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The Walking Dead 4.07 "Dead Weight" Review: Still Waters Run Deep

     The Walking Dead episode “Dead Weight” was written by Curtis Gwinn and directed by Jeremy Podeswa. Once again both are new to The Walking Dead. Podeswa’s impressive credits, which have garnered him two emmy nominations, include Boardwalk Empire, American Horror Story, The Newsroom, and The Tudors. He has obviously honed his craft on character dramas and brings it to bear on this episode, which is wonderfully paced and shot, interspersing the horror we’ve come to expect with seemingly idyllic pastoral shots – I’m thinking of Brian (David Morrissey) standing on the dock overlooking that tranquil pond. I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with any of Gwinn’s credits on IMDb, but Death Valley at least was a comedy horror series. The episode was solid, but not my favorite this season, though that may be because I was really hoping that the Governor could be redeemed.

    The title “Dead Weight” resonated throughout the episode. On the surface, it referred to the camp’s policy of only keeping members who could pull their own weight and contribute to the camp in some way. Lily (Audrey Marie Anderson) immediately embraces the role of camp nurse. Tara (Alanna Masterson) steps up to take on weapons duty and finds love with Alisha (Juliana Harkavy). I loved the scene of them checking each other out and bonding over the weapons.

    But on a deeper level the title refers to the weight of the dead that sits on the Governor. The dead weight of his past that he cannot escape, and the dead weight of his own madness that slowly and inevitably returns. This is beautifully symbolized in the scene in which the Governor is standing over the tranquil pool of water, a symbol for what his new family had brought him, and we pan down to see the dead weight holding Pete (Enver Gjokaj) who has now turned to a walker/biter under the water. This was a terrific scene and at first I thought Brian was hallucinating, but of course, this is just like his madness, silently waiting under the surface to be released, killing anyone who stumbles in his path. Once again, the Governor seems to be starting a collection. It’s no secret that Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) took the camp’s moto of no dead weight from what he’d learned as the Governor’s right hand man.

    The dead weight also refers to the dead weight of Brian’s past – not just that of his time as Governor and we get a real glimpse into what makes him who he is. Interestingly, his childhood is not that different from what we’ve been lead to believe Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) was. His father beat him, but his big brother stood up for him. Rather than making him admire heroes, Brian clearly sees their actions as futile: his brother ended up with two black eyes and broken rib and Brian was beaten anyway. Once he determines he has to take over the camp to protect his family, it’s clear why his first action is to kill the hero Pete.

    There is an interesting dynamic between brothers that runs throughout this episode as Pete and Mitch (Kirk Acevedo) are also brothers: both biologically and brothers in arms. It is clear that Brian has no feelings of brotherly attachment to his campmates! He also realizes that Mitch is very different from Pete. This is apparent not only from their backstory in joining and leaving the military – Pete stayed while Mitch drove off in his tank – but also from their attitudes to the camp they find. Pete wants to take them in while Mitch wants to rob them. Mitch killing the old man who is injured tells Brian everything he needs to know about Mitch: he’s ruthless and takes no dead weight seriously. Morrissey is simply a joy to watch. Brian’s face is impassive as he observes those around him. But his portrayal is equally subtle as he slowly slides into madness and his face is equally impassive as he shoots the walker about to bite Meghan (Mayrick Murphy) and as he kills Pete.

    The opening scene with Meghan is also poignant as she wonders if she is bad because her father was always mean to her. We see Brian doing laundry – could there by a more incongruent picture? He’s embraced his new family and domesticity. He’s also trying to teach Meghan life lessons. For starters, he’s not going to let her win because that wouldn’t be winning. Chess, of course, is a heavily symbolic choice for them to play. Backgammon would also have taught her strategy, but chess is all about protecting your Queen – something Brian is committed to doing: he will protect Meghan at all costs, whether human life or his own sanity. We learn as well that Brian’s father beat him at everything – a subtle foreshadowing to learning indisputably that he was physically and likely mentally abused as a child.

    Of course, Brian’s strength is not in domesticity and this is symbolized, perhaps a little heavy-handedly by the leaking roof of the rv. There’s no actual rain that we see, yet Brian is powerless to stop the water from leaking in – just as he’s powerless to stop his past and his past behavior from leaking into the present. Even when he tries to take his new family away, he is stopped by the road being blocked by a group of walkers who have been bogged down in the mud of the road. This was a particularly gruesome group of walkers stuck horrifically in the mud – the makeup and effects on this show never fail to impress. It was equally impressive in the cabin scene.

    The horrific scene in the cabin also foreshadowed Brian’s inevitable slide back into the Governor. They encounter the headless liar and rapist before discovering the murderer who has shot himself and his family members who he’s left as walkers. Once again, we see Brian pick up the picture of a nuclear family – wife, husband and daughter. In his efforts to protect his family, this man has lost his family and his humanity – just as the Governor did, and I think we can assume Brian will too.

    I’m interested to see how Lily will react to the changes in Brian. She too has seen horrific things but is pragmatic when it comes to protecting her family. However, it’s interesting that she goes to Brian while he’s bathing his blinded eye and tells him he doesn’t have to do it alone – she seems willing to except him for who he is. Yet, in the next scene, when he kills the walker about to bit Meghan, she is clutching Meghan to her chest and looking at Brian with what may be the dawning of understanding for what he’s becoming – she certainly looks shocked, but that may be because of Meghan’s close call. However, it’s also Lily who resists leaving the camp. She may have formed attachments outside their family unit that Brian will see as a dead weight, a liability. It will be interesting to see if Brian will at some point have to choose between Lily and Meghan. I’m pretty sure he’ll choose Meghan.

    I was sad to see the end of Martinez and therefore Cantillo. It was also particularly horrific to watch Brian kill him when Martinez reached out in friendship. Cantillo does a wonderful job showing Martinez watching and assessing how the Governor has changed. Of course, by reaching out for help, Martinez demonstrates to the Governor that he is weak and can't be trusted. The irony of Brian having to slip back into his murderous ways to protect his new found peace and sanity was classic Walking Dead. The very thing that saved him will once again prove to be his undoing.

    The fall finale is looking to be a particularly harrowing one. I expect we will lose at least one of our main characters. Any bets on who? I couldn’t help but wonder who killed the members of the camp in the woods. Could it be Carol (Melissa McBride)? Will she eventually turn back up as the leader of a group similar to the Governors? Will they join forces at some point? Who do you think we will lose on the Governor’s side of the fray? And finally, what did you think of this episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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