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The Walking Dead Recap: Heavy Is the Head

Alisha (Juliana Harkavay) and Tara (Alana Masterson) - The Walking Dead

Please join me in a well-deserved slow clap. Last week’s detour with the Governor pushed the bounds of credulity, even for a show about a zombie apocalypse. The Guv — who was last seen gunning down his fellow Woodburyians — appeared to be a changed man. With a surrogate wife and daughter to replace the ones he lost, he had a new reason to live. He shaved. He played chess. He fist-bumped. It all fit a little too neatly into this season’s running theme of finding one’s humanity despite the horror of everyday life. There was just one slight problem — this guy is a mass murderer. It felt a little like watching Charles Manson rub the swastika off his forehead and take up needlepoint. No one’s buying the nice guy act, dude.

As it turns out, that was all just storytelling sleight of hand, a wicked bit of misdirection, setting us up for last night’s total Guv meltdown and some of his dirtiest deeds yet. From the start, not-so-subtle clues are dropped that the Guv’s inner psycho would resurface soon — lots of talk about “making a move” and silence when little Megan asks if he’s good. Oh, and he now has a fucking tank at his disposal.

It all begins when Martinez — one of the henchmen who left the Guv alone in his little yellow tent — makes a number of very unwise decisions. For starters, he helps the Guv get out of the zombie pit, rather than save Megan and run very far away from this nutjob. He then decides to play along with the Guv’s ruse by calling him “Brian” and keeping talk of Woodbury — y’know, the town he slaughtered and burned to the ground — to a minimum. Martinez even thinks the Guv has changed, though by then, we can tell this new Zen attitude of his won’t last. Martinez’s biggest mistake is also his last: Whatever you do, do not ask the Guv if he’d like to “share the crown.” All that gets you is a golf club to the back of the head and a one-way trip to the zombie pit. (It didn’t help that Lilly told Martinez his camp was the first time she’d felt safe, a comment the Guv didn’t appreciate.)

Two new characters from Martinez’s camp play a role in the Guv’s psychotic break. Pete and Mitch are brothers who both served in the army and don’t have much else in common. Pete’s a strapping, square-jawed, Tim Tebow-looking guy with good moral fiber who turns into a total wuss-bag when they’re attacked at the cabin. (Perhaps the greatest mystery on this show is how groaning, limping zombies can still sneak up on people.) By contrast, Mitch is weasel who calls Tara a bitch, calls the Guv “One-Eyed Bri,” and thinks it’s cool to ambush a group of innocent people and take their supplies. Sounds like something straight out of the Guv’s handbook, doesn’t it? Which is why it’s awfully coincidental that the whole camp ends up dead. Not sure how the Guv could have pulled off a massacre without the Army Bros noticing, but it sure looks like his handiwork.

Pete unfortunately makes the same mistake Martinez did, just before the bros and the Guv find that camp — he asks One-Eyed Bri for help leading. That prompts a moment of dark humor when the Guv gives him a look that suggests he’s about to run back and grab that golf club. Do not ask me to share the crown, dammit! Pete’s a little too nice for the Guv’s liking, and his leadership (and possibly his hunting skills) prompts the Guv to run away from his new crew and his own true nature. Off he goes, with his new family and Tara’s gal pal in tow, until they meet a roadblock — the washed-out trail is jammed with walkers stuck in the mud. Something clicks in the Guv’s scrambled brain. He can’t run. Like the chess piece Megan decorated with an eye patch, he’s the king.

Speaking of the king, back at camp, the Guv gives a very Elvis-esque answer when Lilly asks what the hell he’s doing: “Survivin’.” (There is a “hunk of burnin’ Guv” joke here that I will not touch.) Poor Pete doesn’t stand a chance, as the Guv knifes him in the back, chokes him to death, and doesn’t even give him a courtesy brain-stab. That proves problematic later, when we see Zombie Pete, chained to the bottom of a lake, scrambling to reach the surface and eat the Guv’s face off. What happens when someone from the camp decides to take a swim and sees their undead ex-leader with a weight around his leg?

The Guv deals with Mitch in a different way, and in doing so, gives us a glimpse into his backstory. Like us, Mitch is surprised to learn that the Guv isn’t there to kill him — he appreciates Mitch’s stab-first-ask-questions-later philosophy, and wants Mitch to be his right-hand man. Earlier, the Guv told Megan his daddy never let him win at chess. Daddy also apparently liked to beat the snot out of him and his brother. Like Mitch, the Guv’s brother was the family hero, and once covered for the Guv when he stole his old man’s Lucky Strikes. But their daddy beat the brother and the Guv anyway. The lesson? Good guys don’t win. “That was my brother — hero,” says the Guv, spitting out that last word with contempt. So he makes Mitch a deal — we’ll do whatever it takes to survive, and I’ll never question you like your brother (who I just murdered) did. Mitch opts for that over being shot to death, and the whole “let’s vote for a leader” option goes out the window.

In the end, all seems well on the surface—the Guv has a new leather jacket, they’ve got barbed wire for a fence, Tara’s got a hot new girlfriend — but like that lake where Zombie Pete is buried, there’s something ugly beneath the surface. Somehow, a walker gets inside the camp, and Tara learns the hard way that you don’t yank a rotting corpse by its leg (could she be any less useful for someone with such a big mouth and so much small-arms knowledge?). That’s a signal to the Guv that they’re not safe in their new camp, even with that fucking tank! (Bet that thing would come in handy if, say, one wanted to clear out a local penitentiary of its inhabitants.) It all comes full circle, as the two story lines converge, and we return to the moment when the Guv sees Rick and Carl sharing a snack outside the prison. But it’s a shiny, happy Michonne who really catches his good eye. The Guv draws, takes aim, and restores my faith in this season as perhaps the best overall in the series. This is how I want my Governor — seated on his throne of crazy, revisiting old grudges, and making life even more hellish than usual for Rick and the gang.

Photo: Gene Page/AMC