The Governor and a Few Thoughts About the DeadIs it really May 11 already? It's about damn time I posted some thoughts. It's been too long. Now let's celebrate Mother's Day weekend with some good old-fashioned zombies and horrible humans. Enjoy.
Spoilers ahead. Please catch up to the third season finale before reading.
In the ocean of mostly awful, annoying, or pointless television there are always a few rare gems. Among those, a show has to be exceedingly special for me to write about it. I'm just one person after all, so I have to be selective. I've praised Supernatural and Doctor Who in the past, both wonderfully creative shows with big themes that also understand the importance of character development. Though, my time has been limited and I haven't so much as mentioned them for far too long...unless they're on t-shirts, which they often are. I've written tens of thousands of words and spent hundreds of hours of my time talking about Fringe, my biggest TV obsession. You know that if you've ever been here before. But now that Fringe has been over for more than three months and is no longer a full-time volunteer job, I've been freed somewhat to focus on other series. Lately I can't stop thinking ofThe Walking Dead, one of the few that truly deserves to be remembered. I just haven't had the opportunity to write anything since I marathoned the first season just after it had ended. But the addition of the great David Morrissey as Philip Blake, The Governor, has been nothing short of the best decision that the producers have ever made, and my mind won't stop nagging me to finally say something.
The Walking Dead felt special from the get-go, with a man, Rick Grimes (if you didn't know and are reading anyway despite my spoiler warning), waking up alone in an abandoned hospital, wires and panels ripped from the ceiling, blood on the floors, bullet holes in the walls. We took a journey of discovery with him though death and devastation. It's a feeling I'd never had watching TV before. I was amazed by the sense of epic destruction but soon realized it was going to be so much more. I fell in love with it in the first episode when Morgan, the first living soul Rick came across, tried to shoot his wife, who had fallen victim, but broke down instead. I couldn't keep back the tears when Rick talked to a zombie before shooting, apologizing for what had happened to her. Since then there has been so much to put a lump in my throat or jump out of my seat, and my love for it get deeper each passing week. The third season ended in March, but this is one show that packs an emotional punch in every episode and always sticks with me long (loooong) after most others have faded. I will be thinking about it until the next season starts and provides more harrowing situations and dramatic deaths, and I'll always have a wealth of episodes to refer to when in need of an example of incredible writing and acting.
Two of those episodes that are the very best (ie. most effective at shocking and saddening) are from the end of the third season, just prior to the finale. "This Sorrowful Life" was a perfect send off for Merle, a character that up until then I thought could only work against the group and I just hoped would get zombie chomped, although I did find him to be entertaining in his nastiness. And Philip stalking Andrea through the warehouse in "Prey" while whistling was one of the creepiest and most suspenseful scenes of the series...of any series. It also brought back the theme I associate with him that sounds like a relentless pulsing. A heartbeat in the grip of a diseased madness: threatening and frightening. That's what I thought of immediately when I first heard it in "When the Dead Come Knocking," and that's apparently what Bear McCreary intended, because it's called "The Pulse." It was near the end of the episode, I think, when Philip was holding Andrea. The scene isn't on YouTube, but I did find the music. A second version of "The Pulse" was used in the finale, "Welcome to the Tombs." But the one in "Prey" is actually a bit different and is called "The Governor's Madness." They all have the similar nonstop, ominous, synthesized rhythm, though, and that's what I remembered. Together they set the mood so perfectly - building dread, fear, and tension - that these companion pieces (like "Hello Zepp" and "Zepp Overature" from Saw) are without a doubt some of my favorite tracks ever.
But it's not just the music I'm enamored with. From the beginning, the story was gripping, tragic, and acted with conviction. I loved the first season for the way they introduced this new world, its terrors and the scope of the destruction. I became invested in the characters after such a short time. I was nervous the entire first half of the second season for the desperate search for Sophia, because each unsuccessful day ended in a little more hope lost. The reveal at the end was one of the most devastating moments in television. Then I was riveted by the second half for Shane's continued descent into the darkness that had taken root in him and where that ultimately led, the sad loss of another beloved character, and the harrowing escape from the farm.
