The Walking Dead: Thoughts on Mid-Season 4 Finale and The Governor

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Scenario: you’re in a bar when the sexiest woman you’ve ever seen approaches you. Your eyes follow her every curve from top to bottom. She sees your gaze and returns the favor. She smiles. She walks over. A bead of sweat descends from your forehead. She sits. She leans in with a question: “my place or yours?” A response is sputtered out and your body whisks you away to the inevitable bedroom. Clothes lift off. Bodies touch. Repeatedly. And when it seems like you’ll reach ” le petit mort “, she stops abruptly, picks up her clothes, and leaves without a word. You go back to that bar hoping to see her again, but months go by with nary a hint. Eventually, you move on. Then one day, she shows up at the bar again. Your heart skips a beat. She walks over. She sits. She leans in with a question: “wanna finish what we started?”. A response is sputtered out and your body whisks you away to the inevitable bedroom. She then grabs your penis, pumps until you finish, and then wipes it on the sheets. You sit there confused: “was that it?” Her response: “pretty much, but at least there was a climax”

Did that sound satisfying? If it didn’t, now you know how i felt at first about this episode of The Walking Dead. Now i want to start by saying that i’m a big fan of the show and, for the most  part, the creators got their shit together. I especially like the current season and am looking forward to the rest of it. But, i honestly have mixed feelings about this episode.

Obviously, spoilers ahead.

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The last two episodes painted The Governor/Philip Blake/Brian Geraghty/Nick Fury  as a tragic hero who had fundamentally positive goals but carried them out using monstrous means. He recognizes his sins, hence why he relinquishes his title and name in Live Bait. He finds a new family who want him around, which hints towards a chance of redemption. He begins to fall off the slippery slope in Dead Weight when he realizes the threat of an unknown group of survivors and the unwillingness of his new leader to fight dirty. He kills him out of ( what he tells himself is ) pragmatism and then takes reigns as the new leader. Realizing they’re not safe, he concludes that they should take the prison.

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The Governor’s ascension to a Jim Jones figure is hard to believe in the limited timeframe we’ve been given. He’s accepted into the group immediately, gets to be on the zombie task force, and then very unsuspciously requests to take over after the previous two leaders bite it ( or bitten, in Martinez’s case ). This wouldn’t be that ridiculous within the frame of the two previous episodes, considering that Gov is clearly tactically skilled and charismatic. But in the frame of attacking a bunch of people who they’ve NEVER MET BEFORE and could kill them, it gets somewhat silly.The only people to challenge him is Lilly and Tara, when ironically,  they should be the most accepting of his plan given that he takes care of their family ( especially Lilly *nudge*nudge* ). Personally, i thought this scenario could have worked better if Rick and co reacted more aggressively to Gov and Co. Then at least it would make sense contextually why the Gov’s camp could believe that they are “monsters”. Without that, we’re forced to assume that all of these people are desperate and bloodthirsty, which seems hard to believe given their portrayal in the previous two episodes.

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In addition, this mini-arc builds up the Gov to be more sympathetic than he amounts to in the finale. When he captures Michonne and Hershel, he’s unnecessarily accommodating, what with giving them food and all. He even implies he forgives Michonne for killing his daughter, which was one of his driving motives in the third season. So by the end of this episode, i wanted to see a Governor who wasn’t just the same asshole from the third season. When he cuts off Hershel’s head and shoots his surrogate daughter without a thought, I realized that he probably is the same guy after all.

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What bugs me about this ending is that it could have ALREADY HAPPENED. If you literally took this episode and just placed it in the third season, it would make little difference. The evil Gov of this episode fits in fine with his characterization already. Now to be fair, the old showrunner, Frank Darabont, might have had different plans for the governor for this season and Scott Gimple decided to go back and create the past due climax. But here, it just feels underwhelming given how divorced it is from the narrative that built up to it. Everyone wanted Gov to die in the third season, but we didn’t get that satisfaction. This season had barely acknowledged him until five episodes in. You would think that Rick or Daryl might at least have a few offhand worries about the guy in order to remind us of his threat, but he doesn’t even seem to be on the mind of the protagonists besides Michonne. So when he does show up, we get two quick episodes of a narrative arc that really just reiterates the third season, and then we get a fairly rushed attempt to create the conclusion that we never got previously.

