The Governor’s attempt at a better, more virtuous life lasted all of one episode. Whether it was a purposeful diversion into becoming a better man or simply a long con is up for debate. But in “Dead Weight,” The Governor tries to blend in as just another survivor for about two scenes before devolving into the scheming madman once again. So then what was the point of this flashback? The Governor has a sort-of family, a stand-in for his daughter, but only when they were holed up in an apartment building alone. In an isolated, controlled environment, The Governor could become a better man, revert to being a family man who only commits violent acts for protection. But out in the world, his survival instincts kick in and he must claw his way to the top to dominate others, to rule again as a tyrant with no regard for any humans outside his circle of loyal followers.
“Dead Weight” opens ominously and with blunt symbolism, as Martinez helps The Governor out of the ditch where he killed a bunch of walkers to protect Megan, intercut with a later scene of the Governor and Megan playing chess. He’s calling her “pumpkin” and hanging laundry, and she’s dallying on a move. We uncover that the Governor’s father beat him regularly, which he tosses out as information he doesn’t need to carry so close to the vest now, and comforts Megan when she wonders if she’s bad. But the chess metaphors return, with lots of weight given to lines about not letting someone win, because it’s a hollow victory, and Megan telling the Governor that it’s his turn to make a move. That scene is essentially a microcosm of the episode. Martinez wants the Governor to know that he’s in charge now, but the former tyrant can’t just let his former underling win, and he bides his time, waiting for the chance to make his move.
Martinez is the only man remaining who knows about the massacre after the failed assault on the prison, decides to pull The Governor out of that ditch because of the other people with him. Lily, Tara, and Megan effectively safeguard the Governor without knowing his dark past. He doesn’t talk about it, Martinez won’t bring it up, and so Lily goes on living with “Brian” and slowly becoming the family he will do anything and everything to protect. The Governor apologizes for the makeshift circumstances in the camp, but Lily already assumes they have a new home. David Morrissey has played the Governor these last few weeks as a man constantly on the verge of reverting back to his worst tendencies, but it’s not exactly clear how much the Governor really wants to change. He’s uneasy being in a camp with a man he used to order around, and though he goes on a supply run to a positively eerie cabin littered with beheaded corpses and a backstory never fully investigated, he’s still keeping things together.
Until Martinez makes the mistake of offering the Governor the chance to “share the crown” a little bit. Hitting golf balls on the roof of an RV, joking around after having a few beers, Martinez is relaxed enough for the Governor to snap, hit him with a golf club, and drag him over to the ditch to be eaten by walkers, while repeating over and over that he doesn’t want the responsibility of leadership again. The Governor gets away with it easily—people believe what they want to believe—and Martinez’s drunken mistake creates a power vacuum. At first, the Governor wants to flee with his new family—even Tara’s new girl Alicia—but a group of walkers stuck in the mud blocking the road send them back. That’s really the one blockage preventing the Governor from turning over a new leaf. The world still has walkers, so he can’t turn his back on a violent, power-hungry nature that needs to control big groups of people and provide no mercy to outsiders.
When another man steps up to take control of the group, the Governor simply commits murder again, killing his way to the top, ensuring fealty from top lieutenants, and then turning the camp into a miniature version of Woodbury. The survivors circle the RVs, begin to build a barbed wire fence, and put guards on patrol for the increasingly frequent walkers. And the laundry the Governor was hanging in the opening scene turns out to be a nice bit of foreshadowing as Megan happens upon a walker during a game of tag, and only a last-second shot from the Governor saves her. It cements the Governor’s leadership once again. He’s the man who can protect them. But it also means that they will have to go along with his tendency to murder other survivors at will in order to take more supplies.
He may still live under the false name “Brian,” but The Governor is now in charge again, of another group of people who have no idea the violent acts he wrought when in control of Woodbury. And The Governor’s power grab initiates the bridge back to his reappearance outside the prison, just after the medicine has arrived and potential danger has seemingly died down for Rick’s group. In that way, The Governor’s journey is just a way back for vengeance. He has a group of people, many of them trained as soldiers, well-stocked with ammunition—and a tank that will make hordes of walkers tipping the fence look like a walk in the park.
In light of that last scene, it’s possible to frame the Governor’s seemingly arduous journey as the long road to vengeance. But I do think The Walking Dead attempts to make it more complicated than that, even if it’s blunt and clumsy. In isolation, he can focus on changing, stay within a family unit and act with some kind of moral code. But in larger societal interaction, the Governor’s only goal is survival at all costs, and he’s not willing to play a supporting role when others—even nice men who have compassion for the other survivors—go against the choices he would make for the group. The new paradigm of the world is such that he can’t remain in isolation forever, it keeps infringing upon his privacy and making him a survivalist by default, unable to cede decision making to anyone else.
His vision for what this group can be, how they can survive, ties back into his thirst for vengeance against Michonne—who he has in his crosshairs—and Rick. Lost in all of this is that the Governor burned down Woodbury, effectively destroying the other habitable location in the area that this group could move to and survive. The Governor is the grand architect of his own vengeance, though “Dead Weight” shows that there was a minuscule chance for actual change and salvation.
The midseason finale is next week, and it looks to be a second big showdown at the prison, but this time the Governor has a trump card in the tank. He’s already shown himself to be willing to ensure mutual destruction if he can’t get what he wants.
The lake with no fish left where the Governor dumps Pete’s body has inspired a wonderful parody video for Governor’s Creek.