There’s an old saying in politics: “What’s a leader without any followers? Just a guy taking a walk”. Last year on The Walking Dead, viewers watched the Governor turn from the benevolent leader of Woodbury into a murderous tyrant without a fraction of regard for others. The last time we saw him, the Governor had just massacred what remained of his troops, shortly after the failed attack on the prison, for daring to question him. This episode begins moments after, with the Governor seemingly traumatized by his actions (which were really only the tip of the depraved iceberg). A walker stumbles into his camp, and he does nothing as it falls into the fire and lurches towards him. Martinez, his lieutenant, shoots the walker in the head, and the Governor still does nothing. The next morning, the Governor awakens to find his remaining men have abandoned him during the night. He returns to Woodbury, and finds it devoid of life and overrun with Walkers. With everything he worked for seeming at an end, the Governor burns the town to the ground (and looks like a wicked hardass while doing it).
The Governor heads out into the world, and judging by the hobo look we quickly find him wearing, things don’t go well for a few weeks. He makes his way into a group of buildings, before finally collapsing. He spots a blond girl in the window. And finds a family hold up in their apartment. They take him in, despite his plans to only stay the night, and a family unit quickly forms around him. There are two sisters, Lily and Tara, their father David, and Lily’s daughter Meghan. David has terminal lung cancer, and the Governor immediacy starts to take care of him. He carries him into bed, and eventually travels to a Walker-infest nursing home to retrieve more oxygen tanks. This harkens back to the nurturing, caring side of the Governor, which viewers saw before he started murdering his own people.
Eventually David dies, and the Governor is forced to kill him as he reanimates in front of the family. As the women prepare to leave, Lily insists that he come with them, as he is part of their family now. They drive until their vehicle breaks down, forcing them to proceed on foot. Soon they’re overrun with Walkers, and the Governor picks up Meghan and runs through the woods before they suddenly falls into a pit with more zombies. He kills them with his bare hands, and comforts Meghan as he looks up to the edge of the pit as Martinez appears.
This is the most unique episode The Walking Dead has ever done. There are no regular cast members, and the entire plot revolves around the Governor. In a break from the rest of the episodes, the pace is slow and methodical, and has a very dream-like quality which makes the few actions scenes even more visceral. It felt like a combination of The Road and Drive, instead of a zombie action show.
The main issue that The Walking Dead has had with the Governor is that the show has never seemed to be able to decide exactly what to do with the character. He fluctuates wildly between sociopath to borderline anti-hero, leaving the audience in a confused state of simultaneously cheering for and hating the guy. In the comics, the Governor is undoubtedly a depraved psychopath with zero capability for empathy. Simply put, he’s evil, with no chance of redemption. On the TV show, the Governor doesn’t even look the same, and is now a tall, handsome, and charismatic leader. While the show alludes to the more vile acts of his comic book counterpart, his actions on the screen are so tamed compared to the original that it’s hard to hate him as much as we probably should. While in the book the Governor is just a crazy guy, the show attempts to paint him almost as a victim of circumstance, pushed just past the edge of sanity by forces beyond his control.
On this episode, we get to see the Governor start with nothing, like he was before his rise in to power in Woodbury. A new family unit forms around him, and stirs these old feelings inside of him, especially because Meghan looks almost exactly like his deceased daughter. His darker tenancies towards megalomania are addressed during a chess game with Meghan, as the Governor explains the differences between pawns and kings (IT’S ANOTHER METAPHOR GUYS!). Meghan even draws an eyepatch on one of the kings, just in case the audience didn’t get it right away. By the end of the episode, the Governor has clearly adopted Meghan, Lily, and Tara as his family, and he swears he will do anything to protect them. This raises the uncomfortable question that perhaps this was the same promise he made to his old family, that led to his heinous actions against the prison population in the name of safety for Woodbury.
So much of this season of The Walking Dead has revolved around characters trying to escape the awful things they have done. It’s interesting to note that the Governor has essentially taken the advice Rick gave to Carol two episodes ago. He went far away, and he found people who didn’t know who he was or what he had done. There’s still another episode of backstory before we catch up to the Governor lurking in the woods outside the prison, and the choices that he makes to get there should reveal if the show intends for him to remain a villain or become the shows new anti-hero, the very possibility of which would have been impossible before this episode.