While there are legitimate problems with this episode and its predecessors, I would also say that a part of the reason why it might garner a different reaction than previous episodes is due to it’s fairly downbeat conclusion. Before Gov turns Hersh into a Pez dispenser, Rick imparts a speech which ends with “we’ve all done terrible things, but we get to come back. We can all change”. He then drops the title of the episode “we are not too far gone“. This is accompanied by an obvious zoom on Hershel who ( being the show’s Santa Clause ) smiles at the notion. The Gov is also moved by this speech, but not necessarily for the better. A shaky POV shot shows him looking at the sword and then at Rick.

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After a pause, he calls Rick a liar, then beheads the poor guy.

Why this reaction? Point of view shots imply perspective. Seeing through a character’s eyes allows us to see as they do. At this point, The Gov realizes the position he’s in. He’s back to where he didn’t want to be and he knows it. As established, he’s remorseful over his actions in Woodbury and tries to put it behind him. His taking of a fake name reflects the advice of Rick to Carol to “create a new life for yourself…nobody has to know what you’ve done”. He tried so hard to be cordial to his captives because he legitimately wanted to believe he had changed. He constantly asserts that he’s taking care of his family ( who he really does care about ), but why does that have include war with Rick’s group. We know of the threat of the others who killed the neighboring camp, but we never get a clear progression of reasoning that goes from “protect the camp” to “take over the prison”. Upon reflection his actions are undeniable; he’s not helping his camp, he’s destroying someone else’s. Just as a recovering alcoholic has a harmless drink that leads to relapse ( looking at you, Bob Stookey ), his feelings of responsibility has made him relapse into his lust for power. As he chants to himself in Dead Weight, he didn’t even want it in the first place.

As i mentioned in a previous post, the Gov reflects a lot of different characters on the series. Like Hershel, he was in denial about the state of walkers. Like Rick, he tried to be a dictator. He even has shades of this season’s Carol, who resorted to outright murder to protect the group. Seeing some of the Gov’s characterization in the last three episodes reminds us that he’s still a human being, just like those guys. This makes his return to villainy shows just how inescapable the degradation of humanity is for these characters , particularly Rick. Rick begins the season adamantly avoiding leadership and combat by being a farmer, only to be forced back into both. A scene in this season’s second episode Infected shows Rick clearly broken up when forced to sacrifice the pigs he raised in order to distract the zombies.

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Besides his healthy love of bacon, what makes this such a hard moment for Rick is that he realizes that this is a death for both the pigs and him, in a metaphorical sense. Being in charge means doing things others can’t and won’t do. It means making hard choices. And in this world, we all know what that means. The Governor knows this all too well, and avoids it until he’s compelled first by the actual need of the women, and then by the perceived need ( on his part ) of the camp. As is often said “the road to hell is paved in good intentions”. No matter how noble one begins, the world of The Walking Dead will wear them down till they ain’t no more.

This season succeeded in reframing the Governor as a tragic hero. The third season started off with this characterization but arguably turned him into a super-villain at the end. Once the Governor was reduced down to his essence,we see that he turned out to be just like anyone else. He wants a family. And with that, security. This series often asks us to recast the mundane drives we have into a world that refuses to accommodate them. You can’t just have a family in The Walking Dead. You have to fight for it. And eventually, kill for it. How much is too much is a matter of degrees. Rick acknowledges this in his speech, and tries to reason that he, the Governor, no matter what they’ve done haven’t yet reached the point of no return. Beheading Hershel was an act of spite towards the old man and Rick by the Governor. To him, their belief in spiritual rejuvenation is a spit-in-the-face for men who have succumbed to desperation. He too believed that he can be reborn, but realizes that’s not possible. By the end, we are left to wonder if Rick’s right or if they are all “too far gone”.

