Apologies for missing last week’s recap, guys, but I was surviving a Brian Heriot-like journey back from the brink of illness and London. That being said, how about these last two episodes? While the Governor has remained a divisive figure since last season’s finale when he went apeshit and accidentally left friendly fire turned on, his return has been revelatory.
David Morrissey’s performance across “Dead Weight” and “Live Bait” has been outstanding, doing a great service to the character and giving us pause to look at the Ol’ Blinky in a new light. Are some people past the point of redemption? Has Philip – er, Brian – really changed for the better? How will he get from bearded loner to the brooding guy leering at Rick and Carl from the woods in the aftermath of Spaghetti Tuesday? Well, you’re in luck, because tonight’s episode answered all of this and more.
In “Live Bait”, we saw that there might be a shred of humanity left in the Governor after all. Having trekked across the wilds of Georgia all by his lonesome for months, the Governor, adopting the name Brian Heriot, which he saw scrawled on a barn, was a bit of a recluse. Gone was the charismatic, mildly terrifying man we’d come to know and love from Woodbury, replaced by Mumford’s lost son. Thanks to Tara, Lilly, and Meagan’s uncanny resemblance to his dearly departed daughter Penny, they manage to bring the Governor back from the brink of the loony bin and make him seem almost human.
The end of last week’s episode finds the Governor, standing in a trench covered in blood and clutching a trembling Meagan, reunited with his old crony Martinez, who is now the leader of a new encampment of survivors. Woodbury may have had walls to keep it safe, but these guys have a motherfucking tank. Advantage: new camp. Fellow comic book readers must have smiled because they knew where this was going, but it was still cool to meet the new crew that will come to be the Governor’s Woodbury 2.0.
“You can’t think forever. Sooner or later you have to make a move,” he tells Meagan, in reference to their game of chess. This not-so-subtle bit of symbolism aside, the Governor must also contemplate his next move. He is a changed man, or at least it seems that way at first glance. Every impulse is screaming at him to revert to his old way of doing things. It’s a violent, draining way to live, and it has clearly taken its toll on the Governor.
When he’s out on a supply raid with Pete, Martinez, and Mitch they come across an encampment, he has to fight his urge to murder them and take their supplies. When he looks at the weaklings in charge, he has to fight his urges. He even tries to leave his newfound paradise until a horde of zombies trapped in the mud – quite the little visual metaphor – stops them dead in their tracks. The Governor knows who he is deep down – a ruthless, cold-blooded, but highly effective leader – and he’s trying his hardest to put that past behind him. Unfortunately, sometimes the past has a way of catching up with you.
The moment we hear the sickening thwack of a golf club collapsing Martinez’s skull, my heart sank. The sheer rage in the Governor’s eyes, the abject terror in Martinez’s, the way David Morrissey repeatedly spits out “I don’t want it” – it was a horrific scene, and one that dashes any hopes we may have had for the Governor to find redemption. This is a cruel new world and he is, unfortunately, equipped to deal with it in ways that normal folks are not. Dragging Martinez over to the zombie pit and dangling him there until he is torn apart? Well, that’s just icing on the fucked up mental cake.
Brothers Mitch and Pete and their back-and-forth debate over whether to scavenge their own supplies or take them from those weaker than them serves as an effective, albeit rushed microcosm of a morality play that underlies much of the series. Pacing is actually one of the biggest problems in this two-episode Governor arc. They set up some really nice potential story lines for the Governor and his new compatriots, but they feel almost too hasty in how they’re resolved. In the course of two episodes, the Governor goes from silent, broken man to the leader of a new gang of murderous weirdoes, now with 100% more tanks. It’s still compelling television, but had the writers taken their time a bit more, they could have had something really special on their hands. And between the chess match, the mud zombies with their Scarlet Letter signs, and the Moral Dichotomy Brothers, it seems like subtlety does not appear in the writers’ room dictionary.
Still, I have quite enjoyed these past two episodes, and they have provided a welcome reprieve from the immense doom and gloom of the prison. Once the Governor comes to a halt at the edge of the woods, I knew exactly what was about to happen. I had a flashback to him pouring SpaghettiOs out of his apartment window in “Live Bait”, and realized that it was meant to foreshadow the impending end of Spaghetti Tuesdays. One thing is for sure though – next week’s mid-season finale is going to be preposterous in all the right ways.
Dan is the associate editor of Nerdist News, host on the Nerdist Channel, and a huge fan of pizza. Also, he has no sense of smell.