The Governor we all know and love to hate has returned in full force this week. Nobody really thought he was a changed man, right? Well, I guess Martinez did, but he found out the hard way that “Brian” hasn’t abandoned his ruthless ways just because he found a new family.
It’s really the new family of Lily, Tara, and Megan that brings the murderous sparkle back to the Governor’s eyes. Without them, he would have continued on his way, lost and alone, growing out that terrible beard. This episode, while oddly paced at times, does drive home the parallels within the Governor’s life that shape his behavior. It was the desire to protect his daughter that drove him to create Woodbury in the first place and drove him to work with Milton for a cure, and it was the loss of Penny to Michonne’s sword that drove him to the brink last season.
Now he’s got a surrogate wife and daughter (plus bonus Tara) to protect again, and he proves over and over again that they’re the reason for his actions in this episode. An important thing to note, however: just because the show gives us an understanding of his actions doesn’t mean they’re excusable in any way. The Governor has done horrific things, both in the past and in this episode, and in no way when I talk about understanding him or being excited about the exploration of his motives and emotions am I saying that what he’s doing is okay. Nothing he’s doing is okay, starting with the lying and ending with the murders, but it’s fascinating to watch that play out while we get to see him being Brian the family man with Lily, Megan, and Tara.
I know a lot of the fandom is ambivalent or even bored by these two Governor-centric episodes, but I think they’re great. It’s nice to get a break from the prison, and it gives such wonderful context to what looks like another showdown between the Governor’s group and Rick’s group coming up next week. Imagine if the Governor had just showed up out of nowhere with all these new people, straight out of the blue while we had been so focused on the sickness at the prison. It would have been sloppy writing. At least here we get to see the buildup, watch him reconstruct his life and understand why he’s showing up again.
The reason he gets to make it as far as he does in this episode is because Martinez decides to trust him. I was excited at the prospect of seeing Martinez lead his own camp after being the Governor’s right hand man for so long, but we sadly don’t get to see too much of that. The little we do see proves to me that Martinez would have been a good leader. He knew how to make tough calls, and he cared about the people in his camp. He doesn’t seem to have set up too much of a defense system, but the pits were working, at least.
The worst part of this episode for me was the run to the cabin that Martinez, the Governor, Mitch, and Peter take. It was very slow going, and the reason for heading there specifically wasn’t immediately apparent. The headless corpses with their crimes pinned to their chest was a creepy touch—especially with the body of their creator also dead on the porch, “murderer” pinned to his own chest.
After a too-long-to-be-tense-anymore skulk through the cabin, they find the walker versions of the guy’s wife and daughter hidden in the house. The Governor takes care of them, bashing their brains in with his flashlight, all with a twisted, sad look on his face (props again to David Morrissey for being so good at face acting with only one eye). Their family picture he found looked an awful lot like his own, and he knows it. He brushes off the walker heads of the two corpses outside too, because hey, totally normal guys keep zombie heads in their houses all the time, right?
I do appreciate their fireside chat, where we learn that Mitch was an ice cream truck driver turned tank operator who brought his new ride to camp with him. We find out Pete was also in the army, though he stayed at his fort longer than his brother. They’re very similar, but their moral compasses are totally different, as we find out in their next supply run. Mitch and Pete are two sides of the same coin, much like Merle and Daryl, and even the Governor and Rick. Each match each other in underlying motive (protection of family and friends, in almost all six of their cases), but they differ in what they’re willing to do to achieve that goal.
It’s heartbreaking to see Martinez believe the Governor so completely when he swears he has changed, especially because if he hadn’t had the new family with him, Martinez wouldn’t have let him into the camp. He had the right instinct, because after he shares a meal with the Governor’s new family back at camp, the Governor kills him horribly. They go up to the roof of a camper to shoot some golf balls, just like old times off the Woodbury walls, and the Governor whacks Martinez in the head with a club when he asks him to help him lead. The Governor then kicks him off the roof of the camper and drags him to the closest walker pit, where they devour Martinez headfirst. It was gruesome, and the first real proof the Governor wasn’t suddenly a saint just because he found a new family.
