Not long after the Governor returns from the old-folks’ home with a couple tanks of oxygen and a nasty gash, his new gal pal, Lilly the nurse, says she’s happy to have a new patient. “Nobody mentioned just how boring the end of the world was going to be.” Amen, sister. Compared to the rest of this season, last night was a bit of a snooze.
Granted, every episode can’t be packed with all-out Zombiepalooza mayhem, like last week’s chapter. But if you were hoping for action, you didn’t get much last night until the final moments (unless you count a bunch of septuagenarian biters and a legless walker in a bathtub). We’re also stuck waiting at least another week for the big showdown between Rick and Daryl over Carol’s banishment, a confrontation that could make Rick vs. Tyreese look like a thumb-wrestling match (really hoping Daryl headbutt-shoves the sheriff like he did to Bob Barskdale).
With the Guv surfacing outside the prison, we knew he’d be the focus this week. But I wasn’t expecting a full detour, taking us all the way back to the Woodbury massacre, as the Guv and his last remaining henchmen sped away from the folks he gunned down. The campfire scene establishes just how out of his mind the Guv has become; as a Little House on the Prairie–looking zombie crawls toward him, he’s motionless, with a death-wish look in his eye. An unintentionally funny scene unfolds the next morning, as the Guv crawls out of a tiny yellow tent. With the eyepatch and the overcoat, he looks like a goth club kid the day after an all-night rave, walking home in broad daylight, looking ridiculous.
So what’s a lonely mass murderer to do when his henchmen leave him stranded in an apocalyptic wasteland? Hop in a big rig, haul ass, and go set that old town of yours on fuckin’ fire! I chuckled a bit at the dramatic slo-mo shot of the Guv as Woodbury burns behind him and zombies wander aimlessly. And again, as we see the Guv months later — bearded, stumbling, sidestepping zombies nonchalantly, looking more like a walker than a man. The episode sticks to this season’s theme of searching for humanity within a most inhumane existence. But how can a guy who slaughtered innocent people, assaulted Maggie, stabbed Milton, sentenced Andrea to death by zombie, and maintained a walker-head aquarium find any sort of redemption?
He begins with a new identity — Brian Hariot, a name he saw scrawled on the side of a barn. That’s how he introduces himself when he meets an odd family hiding in a dilapidated building. First there’s Tara, who says she’s Atlanta po-lice but is really just a cadet with a potty mouth, a loaded Smith & Wesson, and no idea how to effectively kill a zombie (head shots, dumbass!). I liked her at first, especially when she couldn’t get the Guv to open his mouth (“Holy shit with the no talking”). But then she told him to “pound it,” and my brief crush ended.
Then there’s Tara’s sister, Lilly, the nurse who takes pity on the Guv for reasons that are never quite clear. I guess he’s got the tall, dark, and handsome thing going for him, even with the Grizzly Adams beard and the eye patch. They both have dead spouses, so that’s a plus. We also learn later that Lilly is a major horn dog, as she doesn’t mind getting some action with her sister and daughter sleeping next to her. Lilly is taking care of her dad, who’s still looking for a cigarette despite his stage-four lung cancer — and really, with walkers and a fatal disease, who could blame him for wanting to chain-smoke his way to oblivion? Lilly also has a daughter, Megan, who doesn’t speak much, but has a thing for backgammon, asking inappropriate questions about the deformed and pinky swearing.
Slowly, the Guv drops the silent act and starts helping this crew — fetching a game set for Megan, and more dangerously, raiding a retirement home for the old man’s oxygen tanks. But why? Not for more Spaghetti-Os, considering he dumped a plateful out the window. No, the Guv ain’t interested in a lifetime supply of jerky. He’s searching for spiritual sustenance, trying to start over and leave his past behind. First he folds his family photo at the corner so only his wife and daughter are visible; it’s as though he can’t stand to see himself (or the self he used to be, long ago). Then he burns the snapshot, effectively erasing the only evidence of his life before Woodbury.
After the old man croaks — and the Guv bashes his zombie face in with an oxygen tank — the foursome hits the road in the food truck (which I guess they emptied out?). One good thing about this grave new world, at least for guys like the Guv, is that reinvention is easy. There’s plenty of metaphoric talk throughout the episode, like when the Guv teaches Megan to play chess. (“You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game,” he tells her. If only Bob Barksdale was around to give Megan some real lessons.) By the end, the Guv has a new love and a surrogate daughter.
Then there’s one last adrenaline shot to make life tough on the Guv’s adopted family. Tara gets startled by a crow, falls down, and hurts herself. (Worst. Wannabe. Cop. Ever.) Zombies show up. They run into the woods, and in a wicked twist, the Guv and Megan end up in what appears to be one of the zombie-bait pits they used at Woodbury. The Guv goes absolutely medieval on the walkers — tearing out a throat and snapping its skull in half with a bone. Rather than faint or cry or vomit after witnessing this horror, Megan decides she likes this side of her new daddy.
The happy ending is ruined by one of the Guv’s old henchmen, who surveys the scene in the pit and says, appropriately, “Holy shit.” How much longer can “Brian” keep Lilly and his new family from learning who he was, and still may be? I’m guessing the Guv ends up alone and bitter, deciding that his life was ruined not thanks to a worldwide zombie pandemic, or his own insanity, but because Rick and his posse butted in. That sends him to the prison, where he’s been luring walkers to the gates in hopes of getting his revenge. Or does he show up there asking for help?
Parts of the Governor’s tale worked, but overall, it was a bit slow and one note. He’s a great villain, but for all his efforts to regain his humanity, we can’t forget or forgive the atrocities he’s committed. That’s the challenge in branching off into a separate story line. It worked brilliantly with Rick last season in “Clear,” when he’s reunited with his old walkie-talkie buddy. But the show quickly circled back. Judging by the previews for next week, it seems we’re hanging with the Guv for a while longer. Hopefully his path will bring him — and us — back to the prison gang soon.