“Some things you just can’t come back from. They become part of who you are. You either live with them or you don’t.” These are among the last words uttered by Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo), one of the Governor’s (David Morrissey) former stooges at Woodbury who now finds himself the leader of a new camp of survivors. Seconds later, Martinez suggests that the two should “share the crown” of leadership, to which the Governor responds by beating him with golf club and dragging him into a pit full of walkers. It’s a frightening sequence, maybe more so than the host of other violent eruptions from the Governor throughout the series. After seeing a newfound vulnerability in the Governor during his chronicle with a family in the previous episode of The Walking Dead, here we’re witnessing a man whose paranoia is simultaneously bared and concealed, like an addiction he can’t control.
Killing Martinez is just the beginning of the Governor’s relentless pursuit of dominance. Despite starting off as the low man on the totem pole of a new group, by the end of the episode, he’s killed and lied his way to power again, baiting others with his calm, confident veneer. For much of “Dead Weight,” in fact, the Governor quietly keeps to himself, accompanying Martinez and two brothers, Mitch (Kirk Acevido) and Pete (Enver Gjokaj), on hunting trips. As they walk beside a lake in an early scene, the Governor asks, “How’s the fishing?” Pete replies, “There isn’t any. The pond’s dead.” The irony of this apparent throwaway of an exchange is that Pete will eventually end up chained to the bottom of the lake—his zombified corpse reaching from beneath the surface, locking eyes with a motionless Governor looking down at him. It’s an image that recalls the Governor’s secret room of submerged heads back at Woodbury, re-enforcing both his fixation on the pitiful struggle of caged walkers and his sociopathic manner of deriving pleasure from suffering.
Yes, the Governor is up to his old ways again in “Dead Weight.” This time, though, the portrait of his inner torment and unrest is more nuanced, offering little in the way of direct indications as to why he needs to have power again. At separate points in the episode, he reacts to outside threats—whether that’s other, more ruthless camps of humans, or hordes of walkers—with surprising kneejerk fear. But perhaps the most telling sign of his growing discomfort is the building jealousy he feels, along with the need to control his daughter figure and her family. The Governor simply can’t stomach the idea of anyone else being charged with the safety of his close-knit group. Lily (Audrey Marie Anderson) tries to convince him that they can settle down at the new camp, but he seems disgusted by the idea, as if they deserve better. She continues to reach out to him, but he’s preoccupied with keeping them safe, even as he continues to conceal his bloodlust for power.
The Governor’s quiet disengagement may give off the impression of a calculated scheme (a notion that’s supported by the prologue’s unsubtle chess analogy), but his unpredictable murderous outbursts increasingly suggest shades of unhinged paranoia that bears striking resemblance to that of Jon Bernthal’s Shane. Moreover, the intense focus on the Governor’s conflicted state in “Dead Weight” indicates that the smooth leader persona that once seemed like a premeditated gesture is merely an extension of his psychosis, a trigger switch that allows him to continue his sick ways behind a façade of comfort.
At the end of the episode, after killing Pete and enticing Mitch to become his right-hand man under the promise of operating free from moral entanglement, the Governor rides off on his own again. Unlike the last time, he now has clear focus as he arrives just outside the prison, right where the series left off two episodes ago. What we didn’t see before, however, is that he’s spotted Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Hershel (Scott Wilson) through the trees and stands poised to take them both out. Alas, it was only a matter of the time before the prison camp would clash with the Governor again. And though it seems like the series is flirting with retreading the same terrain that spelled rocky results last season, the emotional stakes have been more skillfully established through seven episodes of this current season than the entire previous season.
The difficulty the characters in The Walking Dead have with reconciling the past is often stated with little subtlety. Nonetheless, the show’s elegant portrayal of the heavy emotional burden of living with oneself, when surviving entails taking dehumanizing measures, has given it renewed focus and vibrancy. As characters hurdle toward an inescapable collision, one that’s been gradually building all season, Martinez’s remarks just before his death resonate all the more strongly. “You can’t come back” is a phrase that summarily encapsulates The Walking Dead in its fourth season, but it’s also a through line between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the Governor, both of whom want to erase the past and yet cannot escape the very path to leadership that led to their unwinding. Except while Rick resumes his post out of a tortured sense of necessity and protection, for the Governor, having people to protect is an excuse for his savage pursuit of dominance.
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