So what now? Does this put us in a new position? Have we gained anything? I’m not sure, to be honest. Serialized fiction isn’t always the best at producing satisfactory conclusions, whether it be mid or end-season. What we did get was from this episode and the one preceding it was a beautiful character study that was well-acted and directed. The Governor’s second and final fall was expected, but still compelling. It would have been much better if this kind of character could have been around by the end of last season, but at least we got it at some point. So in closing: so long Governor. Hopefully Michonne keeps your eyepatch as a trophy.

vlcsnap-2013-12-03-13h48m02s4For more posts on Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead: The Governor-Well-Intentioned Extremist

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The Walking Dead: The Governor-Well Intentioned Extremist

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Season three of Walking Dead has given us the series’ first real Big Bad,The Governor,who is the de facto leader of Woodbury. His actions so far this season includes slaughtering a military company, keeping his zombie daughter captive, and kind-of-almost raping Maggie. There’s no dispute that he’s quite harsh, but are his means justified considering his ends? He’s running the closest thing to civilization in an apocalyptic scenario, and a damned good one at that considering the contentment of his people. He has the same goals that most of the protagonists share, he’s just a lot more successful at achieving them (well,up until recently). The indictment of Gov Phil by the show and its audience exemplifies the thematic car crash of the whole series,both diegetically and meta-diegetically. Is Walking Dead a dichotomous morality play set in a zombie world or is it an ambiguous look at human decision-making during desperate times? I’m not sure if even the writing team is sure. The Team Rick vs Woodbury dynamic gives us one of the most legible examples of this conflict.

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The Governor’s first appearance in the season establishes his fervor for border control. Upon finding a lone soldier, he quickly ascertains the position of his squad and then proceeds to kill them,along with the aforementioned soldier. The Governor’s reaction is extreme, yet the logical conclusion of the xenophobia shared by the series’ characters. Hershel didn’t even want Team Rick on his property in the second season, and their presence did lead to a death of a family member of his, making his concern justified. And in the current season, Rick was willing to send prisoners out into a hostile world just in case they bore him ill will (which they did).  In a modern, non-apocalyptic scenario, it’s easy to believe that people should assume the best of outsiders. America is the nation that opens its arms to “weak, huddled masses”, after all. In reality, the only reason why you and I can afford such a pleasantry is because we have the backing of an organized government. Despite what border patrols nuts will tell you,the threat of a few nefarious immigrants is minimal compared to any moderately organized police force. In addition,dealing with dissidents is just a matter of how long do you want them to be locked up. Michael Scofields do not abound in the real world. When these systems collapse, neighborliness collapses with it. During Hurricane Katrina, it was tragically common for opportunists to ransack and rob their own neighbors during the confusion. Even outside of natural disasters, third world countries like the Philippines often have smaller insular communities with their own militias in case some shit goes down.  Mind you, these examples are on a small scale, the world of Walking Dead has NO governing bodies whatsoever. A town like Woodbury has to be completely self-sufficient, so the room for error is nil. While yes, the soldier seemed innocuous enough, who could say the same for his squad? It wouldn’t be hard for a bunch of heavily armed and trained soldiers to run a train on a collective like Woodbury. Hell, if Team Rick’s dispute with the prisoners ended differently, the others would have had to make due with a one-legged old man, a child,that idiot T-Dog and those women (fuck feminism; you know they can’t do shit).  With such potential threats, it just doesn’t make sense to take in many outsiders unless you can completely determine the situation, an attitude the Governor seems to subscribe to. This is explains why the Governor reacts the way he does to Michonne: while she is shown to be heroic, her enigmatic nature and quickness to violence makes her a dangerous variable to the tight-knit community. Variables are a no go in such a tenuous civilization.

