So far The Walking Dead’s fourth season is about developing character, character, character. That means Michonne’s laughing, Rick’s not leading, and Carol’s sorry but not sorry for killing a couple of contagious, sickly prisoners. Sunday’s episode, the first of a two-part flashback, was a showcase for the Governor’s softer side. After he put down all but two of his Woodbury friends in last season’s finale, he confined himself to isolation until crossing paths with a family in need of his help. Here, David Morrissey argues for the Governor’s humanity.
At the end of last season, were you surprised not to have been killed off?
The way the show is set up I'm always surprised to get to the next episode, nevermind the next season. All the actors, we get the scripts, we take them away and read them on our own in our trailers and we hope that we make it through the episode.
When The Governor went nuts and killed everyone, that seemed like a natural end to his arc. What story did you think there was left to tell?
I think that act of turning on his own people is sort of unforgivable, but for me what was interesting was that it wasn't a premeditated act. It wasn't something he was planning on doing, and it doesn't live well with him. What we see in this season is this Jekyll and Hyde-like character that he’s become. He wants to try to be good but he knows there's this terrible, unhinged person lurking inside him and that's why he's trying to keep other human beings away from him. The episode starts with him wanting to be in isolation, away from the human race, and he gets drawn into this family, but he's still worried about this ticking clock that's inside of him. What he does is he reinvents himself. The family is an opportunity to be someone else, probably the man he was before the zombie apocalypse. I think that's how he's hoping some kind of redemption can happen.
But even if shooting everyone in the end was a spontaneous act, nothing else he did was. Keeping heads in a fish tank, assaulting Maggie, letting Merle torture Glenn, not to mention the cruel ways he killed Merle and Milton and Andrea. He may have been a good guy pre-apocalypse but the Governor’s a monster now. Are we supposed to empathize with him for being nice to this family?
That's the big question: Can anybody be redeemed or find forgiveness? Sometimes we have to negotiate with our enemies or reach a compromise with them, and the Governor is having that battle within himself. He knows he's done awful terrible things and has to take accountability for that but I think where we see him at the beginning of this episode is a man who's not asking for any forgiveness. He's just given up. He's absolutely a blank space and wants to die. I think every individual will have a different reaction about whether they can forgive him or not. The reaction I get from people on the street or who tweet at me is some people just want him to die, they hate him. Other people really care about him and hate the fact that they care about him. Other people really like him and see the good side of him and want him to emerge as a good man. And other people love the fact that he's bad. They love a bad villain. I think it's important not to put him in one box. I like the complexity and I like that people have different reactions to him.
What do you think of him?
I think he was corrupted by power. When his daughter Penny’s taken from him and becomes a zombie and he keeps her, I see that as a very compassionate act. He creates this whole town, this sanctuary for her because he hopes that one day this terrible disease might reverse some time. Within that, he stands up, becomes this leader in the community and he gets drunk on power. He’s suddenly a megalomaniac and his conscience starts to waver. Once Penny is taken from him in a very brutal way by Michonne — I feel like she does that for no reason at all — he goes into a trauma, and he's been living in that space for quite a long time. Not to excuse what he's done, but it's too easy just to say, “This guy's a bad guy, he does evil things,” or “This guy's a good guy, he does good things.” Everybody's a mishmash. The Governor is struggling. He tries to be left alone on his own and he can't manage that.
So he tosses those SpaghettiOs so he doesn’t get close to the family.
He doesn't want to be indebted to anybody.
Also, they’re pretty gross.
[Laughs] In the zombie apocalypse they're probably a very nice meal to have. I wouldn't like to condemn them out of hand.
But then he bonds with the daughter, who's pretty much a ringer for Penny.
When the little girl comes up to him and says “How did you lose your eye?” and he says to her “I'm a pirate,” that makes him laugh. I feel like from then on his humanity is coming back. It's the awakening of a good man from way way back. He doesn't want to help these people, be bound to them or protect them, but he makes the choice that's what he's going to do.
When we first saw in the previous episode, he was lurking outside the prison. Even if the Governor is accepted by these strangers, why would Rick’s group not kill him on sight?
I don't think we can assume why he's there. We don't know why he's there. He might be there to negotiate, he might be there to cause havoc, he might be there to offer up other people instead of himself. He might not be there asking them to take him in personally. He's a changed man. And there are new people in that prison too, it's not just Rick’s group.
Maybe he walks up to the prison and he has 50 children with him — what's Rick going to do then?
He’ll say, “Welcome, children!” and then shoot the Governor. Rick banished Carol for lesser crimes. What did you think of that?
I was very surprised by that. I was very surprised he would take that stance with someone like Carol. You also feel he’s setting off a train of events that might come back to haunt him. It's very interesting what will happen for her out in the wilderness.
Just curious: Did you grow your hair out to play raggedy Governor?
I lost a bit of weight and I grew a beard, but it would take me five years to grow my hair like he had, so that is a wig. When I got to Georgia they told me, “Oh, we're starting with this shot outside in episode five where you're clean-shaven.” So I shaved my own beard off which looked just like the beard they made for me to put on. That was quite weird.
And you lost weight for his return?
I took off a bit, yeah. If he's been out in the wilderness for a long time he's gonna be pretty emaciated. I mean he's a man who doesn't eat spaghetti hoops, so you know he doesn't get a lot of carbs in his diet.