If you were waiting for that conversation between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), you were disappointed. If you were waiting to see what the Governor (David Morrissey) would do next... you were disappointed. But if you’ve been wondering where the Governor was all this time that Michonne (Danai Gurira) was looking for him and not able to find him, you did get at least the beginning of an answer. I think expectations may have prevented this episode from getting its due. If you are ever going to re-watch an episode, re-watch this one. Unlike the prison storyline, we pick up the Governor’s story exactly where it left off, with him slaughtering all of his own people in a fit of rage. However, that seems to have been the catalyst that he needed to jolt him out of his madness. The before voice over tells us he still deserves to be cut in two for what he did and that he’s a sick man.
He’s not exactly sane when we first see him, however. We see him simply staring into the fire and fire is the theme of this episode - a chrysalis to transformation. Without his daughter or the town to look after, the Governor no longer has a purpose or an identity, and he retreats within himself. Seeing that he’s no longer capable of leading them or helping them, Caesar (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Shumpert (Travis Love) simply take off on him during the night. The Governor has one final thing to do: burn down Woodbury. Morrissey commented after the show on The Talking Dead that the Governor burned down the town so no one else could live there, or at least not Rick and his followers. But I think he also wanted to make sure that Caesar and Shumpert couldn’t go back there either. It was also a way of letting go of his old life.
The opening montage is beautifully crafted from the music to the voice over. We see him stop at a barn that is covered in messages for Brian Heriot, trying to guide help him from people who love him. They tell him not to go home – and this is the persona he adopts. The voice over as he wanders aimlessly is telling. It later becomes clear that he’s telling his story to Lily (Audrey Marie Anderson) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) and possibly Don (Danny Vinson). He tells them about Woodbury and how it was “safe and full of good people.” People who he was responsible for, many of whom he then gunned down in cold blood. He says the man in charge “just lost it” and that he “barely got out alive.” He clearly means this to refer to himself – he sees the Governor as a separate person; he is the man in charge of himself, and he recognizes that he lost control and barely managed to escape with either his sanity or his humanity.
When he finally stumbles upon their apartment building, he’s on the verge of giving up, barely avoiding the walkers – or biters as he calls them. The only thing that motivates him to get up after he falls is the sight of Megan (Meyrick Murphy) in the window. He had such a connection with his own daughter it makes sense that he would reach out to her. Morrissey delivers another fantastic performance – something we’d come to expect last season. He shows us a man barely still alive. His answers are barely audible and barely above one syllable. He’s as deeply traumatized as Megan by what’s happened to him, and they end up healing each other and bringing each other back to life. The Governor is also able to help people again transforming him as the episode unfolds.
I loved Morrissey’s eye roll when Tara goads him into helping put Don to bed. Don asks him if he has kids. The Governor – Brian – tells him no. Don tells him that’s what made him a real man as he protected and kept his girls safe – something the Governor was not able to do. His first step back towards finding himself is to go after the backgammon game for Megan when Don asks him to. He appeals to the fact that the Governor may not understand what it would mean to the little girl – and that’s exactly the right chord to touch with him. Morrissey is wonderful in the scene, registering the Governor’s pain at the conversation with just his eyes and elevated breathing. When her returns, he also tells Lily that Tara has to shoot the biters in the head. In many ways, he’s had to destroy his own brain, his own identity, or at least the man he had become as the head of Woodbury. He symbolically turns down his picture, taking himself out of the picture of his family, ashamed of what he became in their name. He refuses to take back his old gun – another tie to his former life.
