back in the direction of the group they just saw, and when Mitch and Pete catch up, they see that the whole group is dead. How this happened so quickly while The Governor and the brothers were so close by, and how they didn’t hear it is beyond me, but again – ok.
The Governor says people did the deed (and for a moment I thought maybe The Governor somehow slipped away and did it), and Mitch is angry that they didn’t get the group’s supplies like they could have. Pete gets upset after Mitch stabs one of the injured in the head. “He might have lived” Pete tells his brother. Hmm, it seems we have heard that just recently about two sick prison members. Let’s see – Pete is angst ridden about leading, he tries to do the moral thing, he makes speeches about standing together – Who else do we know that does that? Now that we know Pete’s fate, is the show trying to tell us what happens to this kind of leader?
And speaking of that fate, the Governor decides Pete is too soft to lead, and makes an attempt to leave the campsite with Lily, Meghan, Tara and Alicia (Tara’s girlfriend). After driving for a while, they are stunned to see that the road is blocked by some walkers bogged down in the mud. Ok now, first the murder of a whole campsite full of people in 4 seconds, and without any sound, and now the only road out is blocked? The Walking Dead doesn’t usually pull me out of episodes to remind me to suspend my disbelief, but this time it did. Then again, the lingering shot of The Governor standing in front of the entrenched walkers, (as metaphor for his state of mind, just like the chest game) may have been too good to pass up.
With The Governor’s hand conveniently forced, he has to go back to the campsite, and we are left to ruminate on the irony of him wanting to avoid the leadership role that keeps getting thrust at him, yet systematically taking steps to assume power. One of those steps involves killing Pete, who thinks The Governor is knocking on his door to talk about Mitch. The Governor does pay Mitch a visit, but instead of killing him, gives him (and the audience) his perspective on the futility of behaving heroically, and his justification for what a leader needs to be willing to do to survive in this dismal landscape. After Mitch agrees (murdered brother notwithstanding) to be second in command, The Governor tells him they will tell the others that Pete died on a run to get supplies for the group, because “everybody loves a hero.”
The Governor assumes power, which is yet again hard to swallow, considering the group had reservations about Pete -who they knew – just taking over, and “Brian” is a total stranger. But take over The Governor does, setting up a perimeter and stocking up on ammo. Later, he tells Lilly they could still find a better place (gee, wherever does he mean?) if they are willing to fight for it.
While Lilly is looking lovingly at The Governor without his eye patch, Meghan and Tara are playing tag – which is never a good idea in a zombie apocalypse. Apparently the perimeter, pits, and ammo don’t stop one isolated walker, because he manages to chase down and corner Meghan under a truck (but again, conveniently for the story, he doesn’t just take a bite of her leg that he has hold of, but tries to pull her out from under the truck instead). Just in the nick of time, The Governor runs out and shoots the walker in the head.
After some personal reflection at the pond (where Pete will forever exist in his walker incarnation), The Governor drives to the prison – and amazingly this time is able to find a route without one muddy walker blocking the way. Once he gets there, we see the scene that we originally viewed two episodes ago. The Governor sees Rick and Carl, then Michonne and Hershel, and the last shot we see is The Governor pointing his gun.
I had mixed feelings about this episode. On the one hand, some of the scenes, like inside the cabin and Martinez’s death, were riveting in a brutal, visceral way. On the other hand, scenes like the muddy walkers and Meghan’s rescue felt very contrived.
Similarly, David Morrissey has done an amazing job as the conflicted Governor, fighting his dark impulses, but ultimately succumbing to them. But after two episodes, I was starting to miss the prison group, including some of the characters I have invested in since the first season.
Overall, this was an interesting journey into the mind of The Governor, but if the writers were going to go through the trouble of letting him take a detour from his past self, they could have made it a bit more arduous. It didn’t take much for him to become the same guy all over again, which ended up making last week’s remarkable episode have less impact. And even though I know The Governor is an iconic villain in The Walking Dead universe, I would have liked him to achieve a fragment of redemption (and just obtaining a ready-made family doesn’t do it). It would have undoubtedly made a showdown at the prison more complex. Now, unless the writers have something up their sleeves, the prospect of this battle seems tired, like a rehash of places we have already been in season 2. And it’s probably safe to say that in the interest of trying to provide an explosive mid-season finale, one of my favorite characters (Hershel, Maggie or Glenn – Daryl is still most likely safe), will most certainly get it.
Despite my reservations of how this will all play out, I’m ready to return to the prison, watch the bloodshed unfold, see who is left standing, and wrap up this arc for good.