Well that journey into the heart and mind of the Governor didn't last long. I have to admit to being a little disappointed, as I was very interested in watching his struggle and to see him so quickly slide back into old habits partially undermined the emotional depth of what happened last week. It's not a disaster, though, it's just quick. The episode is still filled with all the necessary plot points and character turns that let us watch the change occur naturally; I just wanted to see it take place over at least another episode.
I realize I'm probably in the minority there, but speeding up the process forces the script (by comedy writer Curtis Gwinn, creator of Death Valley and writer for NTSF:SD:SUV) to include the abandoned-until-now Random Walker Appearance Out of Nowhere as a plot device (twice!), as well as the mysterious silent destruction of a camp that there's almost no way could have happened without someone hearing something (which should also have waved a huge red flag regarding a mysterious armed group hunting for supplies in the same area!).
In fact, the murder of everyone in that small camp is glossed over so quickly that I can only hope it's a plot point that is going to return this week in the mid-season finale as a surprise twist; perhaps as a third armed group converging on the prison at the same time as the Governor's forces.
And it had better not be Carol leading a group of murderers or I'm gonna be pissed.
Ultimately, though, these are minor points that at worst drop the quality level back to pre-Season 4 levels, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just a disappointment after the above-average quality of this season so far. David Morrissey's Governor does everything he can to avoid taking responsibility for the group, but "Mayor" Martinez's (Jose Pablo Cantillo) drunken admission that he can't keep the camp safe pushes the Big Red Button in the Governor's head and then all bets are off.
He doesn't want to take control, but in order to protect his new family (and also to keep his past in the past) he feels like he is forced to kill Martinez. Of course, the difference here when compared to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) — or Carol (Melissa McBride) — is that Martinez was not a direct threat. When Rick uses lethal force there is an imminent threat to his family or the group as a whole. And when Carol killed the infected, there was the imminent threat of contagion. The Governor simply didn't trust that Martinez was safe for the camp, or for maintaining his new identity as Brian Heriot, so he commits murder and takes the first step back toward madness.
Unfortunately, killing Martinez opens a power void in the camp, and the brothers Pete (Dollhouse's Enver Gjokaj) and Mitch (Fringe's Kirk Acevedo) step up, with nice guy Pete taking the lead. The immediate contrast between Pete's refusal to get his hands dirty and Mitch's assertion that they should rob that camp of survivors they stumbled across, triggers the Governor's next move.
Pete's mercy is seen as weakness, Mitch's aggressiveness is seen as strength, and neither of them are leadership material.
It's shorthand storytelling that causes the Governor's story arc to suffer, especially once he's dropped Pete's body, chained to an anchor of some sort, into the nearby lake and revisits it as a return of his Head in Aquarium collection. It's effectively creepy, but is so rushed that we don't really get the emotional journey to this point and instead it just comes across as generically crazy. Morrissey isn't really given the opportunity to walk us to that point with the character and we lose the importance of the act in the rush to madness.
The strongest scenes in the episode are the opening and closing moments where we really get to see Morrissey working through the psychological strengths and then weaknesses of the Governor and both scenes are triggered by interactions with his "new daughter" Meghan (Meyrick Murphy). The opening, as he teaches her how to play chess, is an exercise in symbolism as he stresses to her that one can only think and plan for so long before committing to their move. This lesson is taught as he washes and rinses out his dirty laundry (!) and hangs it on a line stretched between his new trailer home and the tank.
The representation of the Governor's inner conflict doesn't get more obvious than that.
But it’s the final moments that bring us full circle to the Governor's appearance outside the prison walls a couple of weeks ago. After the surprise appearance of a walker in the camp that nearly bites Meghan, despite the increased defenses implemented as soon as he took power, the Governor realizes that they need a safer place.
Preferably someplace with walls.
Or maybe fences.
Then, while scouting out the prison, he stumbles across Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Hershel (Scott Wilson) out doing something pleasant and friendly, laughing while messing about with their truck. Silently, he raises his pistol on our oblivious heroes and we cut to black.
As far as cliffhangers go, it's not a bad one. Objectively, we know he isn't going to shoot, if only because of the symbolism of this and last week's emphasis on the chess game, but things are clearly going to get bad. Very bad, if the previews for next week are any indication.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.