The two scenes in the episode that really stood out for me were the two between Morrissey and Murphy. Megan is fixated on Brian – as he now calls himself - as a replacement for her father and as a protector. She wants to make sure he’s ok after he goes for the oxygen at the old folks home. She asks what happened to his eye; she wants to know if he was born that way or something happened to him. The episode underscores that he wasn’t born this way as the Governor, but the walking dead came – and in his own way, he too became one of the walking dead – losing his humanity in the pursuit of trying to help someone he loved very much. At first he tells her he’s a pirate. She doesn’t believe him because the world she lives in doesn’t allow for such fantasies. We might have put a different spin on his explanation to Megan, saying that he lost his eye trying to kill Michonne, but this underscores that his motivation was always just saving his daughter. In the next scene, we see that Brian has shaved and cleaned himself up, and the music which is now classical, in contrast to the blues over the opening montage, sets a more tranquil tone.
We also get a great bonding scene between Brian and Megan as he teaches her to play chess. She instinctively draws an eye patch on the king after he tells her she has to capture him to win. She has clearly captured his heart already. Tellingly, Brian also tells her that you can lose a lot of soldiers and still win the game. That is a nice parallel to the number of people he sacrificed to remain in charge.
Ironically, after keeping his own daughter alive for so long, he is quick to jump in and bash Don’s skull in with an oxygen tank when he turns after dying of cancer and goes for Tara. As soon as Lily says she thinks Don had been dead awhile, you can see the look of panic on Brain’s face. He tries to remain calm and sympathetic even as he’s frantic to get the girls out of the room. I couldn’t understand what Lily was shouting – was she saying “He’s not dead” or “He’s not Dad”? The three girls are horrified and traumatized, not least of all because they didn’t realize until that moment that you turned when you died regardless of how you died. It’s a great moment when this time when Tara wants to fist bump, he doesn’t hesitate to bump her back. It was really interesting getting yet another different survival story. They’d survived to this point because they’d isolated themselves, living off the food in their father’s delivery truck – a plan some of us might have for the Zombie Apocalypse. But their food is running out when we meet them and it’s obvious they need a new plan.
Brian tries to run away again to avoid having to be responsible for keeping anyone safe again. Lily tells him it’s too late – he’s already taken responsibility for them. I thought at first there might be a love triangle brewing, but Tara turns out to be conveniently gay. Both Masterson and Anderson do an excellent job in fleshing out their characters. Interestingly, Anderson started a storyline on Arrow last week too – she’ll be racking up the frequent flyer miles! Tara is all bluster and nervous energy. She is obviously scared but has been trying to protect her family. In many ways, Tara is still very naive. Lily is the quiet, but the imminently more competent one. She isn’t afraid of Brian, but she’s the one to take away his gun, ask him to get the oxygen, and ultimately to demand that he take them with him when he leaves. He’s clearly adopted them as his new family when he symbolically burns the picture of his old family – he’s let go of that part of his past. Lily quickly becomes his lover once they are on the road, displaying a hidden passion. It was great that we see her initiate the relationship and see him want to be sure it’s what she wants. Brian brings her back to life too, first by letting her be a nurse again and then by letting her be alive.
It was a little on the nose when the truck breaks down and then Tara hurts her leg moments before they discover a pack of walkers. As they are walking down the road, Brian is symbolically carrying three times as many bags – his emotional and physical baggage has increased. There is the beautiful moment when we realize that Brian is not leaving without Megan even if it means he dies, and we see Megan realize it to, surrendering to letting him protect her. Having Brian fall into a zombie burning pit, exactly like the ones he used to use, felt a little like poetic justice – except for Megan. Once again, Brian commits severe violence to protect Megan. This time she isn’t nearly as freaked out at Brian’s actions. In a nice mirror back to the pinky swear for truth in the bathroom, Megan once again wants a serious, cross your heart promise that Brian will never let anything happen to her. And just at that moment Caesar’s head appears at the lip of the pit. Brian’s final cross my heart is a pledge to protect her from Caesar, what Caesar represents, and what he himself was as Caesar’s leader.
What did you think of the episode? Were you disappointed that we didn’t go back to the prison? Are you satisfied with this tale of redemption for the Governor? Do you think he’ll be able to remain as Brian or will being back with Caesar force him back to his brutal ways? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!