The events of these last two episodes of The Walking Dead aren’t just a flashback covering the time between The Governor’s defeat at the end of season three and his return to The Prison this season, but in a sense they serve as a spiritual prequel to season three of The Walking Dead. We were never provided with much backstory on The Governor before we met him last season and these last two episodes — especially last night’s, “Dead Weight” — offered a glimpse into the motivation behind his decision to take charge in Woodbury, and how he managed to secure that leadership role. He may have a new family now, and it may be a different camp, but it’s just a matter of history repeating itself. Philip Blake is destined/doomed to be The Governor. The question that remains, however, is whether the prison will become The Governor’s next Woodbury, or if Rick, Daryl, Michonne, et. al, can prevent the cycle from repeating itself.
Your Move, Pumpkin’ — In the opening minutes of “Dead Weight,” Meghan and The Governor are back at the chess board. “You can’t think forever. Sooner or later you have to make a move,” The Governor tells his surrogate daughter, foreshadowing the position The Governor will be in later in the episode. “You never let me win, anyway,” Meghan says. “That wouldn’t be winning,” The Governor responds, providing a glimpse into how he’s wired. He’s not interested in being the good guy who lets the little girl win, or the moral guy who spares the little girl’s feelings. He’s interested in survival, even if it costs him his popularity.
No Dead Weight — Meanwhile, we also see how the events that began at the end of last week’s episode unfolded. Caesar Martinez pulled The Governor out of the walker grave, and reluctantly agreed to let The Governor and his new family return to their camp, against the wishes of the more practical Mitch, one of the camp’s lieutenants. That was Caesar’s first mistake: A good leader jeopardizes his camp for no one, and The Governor must have sensed Caesar’s weakness the second he showed him mercy. But it was more than mercy: Caesar was also driven by his ego. He wanted his old boss to see him as the leader, and he wanted to be able to put The Governor in his place. “There are two rules,” he says. “Number one, I’m in charge, and and number two, no dead weight.”
You Always This Full of Sh*t? — Meanwhile, at the camp, Tara hits it off immediately with a former Army reservist, Alicia, and they quickly become, uh, friendly, thus adding another member to The Governor’s inner circle.
Liar, Rapist, Murderer — The first supply run for The Governor at the new camp also tells him what he needs to know about the rest of the camp’s leaders. Pete is a chicken-sh*t who nearly gets them all killed. He’s a guy who is tied down by his loyalties and a soldier who can’t fight for himself, never mind the rest of the group. Caesar stands around like a dumbass — the guy in charge is, ironically, the camp’s “dead weight.” But Mitch at least gets in on the fight. Meanwhile, The Governor is already taking charge, pushed unwillingly into the role of thug and savior. The Governor, as Mitch says, “knows how to regulate.”
I Say Leave the Past in the Past — The roof in The Governor’s RV continues to leak, which is basically as heavy handed a metaphor as you’re likely to find. Meanwhile, the past continues to creep up on The Governor, finally rising to the surface while Caesar is teeing off on golf balls on top of an RV. “You don’t think you can keep this place safe?” The Governor asks. “I try,” Caesar says. Wrong answer, asshole. A leader doesn’t “try”; he does. The Governor doesn’t want the crown; he wants someone else to be the ruthless leader that the camp needs, but when it becomes clear that Caesar can’t be that guy, The Governor realizes he has to make a move, although he hates that he’s being forced into that role again. “I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it!” he screams, as he’s pushing Caesar into his grave. It’s the only way: He’s fated to become The Governor again.
I’m Taking Leadership of the Camp — When Pete takes control of the camp after the death of Caesar, The Governor concludes that he has to leave or take control himself. Pete is not cut out for it. He’s weighed down by a conscience. Pete wants to be the hero, and he’s not willing to sacrifice the lives of others to save the lives of his own camp, as he demonstrates when he decides against stealing supplies from a neighboring camp. That is not The Governor’s way.
What Are You Doing? … Surviving — In order to protect the ones he loves, The Governor is left with only two choices in his mind: Take his family and leave, or take control of the camp himself. When a horde of zombies block his exit, he has to resort to the larger of two evils. He returns to the camp, kills Pete, and makes Mitch his new Caesar. Mitch may be an asshole, but he understands the need to put his own people over “the right thing,” and nothing seems to turn The Governor’s stomach like a hero. Heroes are for suckers. “I’m running things now,” the Governor says. “You won’t have to worry about the right thing or the wrong thing, because we will do the only thing.”
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely — After advancing a few day or weeks into the future, The Governor has taken control of the camp and essentially recreated his Woodbury, save for one thing: a well-fortified space they can more easily defend from the walkers. That fact is highlighted in a harrowing scene when Meghan is nearly taken by a walker. There’s only one natural solution in The Governor’s mind to this problem: Take the prison for his own. It’s clear by the fact that he has Walker Pete anchored to the bottom of the lake (a beautifully creepy shot) that The Governor’s full-on sociopathy has also returned. His protection instinct is clearly overriding his sanity.
The circle is complete. The Governor is The Governor again, and now we better understand how he got to be the way he is. From an audience perspective, however, the question is: Do we care? Would this character development not have been more appropriate in season three? Would it not have given much more depth to his actions in Woodbury? I might have understood this side diversion better if it had simply been to make The Governor a redeemed man, but I’m not so sure it was necessary to tell us why he is the way he is.
A Showrunner Theory Based on the Graphic Novels: I haven’t read Robert Kirkman’s source material, so book readers can correct me if I’m wrong (and I have no doubt you will). But this is the sense that I get about The Governor’s trajectory: I suspect that at the end of last season Glen Mazzara had every intention of following through on the original prison attack from the source material, but at the last minute, AMC and Kirkman forced him to abort. Their reasoning, I suspect, is that they still had a lot of great material from the comic books on The Governor, and they didn’t want to waste it by killing him. So, instead, they returned to two of the comic books, The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor and the The Road to Woodbury, and used portions of those to instead describe how The Governor became leader of this new camp. I am guessing that next week’s mid-season finale will finally advance the original prison attack story from the comic books (or at least portions of it).
What that means, however, is that this half-season has been mostly a narrative stall. The story that should have been told at the end of season three will be told in the mid-season finale. Many of the residents of this new camp will replace those Woodbury residents who were wiped out by the sickness, and the second half of season four will begin where this season should have begun, save for the losses Rick’s camp will most likely suffer in the mid-season finale (plus, the absence of Carol).
If that is the case, I can certainly see why Glen Mazarra might have departed over creative differences. AMC and Robert Kirkman would obviously want to exploit the comic series as much as possible, and extend the life of the series for as many seasons as possible, while Mazarra was probably more interested in advancing the story past The Governor and moving on to the next chapter, even if it meant losing some backstory. Backstory, to me, that feels moot, if all it was designed to do was to tell us what we already know about Philip Blake: He’s a bad guy motivated by the right reasons.