11/24/2013, 9PM, AMC
My girlfriend should be doing these for me. During a commercial halfway through “Dead Weight,” she interrupted my viewing to retrieve some laundry. We’ll ignore the rudeness and keep in mind that she’s never watched an episode of The Walking Dead. Without provocation she asked: “How long can a show about zombies continue to go on? ‘Oh, here’s some people surviving.’ Cool.” I was speechless.
This mini-series-within-a-series The Walking Dead pulled these last two weeks is directly rooted in that question—a question that’s come to plague the show more than any illness that raises corpses into monsters. There’s no compelling end in sight, never has been. Either the characters are going to die, or they are going to live. Maybe they live and find or form a new, flourishing society. But no one on the show cares about creating anything new out of their circumstances. Hershel’s the only character who’s consistently tried to manufacture some sort of greater goal for their long-term purpose, but, as if hope being the benchmark for ambition wasn’t dire enough, the show seems to be taking the proper measures to rid Hershel of that basic ambition. As long as you wake up bite-free and breathing, the previous 24 hours have been a success.
The Governor as a character isn’t a corrective—there’s no way, as The Walking Dead’s presently constructed, for a single character or human entity to embody the opposition to the show’s fundamental conflict—but on the week to week the role he serves is a necessary one. With him, the question has always been, though, ‘Is he a good solution?’ The show must tackle that first question before it can address the aforementioned. That’s what “Live Bait” and “Dead Weight” worked in tandem to do—to reestablish the Governor as a villain whose villainous proddings can compel a series and distract a core cast from their existential wanderings.
Chess metaphors aren’t exactly lively, but “Dead Weight” plays with the connotations more than last week. The episode opens with a scene that benefits more from effective cross-cutting and weighty dialogue than actual table-setting. The Governor shares with Megan over some chess and laundry-pinning the advantage of mercilessness. Trying her best to keep up, she notes he never lets her win. Of course, he replies, because that’s “not really winning.” He ties the insight into the difference between good and bad people as learned from his bastard of a father. Truly, though, the line says anyone who doesn’t deserve to win—and that means seizing triumph without inhibition—shall be denied passage.
Intercut among the exchange we get a disjointed* recap of Martinez and Friends’ pulling the Governor from the zombie pit and debating whether or not he and his group are welcome. The reason it doesn’t work as well as it should is that we’ve never been given reason to believe the Governor’s psychopathy can be trumped. If there’s a game of irrational-murder-Risk to be waged, he’s my guy. He can be thwarted, as he was last season and as he will again sooner or later, but the only way to stop him is to kill him. That doesn’t mean quite what it used to. There is no moral victory, and there’s little disparity in philosophy: both the Governor and the people who cross his madness want to survive, simple as that. It’s a case of means and ends. The characters who wind up being protagonists on The Walking Dead are the ones who still value an umbrella of human worth. The Governor is more, well, selective.
“Dead Weight” is an exercise in his selectivity. Whatever ham-fisted hints at rehabilitation littered “Live Bait,” “Dead Weight” cements the Governor as irreconcilably bonkers. He kills Martinez for the slightest extension of power. He doesn’t want it, he chants over and over as he drags Martinez, who’s disoriented from lunchtime beer and a gulf club to the head, to the zombie pit. Only an insane person would fail to see that murdering your group’s leader is in fact the quickest way to potentially acquiesce to power.
It’s tough to approach some of “Dead Weight”’s unfolding because it’s driven from a distance by the Governor’s insanity. Meaning: Things don’t make sense. Martinez could reveal the Governor’s past, but he didn’t seem keen on doing that—and that wasn’t the threat that provoked the Governor. In fact, it wasn’t a threat. It was a sign of reparation on Martinez’s part, displaying a little bit of trust for “Brian.” The irrational incantation subsides, though, and the Governor returns to his methodical self, surveying firsthand the leadership style of interim head-honcho Pete (Enver Gjokaj).
There’s never any doubt that, with Martinez gone, that the Governor will somehow engineer his ascent. He disapproves of Pete’s compassion when they stumble upon a random group with desirable supplies, so the Governor kills him, presumably to protect his new family, and convinces Mitch (a.k.a. a recent nominee into the Worst Brother Hall of Fame) that it was the most sensible action to take. The two versions of the Governor don’t jive. Clearly he’s supposed to be the classic maniac-behind-the-curtain sort of villain, but his outbursts don’t come from some centralized tick. We’d be had to believe that it’s a disturbed reconfiguration of his sense of family, but his new home unit is so by-the-book that if they simply disappeared without explanation between now and next week, the Governor could conceivably be the same person.
This imbalance has made the Governor problematic. While it’s a relief to see the character committed to a single direction, it’s the same cartoonish ground that soiled the character’s effectiveness by the end of last season. Focalizing him around his surrogate family makes the character as disingenuous as ever, and turns these last two episodes into a prolonged contrivance to get the Governor back into play. So, to return to the question most at hand: Is the Governor a good solution? No, he hasn’t been. And if he continues to be the character he devolved into, the long-term headaches he’ll cause the writers will overwhelm the short-term (theoretical) benefits of his presence.
- *The time-leaping flashbacks are actually a nice stylistic touch. Usually these sorts of crosscuts progress continuously, respective of their own timeline. Here, only Governor-Megan conversation does. It makes the flashbacks tenser than they might otherwise be.
- Convenient zombie alert.
- Awesome visual, poor execution: Why did the mud-stuck zombies prevent the Governor and crew from fleeing the camp? Or, did the Governor realize the futility of avoidance? Because leading another assault on the prison protects no one—barely even for himself. Again, we does this character do the things he do?
- Honestly, cannot wait for this cast to be liberally trimmed. It has nothing to do with the actors, and depending on who dies in next week’s face, I’ll be disappointed to see some go. But there are characters the show’s driven into the ground at the expense of face time with people who are still somewhat compelling. I’m not sure another show on television sparks among its audience more enthusiasm for death than The Walking Dead (and it’s not even for zombies).
[notification type=“star”]57/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. Focalizing the Governor around his surrogate family makes the character as disingenuous as ever, and turns these last two episodes into a prolonged contrivance to get the Governor back into play.[/notification]