Nov 25 2013 1:00pm

The Walking Dead, S4 E7 “Dead Weight”

The Walking Dead Dead Weight Governor

And there’s the Governor we all know and loathe. This time he has a whole pond to play with, rather than just heads in fish tanks. Last week saw Brian pulling himself out of rock bottom with the love of a good woman, a can of spaghetti-o’s, and the world’s most annoying little girl. This week Brian got the old heave-ho and the Governor took his place on the throne.

Martinez makes the big mistake of believing Brian’s con that he really is a changed man, a con Brian himself seems to have bought into. When Martinez expresses doubt at being able to keep the camp safe—a not unrealistic fear, given the circumstances; it’s less being pessimistic about their odds and more being pragmatic about the harsh realities of the Endverse—Brian snaps and kills him in cold blood by bashing him in the head with a golf club and feeding him to a pit full of zombies, all while crying “I don’t want it!” Clearly homeboy’s a wee bit conflicted.

Brian freaks the frak out and gathers his family for an escape. He still believes he can turn off that dark side, but the cruel realities what they’re facing send him back to the camp. Pete, Martinez’s second-in-command, appoints himself temporarily in charge until they can arrange a vote. He, his brother Mitchell, and Brian come across a small group hidden in the woods with tons of supplies, and Pete decides to leave them in peace. When they pass the group again they find the camp destroyed and the supplies gone. That’s all the evidence Brian needs to prove Pete isn’t worthy of the mantle, and so he stabs then chokes to death poor, cute Pete. He more or less threatens Mitchell into siding with him, and thus the Governor is reborn and pissier than ever.

So, basically what you’re telling me is that I just sat through 2 episodes of the Governor becoming Brian—a new man, a better man, a good man—all so he could go back to being the Governor again. Last week was a fantastic opportunity to develop a vastly underserved character, one who had all his potential squandered away last season. The Governor never blossomed into the full-fledged villain he was supposed to be, instead he became a moustache-twirling cartoon in the general shape of grotesque violence. Most of this episode was centered around watching Brian try not to give into his demons and totally failing. That in and of itself would be an interesting journey, one that requires a character with dimension and depth, but to have him not just go back to his old ways but to literally start rebuilding the new world into his old fantasy kingdom is just stupid.

Not to mention that pointless scene of him escaping the camp with his new family only to run into a mud pit full of walkers and then turn around and head back. Yes, I know it was intended to show Brian attempting to hold onto his new life while being dragged inexorably back to his old one, but 2 episodes of showing exactly the same thing in better scenes made this one redundant. Also, perhaps the shot wasn’t clear enough, as evocative as it was, but it didn’t look like the mud pit was so big that they couldn’t just go around it or turn around and take another road. But, still, the scene looked cool. Like burning down Woodbury. Looks cool, but completely unnecessary.

Last week I expressed my concerns with the out-of-the-blue character growth the Governor-turned-Brian was undergoing. It was always obvious he would have to die. A Big Bad like that, redeemed or no, can’t just walk off into the sunset. He either dies saving the prisoners or dies trying to kill them. If the former, at least he’d go out with a personality. But if the latter, then why bother evolving him in the first place? It adds nothing to our understanding of him as a man to watch him return to his old, vicious ways the second he has the chance, and it has the added effect of making both episodes utterly meaningless. Which makes the whole mini-arc reek of the writers not able to come up with enough plot to fill the half-season. They could’ve done the whole Governor thing without wasting time building him up only to tear him back down. By having him switch back to his wicked side makes his downtime seem more like he was biding time between dictatorships.

The Walking Dead Dead Weight Martinez GovernorNow that I’ve got all that off my chest, lets talk about the good stuff. For one thing, the episodes work much better together than they do individually. As a two-parter shown back to back, we get a devastating pair of episodes detailing the rise and fall of an unethical man pretending to be morally upright. Putting aside the issue of whether or not we needed to see this evolution of the Governor in the first place, the concept itself is intriguing. (Honestly, I would’ve rather seen this storyline with Shane, although I don’t think Jon Berenthal was up to the task.) Brian was always going to become the Governor again, I don’t think anyone is disputing that. The sporadic acts of violence were intense and visceral, but because we all know what’s coming it felt a bit boring. The two-parter story was good, but it loses itself as part of the bigger picture.

