Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Live Bait,” saw the return of the most notorious villain in the franchise, David Morrissey’s the Governor. After his season three meltdown, he’s been out, wandering the zombie-infested wastes, trying to find himself, and you think, after he falls in with a family, that maybe, just maybe he’s finally changed. At the end of the episode, the Governor and his brood encounters Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo), his old buddy from Woodbury, and the question is left hanging, is he really any different? It’s like the dilemma that faces every recovering addict, when old faces and old triggers surround you, can you stay strong in your convictions? Read on to find out how he reacts in tonight’s episode, “Dead Weight.”
Initially, things look like they’re going to be fine. The Governor and his new pseudo family are settling in nicely, Martinez is going along with the illusion that the Governor is now “Brian,” and in general it looks like maybe they’ve found a new place to call home. You can tell that the Governor isn’t entirely comfortable with the situation, and Mitch (Kirk Acevedo) gives him shit at every turn—“I can’t tell if he’s winking or blinking”—but it could be worse. This idyllic peace, as you well know, cannot and will not last, and things unravel in short order.
Food is in short supply, and though things in the camp are good, the surrounding lands aren’t all that peachy. On a supply run, the Governor and the boys find a collection of headless bodies tied down, with signs that say things like “liar” and “rapist” nailed to their chests. A short time later, they find a cabin, inside are a collection of severed, and very much still bitey heads, as well as the zombified wife and child of the former inhabitant. Interesting. Who do we know that collected zombie heads and kept undead family members around well past their expiration dates?
When they come across another camp, smaller, weaker, not as well armed, but stocked to the gills with supplies, instead of rousting them for their stuff, like the Governor of old, the guys leave them be. Later they see the camp again, this time in ruins. Mitch is pissed that they missed their chance to jack the camp, but Brian doesn’t chime in on the matter.
After a few heart-to-hearts with Martinez, you start to suspect that perhaps, somewhere deep down, the Governor really has changed. It quickly becomes clear, however, that may not be the case when Martinez offers him part of the throne of this new kingdom. Mid drunken golf game—who know you could still whack a bucket of balls after the end of the world—the Governor clubs his old friend over the head and drags him into a pit full of zombies. A simple no would have sufficed.
Martinez’s offer is too tempting, he can’t face something that enticing every day, so after he offs his buddy, he tries to leave, a plan that fails miserably. When escape is taken away, he only has one choice, and that is to become what he once was in order to keep his new family safe. As he says to Mitch, you don’t have to worry about doing the right or wrong thing, because they’ll be doing the only thing. In his mind, by his, admittedly warped, logic, violently usurping the power over this new group, is the only way.
This scenario offers a parallel glimpse at how he came to rule over Woodbury. He never wanted the power, he never wanted the responsibility, but in his way, he did the only thing he thought that he could to protect what he cared about. Sure, he’s a mass-murdering psychopath, but even he has reasons and motivation for doing what he does. From his perspective, his decisions are completely rational.
When a walker wanders into camp, and it is clear that they won’t be able to stay where they are for much longer, they talk about the need to find a “better place.” As he peruses a map, you can’t help but wonder if the place he has in mind is the prison where Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company have been laying their head.
None of this is unexpected. The Walking Dead spent too much time setting the Governor up as a villain to be able to flip the switch over the course of a single episode. It isn’t that easy. You know the show wanted you to believe, that they intended you to believe, but it takes more than a moment to sell that, and you never do buy in. The sentiment and emotion never ring true, and the whole episode has a fake, saccharine feel to it.
Just in case you didn’t get the point that he’s fully back to his old ways, the Governor pays a visit to the dead guy he murdered then dumped in the lake. Now the weighed down, and very hungry, zombie struggles to reach the surface just a few inches away. This guy has a serious fetish for zombies in water. That look on his face is the same one he had so many times in season three, just before he went and did something mean to someone.
The moment you wondered if the Governor meant the prison, you know it isn’t even a question, and that is exactly what he meant. “Dead Weight” ends right where you first saw him two episodes ago, standing outside the prison. This time around you get a little bit more. Earlier his intentions weren’t clear—okay, they were if you’ve ever paid attention to The Walking Dead, but they weren’t supposed to be, subtlety has never been a strong suit, after all—but when he draws his gun and takes aim at Michonne (Danai Gurira), his purpose is crystal clear.
And if you somehow, some way, still had questions about what he plans to do, the sneak peek at next week’s mid-season finale, “Too Far Gone,” removes any last remaining shadow of a doubt. They take all this trouble to set up what is intended to be a cliffhanger, and then shoot it straight to hell. There isn’t even a commercial break between the show and the teaser.
“Dead Weight” is the first episode of this season that really feels like nothing more than filler. Before this the episodes had been, not great, but consistent week to week. In reality, one wasted episode out of seven isn’t bad compared to previous seasons. It’s certainly a much better ratio than in season three, where at least every other episode was total garbage, but it is an unfortunate waste of time. By all indications, next week’s finale is set up to be totally bonkers, but how many times have we seen a scenario where that should have been the case, but the series let you down?