Spoilers present here. Read at your own peril. #consideryourselveswarned
That one-eyed Master of Disaster, The Captain of Crazytown, el Jefe de horror, the Cyclops of Chaos…Oh, my stars and garters, buckle your seatbelts, boys and girls, because The Governor is back.
Only…he’s looking decidedly worse for the wear.
This episode–season 4, episode 6, titled “Live Bait”, think about that for a while–was all Governor. No Rick, no prison, no “what the hell is Daryl doing now that Carol’s exiled to Neverwhere?”. Just. The Governor.
Who is a shambling mess.
A narrative opened up last season that draws strong parallels between The Governor and the zombie. This narrative was pretty gruesomely explored in S3 Ep 15, where he gets about as zombie-like as a human can be and literally bites off Merle‘s fingers (forward to 2:55 if’n you wanted to relive the magic) just before killing him, begging the question: what makes a monster?
So this episode picks up pretty much where season 3 left us with The Governor. The soldiers from Woodbury are freshly dead and The Governor is on the road with Woodbury henchmen Martinez and Shumpert, apparently in the process of losing his fricking mind. Because he snaps and slaughters his allies in the street, he mentally collapses into some undefined dissociative disorder (my bet: depersonalization disorder, since he talks about “the guy in charge” who lost it–which is of course, him–as though he’s a separate and distinct person, but I digress). He even distances himself from his own name when he finally meets the family that takes him in (though there’s some stuff about that family that I don’t like or trust, more on that later), neither calling himself The Governor nor his given name, Philip Blake. But I’ll get to that in a minute, too.
First, Governor as zombie.
While he’s adrift on the road, he wakes to find formerly loyal henchmen Martinez and Shumpert have deserted him in the middle of the night. In a perfect use of camera angle (psst, AMC, I hope you paid your cinematographers well in this episode, because they made it fly), we see The Governor as he truly is–one small man, friendless and alone in a vast, bleak world.
The Governor goes back to Woodbury and burns it to the ground. I saw one review that speculated he did that out of spite; if he can’t have it, no one can, and maybe that’s truly the motivation. But that doesn’t ring true for me. If he’s a man intent on distancing himself from his past, it would make more sense to burn it because it’s the scene of his greatest failing. It’s where he stopped being human. Torch that sucker and obliterate the past and maybe, some day, start over.
And while he’s burning his city to the ground he almost…almost breaks the fourth wall and directly faces the audience. At least, he’s facing the audience thanks to his body and posture, turned and open toward the camera. However, if he had truly broken the fourth wall he would have looked directly in front and stared at the camera and thus, the audience. Facing the audience would have implicitly asked the viewers what they would have done in his situation. But he doesn’t (and we’re spared having to consider what it would mean to wear his ill-fitting shoes), because he barely faces anyone.Instead, he’s focused on the zombies in the streets of Woodbury.
Who are zombie-lurching past him like he’s a brother. They can’t even bother to glance in a cursory, perhaps-you’re-living-flesh sort of interest. Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
And when a horde of eternally ravenous zombies can’t even bother to send a perfunctory sniff in your direction, in some deranged sort of way…that’s gotta hurt.
Then blah blah, he stumbles into a town and blah blah, meets the Chalmers family–Lilly and Tara, sisters; Lilly’s daughter, Meghan, and the dying family patriarch, David–who takes him in.
What. Is wrong. With that family? Because something felt entirely false.
Meghan, the little girl, hides behind chairs and her mother while dying Grandpa tells The Governor she doesn’t talk. Yet she prattles away to The Governor and charms him with her air of insouciant youth so much that he lets his guard down and seemingly decides to rejoin the human race. She also doesn’t make me believe that it’s hard to get words out of her.
It’s been two years (ish) since the start of the zombie apocalypse. Who doesn’t know–two YEARS into surviving a zombie apocalypse–that you have to kill zombies in their brains? It seems that the Chalmers clan has managed to survive for two years without knowing that tasty bit of trivia. And I? Don’t buy it.
One apartment, four people…I’ll give them a pass that they managed to scavenge enough food from that truck and from raiding the other apartments, but water? Other supplies? Enough…toilet paper? I don’t buy it. Not without knowing you have to kill zombies in their heads, because there’s no way one of them would survive a scavenging party out-of-doors. It’s a forced helplessness that seems entirely facetious in the given situation.
Who lets their little kid hang out dead-center in a window for everyone to see, possibly attracting zombies looking for noms to storm their front door?
And I’ve watched and watched and watched the scene repeatedly; I still don’t know what Tara supposedly tripped on in the street to make her fall and wrench her ankle, slowing them down. Why did the truck they drove out of town in–which seemed to work fine–suddenly die? What mother thinks it’s a fine idea to bump uglies with a near-stranger while her sister and kid are asleep just inches away in the back of a panel truck?
Remember, the name of this episode is “Live Bait”. And I think this family was assigned to catch people that cross their paths, so their group could acquire warriors, eliminate threats, whatever. Zombies in the streets are one thing. You know what they’re going to do. But people? People are quite another. If the Chalmerses are working with Martinez (who, thanks to the preview of next week’s episode, we know is in charge of a camp) and funneling people into his camp for his judgment and/or dispatch–and I think they are–then we know he’s learned camp management from the psychotically best, if season three bears any weight. It won’t take long for things to get bloody with Martinez back in the picture. It’s sad that The Governor has gotten hooked back in with Martinez again; running with your old pack, old habits die hard, ingrained interpersonal dynamics are a tough thing to overcome. Because I think, right now, all The Governor wants is a second chance to not be a menace unto the world.
He just wants to be loved.
Remember when he came across the barn that had spraypainted instructions for certain people? “Do NOT go home!” “Went to Jim’s [something, I can’t read it]” or “Megan Cook died”
The Governor took his alias–Brian Heriot–from the side of this barn. He didn’t choose the name of someone declared dead. He didn’t choose the name of the mysterious Jim. Instead, he chose Brian Heriot. So, you’re asking? It’s a perfectly functional first and last name, it’s male, he’s not going to be Megan, after all, right?
True. But Brian’s was the only name that was accompanied by a declaration of love. Why not choose to be a man memorialized so endearingly? For a man completely alone in the world and already considers himself almost dead, that’s got to be a powerful lure.
So when (not “if”, I’m that confident) he eventually realizes the Chalmerses had manipulated him from the start, his betrayal will be that much more intense. His feral nature isn’t so far into his past that he can’t dial it up again when he needs to. How do you torture the man who has nothing? Give him back something he used to have, but give it back broken. Give him the family that isn’t his, the daughter that turns on him, the lover who only sleeps with him out of a sense of duty to another man.
Then step back and watch as the Captain of Crazytown, el Jefe of horror, the Chaos Cyclops, rises.
I’m not sure yet how I think he’ll interact with Rick and crew. On the one hand, it’s possible his fight with them came to an end with his break from reality, and he sees what Rick does as nothing more than protecting his people. If that’s the case, then I can imagine him working behind the scenes to undermine Martinez, who deserted him on the side of the road. Left him for dead. Left him completely exposed and vulnerable, really, because it’s not like zombies can’t rip into the side of a pup tent, in which The Governor was sleeping when Martinez split. On the other hand, if The Governor dips back into a crunchy batshit crazy shell, he may decide he needs to finish what he started. I need to see a little more before I try to figure where this is going.
Don’t worry, kids. That wacky Governor? He’ll be back.