To be clear, just because the story was pointless doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining. There’s nothing anyone can say to me to prove we absolutely had to have these episodes, that they couldn’t have just gone straight from the plague to the Governor showing up at the prison gates with a tank and a new batch of acolytes. There’s enough information packed into that arrival for the audience to infer the Governor is up to his old tricks, even if we don’t have the knowledge that for a couple of months he wasn’t actively terrorizing people. Or, better yet, show an episode of the Governor slowly setting up his chess game against a new group so he can use them to take out the prisoners. That’s ultimately what this is all about, that one group he can’t conquer. The prisoners are the stone in his shoe, so why not let us watch him plot how to dispose of them?

I maintain my long-held belief that the Governor doesn’t give a shit about survival, he only cares about power and control. He wants to survive, sure, but everyone else’s survival is merely an added bonus. You can’t rule without subjects, and you can’t win without soldiers. With Lily, Tara, and Megan, he doesn’t just have a family, he has his own little fiefdom. With Martinez’s group, he has a real kingdom, a whole pack of people all depending on him. He uses the cover of “only the strong survive” to justify the means, but him keeping Undead Pete at the bottom of the lake is all about him exercising ultimate control. It makes him feel like he can conquer the zombie apocalypse, and if he has to kill everyone but his most ardent followers then so be it. In that sense, Megan, like Penny (and especially like Zombie Penny), are perfect for his needs. It’s not a daughter he wants, it’s unconditional obedience.

Final Thoughts

  • “Do you trust me?”
  • “I’m running things now, and I will do everything it takes to protect this camp. Now, if you join me, I promise you’ll never have to worry about whether you were doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Because we will do the only thing.”
  • Megan has got to be the most boring, insipid, cipher The Walking Dead has ever spawned. Sophia was a more interesting character even when she was missing.
  • Ah! It’s Charlie and Victor!
  • Now taking bets that he kills Lily and Tara when they try to escape with Megan, and that Megan gets KO’d in the battle with the prisoners, either by zombie or stray bullet.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Colin R
1. Colin R
If they are drawing the show back into line with the comics well... things don't look too good for most of the cast.

But yes, these episodes are largely wasting time, as I suspected. Wasting time in somewhat entertaining ways but... that scene where he stares into a field of walkers stuck in the mud might as well be metaphors for these episodes. And really, they rely on idiot plots--Martinez is kind of an idiot to trust the Governor's changed man routine. He has seen him in kissing babies mode before. He was stupid to let his guard down--stupid to let the guy even come into camp. The only revealing thing about their conversation was that 'Brian's' rage seemed to have been triggered by Martinez pointing out how vulnerable his new family was.

And even after that, the whole thing could still blow up if Mitchell wasn't such a shit--so eager to be the right hand of the guy who murdered his brother in cold blood.
Sky Thibedeau
2. SkylarkThibedeau
You're right it looks like the Comic Arc will be played out either next week or in the spring. I'm betting Brian/Phillip comes to the same end he did in the comics and a lot of agents are going to be sent scrambling for a new show to get a commission from.
Colin R
3. Colin R
I still have to wonder what is wrong with these people that they don't bother armoring themselves when they go out into zombie-infested areas. Even some biker leathers and a helmet would keep a random zombie from chewing on you. But this show isn't very interested in adhering to the logic of its own premises--it's like how Lilly and her family were just hanging out for a year or more, waiting for the Governor to show up because the plot needed them to be too stupid to figure out how to kill zombies.
Alex Brown
4. AlexBrown
@Colin and Skylark: I'm not sure they'll stick that close to the comics. They backed away from allowing the Governor be as psychotically violent as he was in the comics, and I highly doubt they'll go all out with the prison battle. I also doubt they'll kill off the core group (Rick, Carl, Michonne, Maggie, or Glenn, and Judith by default) because you have to have enough of them carry into the next season or the audience will lose attachment and interest. They fulfill the necessary tropes and positions required to keep the ship sailing; everyone else - particularly the Woodburyites - is cannon fodder.