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The Governor’s extreme decisions are a logical consequence of what the series’ characters have been veering towards throughout the show. Multiple characters have proposed tenets that simultaneously subvert and promote the value of provincial values in the end game scenario that is a zombie apocalypse. Rick wants his preteen son to behave as a man, yet his wife believes that having a burdensome baby is perfectly rational. Dale believes that they shouldn’t take a human life if not necessary, and Rick later stabs his best friend. These problems only exist due to a lack of human resources. If Team Rick had more men,they wouldn’t have to have a child serve as a soldier. If they had a psychiatric facility, Rick could’ve put his buddy in a cell instead of giving him a hillibilly shanking. Without the human resources, there can be no convenient distribution of labor. This means that the same people who want to hold on to their ideas of civilization have to perform extremely uncivilized tasks. It’s a scenario destined for failure. What’s great about having the resources of a town, even a small one like Woodbury, is that only the Governor and his hit squad have to take on the emotional brunt of making hard choices. They create the necessary buffer between the zombie world and the innocent citizenry. Despite most human beings’ reluctance to take another life, all of our world governments have some kind of organized military, implying that there are always those needed to deal with less savory tasks. As stated earlier,the draconian nature of Woodbury’s militia is due to the fact that they still don’t have that many resources. Hard choices need to be made, and the Governor is levying them as best as he can.

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Unfortunately, The Governor has the same sentiments as the other characters from the series as well. Most egregiously, he decided to keep his zombified daughter locked up in a room,seemingly in the hopes that she can be somehow rehabilitated. His delusion is nearly the same as Hershel’s; they both are unable to accept the realities of the virus and assume there will be some kind of rebirth for their loved ones. While many viewers view such a stance as silly, it’s important to remember that most funeral traditions endeavor to obfuscate the finality of death. Christian services often quote biblical verses referencing the rising of the dead to heaven (For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens;2 Corinthians 5:1). In addition,many animistic religions regarded certain animals with reverence because they believed they were reincarnated humans. Ironically, a zombie apocalypse is probably the closest thing to eternal life, as Hershel himself wryly points out. The inability to accept death is not just a religious convention; it’s not uncommon for even  the secular to spout aphorisms like “Aunt Sally exists as long as we remember her”. Hell, many of the irreligious decide to join the God-team for the sake of a funeral anyway. The Governor’s struggle to give up hope on his daughter is a common one. How many people have kept brain-dead family members alive for years just to have them be present? Not to mention the parents of children who are so dangerously mentally ill that they pose a danger to themselves and others. At the very least,the Governor has enough reason to chain up the girl and remove her teeth. He ain’t that dumb. The Governor has his sentiment, but at least manages to keep it hidden away as to cause no harm.

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For a series with as many narrative troubles as Walking Dead, the Governor gives us a useful way to judge the moral conflicts of the series. He shares many of the same sentiments as Team Rick, but is sociopathic enough to distance them for what practically needs to be done. Is it a perfect balance? Fuck no,based on what the outcome has been in the last few episodes. It’s the type of concession that would have to occur in such dire circumstances.

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Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road (2006) explores the same conflict,as a father and son try to survive in a completely blighted landscape. (SPOILERS AHOY) Upon entering a dark silo, the father gives his son two choices of implement: a torch and a gun. The torch,obviously, is a tool to illuminate the dark, whereas the gun has a more bleak use. If the father is ever to die, he has instructed his son to kill himself immediately, so he won’t suffer. The torch and gun motif is carried on throughout the novel: the torch is the last glimmer of life in the dead world they inhabit; it allows them warmth and sight. The gun however, becomes a symbol of inevitability; a reminder that their journey is ultimately futile. When the father does begin to die, he asks the boy to disregard his previous order, which (as most readings suggest) leads to his death anyway due to his choice to stay near his dying father. The ending, where he is found by a family, is often thought to be the last pang of optimism that allows him a brief respite before the end. That’s some sad shit. (SPOILERS END) In life and death scenarios, optimistic conventions such as innocence has to come second to pragmatism in order to survive. At the same time,such pragmatism, as seen in The Road, can sometimes be equally as destructive to our more romantic beliefs. The question is,what constitutes survival for humanity: the continuation of biological processes or beliefs? The protagonists of Walking Dead have yet to arrive at that answer. Even the Governor hasn’t arrived at an answer.

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