The Walking Dead: Season 4, episode 7–Dead Weight

“You seem different now. Changed. Are you?”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

It was another Governor-centric episode of The Walking Dead this week, as we followed the ongoing adventures of our favourite baddie and the show continued to tease us as to whether he was a reformed character. More action-packed than last week, it seemed a little more conventional as an episode, though as ever David Morrissey’s performance as the charismatic villain/antihero made up for a lot of shortcomings.

The chess game in the opening sequence, intercut with the resolution to last week’s cliffhanger, served as the (rather obvious) motif for the episode. “You have to stop thinking some time,” our ‘hero’ told little Megan, “and make a move.” After being kept wondering last week which way ‘Brian’ was going to jump, it became clear fairly early on here when he unexpectedly bludgeoned former henchman Martinez with a golf club and heaved him bodily into a pit full of Walkers.

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Up until that point, it was still difficult to know what was going on with the Governor. Still doing an effective impersonation of Clint Eastwood’s ‘mysterious stranger’ bit from spaghetti Westerns, he continued to be an enigmatic man of few words. Later events made it clear that this was his ’thinking time’ before he made his move; sizing up the new community he’d found himself in, and how best to utilise it for his needs.

The difference being that this time, his needs and motivations seem more understandable than they were in Woodbury. With Lily, Megan and Tara, he’s got a new family – and this time they’re actually alive. While his fanatical protection of the undead Penny did equate to protecting his family, it felt like the motive of a madman to have ignored all the evidence that there’s no coming back from being a ‘Biter’.

And yet he didn’t exactly seem full of mental stability here either.He was virtually sobbing as he dragged Martinez to the pit, shouting, “I don’t want it!” – whatever “it” may be. Danger? Responsibility? Either way, this ep showed how he worked his way into the confidence of his new community then schemed his way to its leadership. From the best of intentions, of course – he just wants the best for his own.

The fact that both Rick and Carol have admitted the same (albeit with differing methods) back at the prison adds to the interesting shades of grey in the show’s morality. It was easier to pigeonhole the Governor as a baddie in Woodbury, with his propaganda lies, undead daughter in a cupboard and aquarium full of floating zombie heads. Now, though, he’s just another survivor – a charismatic natural leader still, but in basically the same position as Rick and the gang.

All that said, it was an entertaining game to watch, the Governor’s strategies only becoming obvious in hindsight as he sized up the leaders and took the measure of how effectively they would provide a safe haven for his family. Some of the ‘strategy’ may have been made on the hoof, and adapted as circumstances dictated. For instance, when he realised that Pete wasn’t prepared to do the necessary in raiding other settlements for supplies, his first move was to make a run for it, not try to take over the camp. That strategy having proved abortive, it was back to plan A.

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Perhaps his initial aim was to get rid of Martinez (the only one who knew who he really was), and hope that Pete and Mitch would provide leadership more to his taste – without having to take on that responsibility himself. Perhaps he still feels some measure of guilt that his last stint as a community leader didn’t work out so well; if so, like so many real politicians, his self-awareness is so lacking that he can’t see how his own methods contributed to that failure.

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Along the way, his relationship with Lily continued to burgeon, and was normal enough to make you feel some sympathy for the man. Yet he’s still keeping secrets from her too, another reason to get rid of Martinez. Would Lily feel the same about ‘Brian’ if she knew what he’d been responsible for in the past? As it is, their relationship feels like a more believable version of his with Andrea. Currently, Lily can have no knowledge of what he’s been like in the past; Andrea kept being confronted with that knowledge and just ignoring it, which was one of the most irritating plotlines of last season.

The Governor’s rise to power (again) provided some more backstory for his character, as he revealed what sounded like a rather abusive relationship with his father, and a brother with a tendency to play the ’hero’. He sounded contemptuous of both, which perhaps sheds some psychological light on his contempt for Rick – perhaps he sees the image of his brother in the other leader. But perhaps, deep down, he wishes he could be a ‘hero’ too, and the certainty that he can’t is what drives him to the depths he plumbs.

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All of which makes for a very intriguing character. Unfortunately, with the spotlight so much on him, very few of the other characters got any kind of depth at all. We still haven’t really explored Lily and Tara (who found an unexpected new girlfriend in Alisha, another gun-nut at the camp). Now we were plunged into a whole new community. And despite the fact that a few of them got actual lines, for the most part they were milling extras. The only ones given any kind of depth were the Governor’s rivals – Martinez, Mitch and Pete.

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With Martinez offed halfway through, the drama played out between the Governor and the remaining two. Once again, it echoed dilemmas faced by their counterparts at the prison. Pete was the ‘decent man’, wanting to act morally and not exploit the weak – like Rick, in other words. Mitch, the former tank driver (a charismatic performance from Kirk Acevedo) is the pragmatic one, who considers anyone else secondary to his own community, and any course of action justified in keeping them safe – like Merle, Shane and, these days, Carol.

No surprise that it was Pete who ended up stabbed and dumped into a lake, and Mitch who got offered a job. No matter that Pete had been his brother; in keeping with his general outlook, he was pragmatic enough to see which way the wind was blowing.

And so the ep ended with the Governor, now in charge of what had been Martinez’s ragged band, stumbling across the prison, which was looking pretty idyllic (evidently the whole plague thing resolved itself fairly quickly after all). Given that he’s been there before, I’m guessing it was an intentional visit; with little Megan having nearly been munched by a Walker that broke through his camp’s rather feeble defences, he’s looking for somewhere safe for his community.

Trouble is, Rick’s gang are still in there. Including, especially, Michonne – the Governor did NOT look pleased to see her. So the stage is set for the mid-season finale next week, as the Governor’s gang try to seize the prison. And this time, they’ve got a tank.

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Gore of the week

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Plenty of walkers this week, but comparatively little gore. Still, the Walkers we saw were, once again, given a strangely mournful air to go with their usual threat. Particularly notable was the group the fleeing Governor encountered literally stuck in the mud up to their waists and incapable of escaping. The eerie images of them in the car headlights were counterpointed by a mournful string melody courtesy of Bear McCreary. Are we really meant to be feeling sorry for the zombies these days?

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Elsewhere in the ep, we saw the results of some human violence, as the raiding party encountered a series of decapitated corpses and a couple of Walkers that hinted at a dark backstory. The Governor’s opinion? “Best not to think about it.”

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As well he probably shouldn’t – the missing heads were discovered in the nearby house, very much undead and chomping. It was an obvious reminder of the Governor’s peculiar aquarium back in Woodbury.

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As was, later, the fate of Pete. It occurred to me when he was being dumped into the nearby pond that his brain hadn’t been destroyed; later, we saw why, as the Governor came to gaze down on his submerged zombie for a quietly contemplative moment:

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So after the ambuiguity of last week, it seems the Governor is very much back to his old ways. Which is rather a shame, as I was enjoying his brief stint as a reformed character. And it nor looks like next week will be a rerun of the confrontation from last year. The difference, I suppose, is that the Governor now has a real reason for wanting the prison as a shelter. Still, it’s hard to miss that this ep was, in the end, concerned with putting him back into position as a leader of men (and women) thus putting back into place the same dynamic as last season.

Well, there were a few good set pieces missed out from the original comic storyline about the conflict; maybe if they’re rerunning it, we’ll get to see them this time. Nonetheless, even with David Morrissey reinstalled as chief baddie, it’s a little concerning that the show is starting to repeat itself quite so quickly. Let’s see what next week brings.

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