As for the resounding stupidity, I've basically run out of things to say on that topic. Every single person on this show is various degrees of idiotic, and, frankly, the zombie apocalypse is a lot more interesting with characters who know what the hell they're doing. I hope with the spin-off with get much more competent characters so we can deal with some actually interesting plots for once. You want a good look at how to write an End of Times comic with not-stupid people, check out Y: The Last Man.
Colin R
5. Alright Then
Not sure how long I could stand wearing leathers and a helmet in the Georgia heat. Assuming this takes place in the summer, those people are roasting in t-shirts.
Alex Brown
6. AlexBrown
@Alright Then: If it's a choice between being really sweaty and hot or being eaten alive by cannibal corpses, I'd rather be sweaty and hot.
Colin R
7. Jules Andre
The Governor episodes were absolutely not meaningless. The point is twofold: to show that the Governor is a recidivist when it comes to him turning into a monster once he has something to protect (you could call this a waste, but we're somewhat conditioned to expect the redemption of a villain and these episodes serve to show that there cannot be a redemption for the Governor. This is a raising of the stakes.); and, more interestingly, to show that there's a fundamental difference in how the two leaders in the show (Rick and the Governor) handle leadership. Last we saw Rick, he was faced with a dispicable choice - would you sacrifice valued people in your group to save the whole group? He responded with a resounding no, that was a step too far. But now we see that the Governor will absolutely sacrifice anyone in his group. This contrast is very revealing and it firmly establishes how much of a villain the Governor is by contrasting him to Rick. The Governor will sacrifice anything and anyone, Rick won't sacrifice his humanity.
Colin R
8. Alright Then

Heat stroke.
Colin R
9. Colin R
Fair enough, but I don't mean they should be wearing armor all day. But like, when they're making raids, I would think it's a reasonable precaution.

As far as the Governor's recidivism is concerned was that uh... reasonably in doubt? He's already tortured Glen, raped Maggie, and murdered Andrea (not to mention a bunch of other secondary characters) without any justification or even really provocation. Redemption would have been wildly out of left field--just putting the Governor onscreen, as in the end of episode Five, basically telegraphs "Things are going to get violent."

The only useful thing we learned is how the Governor manages to take control of another group of people--hint, it's because they're mostly stupid. And frankly, if they had just skipped these two episodes, I think we could have put together what had happened without the explanation. We already know what the Governor's deal is.

This season had maybe the best run of five episodes in a row that it has had, and then it just sort of crashed into the mud.
Colin R
10. tigeraid
In agreement with #7, these two episodes do a great job of further differentiating what the Governor does vs. what Rick does.

But I don't think it's as simple as "The Governor will do anything to protect the group."

The Governor is delusional and using his "protect the group at all cost" mantra to "enable" is homocidal tendencies, whereas Rick does all he can to genuinely keep people alive. Like a lot of this show, the Governor is not JUST a homicidal maniac bad guy, he's a shade of grey--in his delusional mind, he rationalizes how he acts, and he even tries to fight against the tendencies (settle down with a "family," leave the group rather than take over, etc etc..), but eventually falls to them. It's a textbook mental illness, two sides of his mind warring, with the homicidal one winning.

I much prefer his character to a straightforward moustache-twirling evildoer, and I liked these two episodes.

Martinez sure was stupid though.
Colin R
12. Contrarian
My understanding is the showrunners wanted a break from teh Guv to differentiate this season from last. I get that. On the other hand, I think this story (let's call it the Life of Brian*) would have worked better if it had been interspersed into the first five episodes to show the contrast between Rick and "Brian."
Their story arcs since the Woodbury attack at the end of last season are opposite sides of the same coin. They both tried to be something they weren't and had to take back the responsibility that niether wanted.
In the Life of Brian we see Phillip turned into the Guv, fell, turned into Brian, and then turned back into the Guv.
On the other side we saw Rick turned into the Ricktator, fell, and turned into a farmer. Now can Rick prevent himself from reinstating the Ricktatorship? That's where the contrast and conflict between the two characters is and what the confrontation will show.
While I enjoyed the Life of Brian, I stand by the sentiment that it would have been better served interspersed instead of the pseudo mini-series we got.
*Full credit to Monty Python
Colin R
13. lach7
I for one not only enjoyed these past two episodes, I think they went some way towards developing the character and making him more interesting.