Just before he died, though, Martinez repeated another one of the season’s themes: that there are some things you can’t come back from. His view was that you either learn to live with them or you don’t, a contrast to Hershel’s reassurances to Rick that you can come back. I would have liked to see Martinez join up with the prison group. Sure, it’d be hard to trust him, but I think he would have liked being part of a community and not ending up killed by his old friend. There’s a naivete in Martinez trusting the man he saw murder his own people that I think would have fit right in with Rick and Hershel’s views on the world.
Pete takes charge after they find Martinez’s body in the walker pit and chalk it up to a drunken accident. The camp is in an uproar, wanting to vote and arguing over who should lead, but Pete quiets them all with the promise that he’ll only be in charge until they can figure out a vote. Normally I’d say that’s how some dictators get started, but Pete’s a good guy, and he only ends up alive for another day or two anyway.
Mitch and Pete illustrate their differences once again when they come upon a small camp in the woods. Mitch is all for attacking and taking their supplies, but Pete insists on finding their own. When they swing back that way with their squirrels and condensed milk, they find the place ransacked and the people dead anyway. Who else is out there? I want to see more random survivors, more groups making it on their own. Maybe we’ll run into more later in the season. For now, the most pressing matter is the Governor’s hostile takeover.
At first it doesn’t seem like he’ll step into leadership again, as he flees with his new family (plus Tara’s newfound girlfriend Alicia, whom I adore for taking no one’s shit) in the middle of the night. They turn back after running into a bunch of walkers stuck in the mud. If they really wanted to leave, they could have found another way around, I’m sure, but it’s the sight of so many walkers and their realization that they are way underprepared for the outside world that probably drives them back.
The Governor proceeds to murder poor Pete in his camper and then turn to Mitch as his new right hand man. They’re on the same page, morality-wise, it seems, and we get some more backstory from the Governor in his monologue to Mitch about smoking. Apparently he had an older brother who was always the hero, always trying to protect him from their abusive father. The way David Morrissey says “hero” like it’s poisonous is my favorite piece of acting from him this week. Could it be that Rick reminds the Governor too much of his brother?
He tells Mitch he’s in charge now, and not to worry about doing the right thing or the wrong thing—from now on, they’ll be doing the only thing to protect the camp. The Governor dumps Pete’s body in the nearby lake, informing us and Mitch in voiceover that they’ll tell everyone else he died on a supply run to save them all. They start making plans, organizing the camp, and building better defenses. They don’t do it fast enough, though, since Megan has a run-in with a walker as she’s playing tag with Tara. The way the walker’s skin just came off in Tara’s hands as she pulled its ankle is a great special effect, but is also something I never need to see again.
Just like I never wanted to look at what’s under the Governor’s eye patch again, but he shows it to us anyway when he and Lily have a total Phantom of the Opera moment in the camper. She wants him to know he doesn’t have to do this alone, but I’m thinking when she finds out he murdered Martinez and Pete and then left zombie Pete sunk in the bottom of the lake, forever clawing towards the surface but never getting there and never drowning either, alone is exactly where she’ll want to leave him.
The episode ends where we picked up this storyline in the first place, with the Governor skulking around outside the prison. First he just watches Rick and Carl farm (probably picking those peas from two episodes ago), but then he turns his sights and his gun on Hershel and Michonne. I knew it was a bad idea for Hershel to leave the safety of the fences. He survived the hellish plague, but that only means we’re about due for something terrible to happen to him. I don’t want it to happen, but I’m mentally preparing myself for Hershel not surviving the season.
Midseason finale is next week—man, time flies when you’re fighting a zombie flu and following the Governor around. It looks like a great episode leading up to a showdown between the Governor’s new camp and the prison. The “all will fight, some will fall” promotional tagline has me a little nervous, though I’m sure we’ll be left on a huge cliffhanger to make it through the midseason break.