I feel like the The Walking Dead has so many contrary expectations put on it, that it can't possibly satisfy any group of fans completely. For example: it has to do a balancing act between fans who just want more action and gore and fans who want quality story-telling, between comic afficianodos and people completely unfamiliar with the comic, between trying to set up a tension that anyone could die on any episode and keeping fan favorites safe (Michone, Darryl, etc.), and I think the list could go on.

Moreover, given that the show has gone through several veteran show runners, this seems to indicate a lot of behind-the-scenes pressures and expectations as well.

Can any of us be completely happy with this show?
Colin R
14. Contrarian
@13: Me. I'm completely happy with the show. Even when it was dragging in season 2, the payoffs were worth is for me.
Could things have been done better? Probably. But that's any form of art or entertainment.
Colin R
15. Space Eagle?
I'd agree that "Brian" got re-governated rather sloppily fast, but I'm curious why you feel such a strong desire for formulaic plot turns? Most ongoing, episodic stories like this seem to go either the route of such a character either being too important to the franchise to ever really be at risk (see nearly all major comic characters), which is boring, or they kill them off only in the predictable ways that you describe. It would be far more interesting and realistic if the "big bad" hung around a bit. For all its faults, this is one thing that Game of Thrones does well. The problem with Brian wasn't that the developmental filler was there, but that there wasn't enough of it.

The only thing that has ever set Walking Dead apart from the typical horror fodder that it cuts such a close figure to has been its (intermittent) detailed attention to the psychology of its characters. There are plenty of zombie stories which are gorier, scarier, more spectacular, and more imaginative. What TWD has in its corner when its at its best is the evolution of its story, its characters, and its particular view of human nature put under the microscope in extreme situations.

Kirkman seemed to entirely lose his grip on these elemsents after the comic's Governor arc, but the show still has a shot at it. If the characters start seeming secondary to the body count it will kill the only thing that sets TWD apart, at least for those of us who aren't just going to watch anything bloody that comes out of the glowing box. The trick is to build characters that the audience can actually become invested in , but then still allow them to be up for grabs if the story demands it.

I'll admit that the second season, which focused more on development than any other, did get a bit tedious, but as you say, it doesn't have to be. The challenge for the writers, Kirkman in particular, is to make a zombie story interesting in an entire ocean of zombie stories. If he can't do that, it's time to hang it up.
Alex Brown
16. AlexBrown
@SpaceEagle?: I'm not sure where you're getting my supposed "desire for formulaic plot turns." If anything, it should be clear that I'm annoyed with formulaic plot turns. Nothing about the Governor's arc is unique. He's a Big Bad. Big Bads often go through a period of attempted/aborted redemption. TWD's biggest problem has always been a desperate adherence to common tropes. Which leads directly to its second biggest problem: lazy writing. They want certain things to happen plot-wise or want certain shots promo-wise, and thus you get the nonsense at the S4 winter finale.

The third biggest problem is also a direct result of the first two, and that's an absence of character development. Up until this season, none of the characters went beyond the personalities assigned to them by their tropes. Sure, they had backgrounds and personal histories, but they rarely tended to shade out the character. Gimple's done a fair bit to redress that (the convo with Rick and Carol where he tells the story about Lori's pancakes PERFECTLY described the nature of their relationship; it was detailed yet concise, and gave us a fuller picture of their pre-Endverse marriage and why they treated each other the way they did later), but prior to this season, we've only gotten drips and drabs. The only characters with any real depth to them were Daryl and Carol. Everyone else we really only get to learn about their present personalities, as affected by zombies rather than their present behaviors as a part of a larger package. If that makes sense.

But everything you said in the last two paragraphs I completely agree with. Not counting the last three eps of S4, Gimple has done a lot to right the ship's course. Here's hoping the Governor arc was him wrapping up a crappy story started by his predecessor, and that after the break things will clear up.

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