Then there's the third season, my favorite because of the addition of The Governor. I'd read not long after it was revealed in the second season finale that the prison storyline was going to be something to really look forward to. I recently read that the man depicted in the graphic novel had no depth or nuance and was too outwardly evil to be a realistic leader that people trust and gravitate toward. I'll have to see for myself at some point. But the actor, David Morrissey (@davemorrissey64), has been fantastic from his first charming smile, a smile that I'm not sure ever really reached his eyes. There was so much beneath the surface that was only hinted at in the beginning and so much hidden from the characters around him, but that simple gesture put the blind at ease and the wary on edge.
Morrissey has been a perfect choice, because he brilliantly plays broken, unstable, vulnerable, dangerous; in other words, human. He has conveyed insanity, rage, and despair simultaneously and doesn't need to say a word to be chillingly intimidating. Charismatic and manipulative, fascinating and terrifying, and falling apart at the seams, Philip Blake is alternately deeply sympathetic and stunningly brutal. He keeps me on edge, because I never know if he's going to shoot someone or thank them. He has turned out to be one of my favorite villains of all time, equal to Heath Ledger's Joker. Therefore, I think I have another favorite actor...no, not think. When I sacrifice sleep to find interviews, I know.
I am fascinated with the development and escalation of this deeply damaged character. Philip completely unraveled after losing his daughter for a second time, no longer able to desperately cling to the hope he could get her back. In the finale he told Milton that if he'd been like this (ie. sadistic and uncompromising) when Penny was alive then she would have been afraid of him but she would have been safe. So, he blames himself. Damn. This guy really needed a post-apocalyptic therapist.
"When this awful thing happens and she turns into a Walker, he's got to carry on fulfilling those promises. So things like brushing her hair just broke my heart. It's just great."David Morrissey, BullettMedia Interview
On top of that, he lost his wife, his world, his eye, his sense of control, and trust in his closest allies. Merle lied about killing Michonne, brought the wrath of the prison by kidnapping Maggie and Glenn, chose Daryl over him, and then tried to kill him. Andrea, the woman he seemingly started to care for, betrayed him and went to tell the prison group his plan. And Milton helped Andrea escape and then gave up the chance to redeem himself in The Governor's eye(s). In the end he had nothing left save for revenge, and here were all of his able-bodied people retreating against orders. In a jaw-dropping moment that I saw coming in Morrissey's thousand-yard stare only seconds before it happened, The Governor slaughtered his militia. It was a terrible thing and sadly puts the character beyond redemption, but he was never strong enough mentally to really survive. Though he had become a leader, the man he was died with his daughter, the only thing he had in the world, the one thing he was supposed to protect. So he forged on, transforming into someone that would do anything to keep his town safe and his people dependent upon him. When they failed him, he snapped, completely letting go of any last spark of descency or sanity. It was a terrible thing, but it saved the prison group for now. Unfortunately, Rick took in the remaining citizens of Woobury, so there will be more hungry mouths to feed, more people to get attached to, and more new friends to rip away. Fortunately, and contrary to the original story, Philip survived instead of Andrea. I love this change, because he is a far better character on the show and so terrific to watch.
In fact, the only thing about this season I didn't like was Andrea continuing to be ineffectual. I kept hoping she would grow on me. I'm sorry that this is the first death of a group member that didn't affect me all that much. I thought it would. The last time I cried for Andrea was when her sister died. The last time I felt sorry for her was when she was left behind at the farm house. In contrast, I was floored by Merle's final act and really his entire final episode. His talk with Michonne was a brilliant piece of writing and acting to make me forget for a while how awful Merle had been. Then in an unexpected moment of courage and selflessness - mixed with the knowledge that he didn't fit in anywhere - he let Michonne go and sacrificed himself for his brother. I never thought they would give him more depth. I wish we'd been allowed to know more of this side of him before the end. Daryl's breakdown upon finding Merle turned (shot in the chest instead of the head) was so hard to watch, but beautifully acted by both Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker.
I also had tears for Milton, who did not deserve to die so slowly, and for Michonne because she lost a friend. I was stunned that Woodbury ambushed the prison and murdered Axel. I was just starting to get to know and like him, and I was smiling because of something he said when the bullet took his life. Morgan (from the pilot!) returned as a shell of what he had been, crazed and alone after losing his son, Duane. T-Dog, someone I barely knew but who was there from the beginning, sacrificed himself for Carol, so I miss him. I was even sad for Otis, and he was there for just two episodes. I knew nothing about him, except that he risked his life for a kid he didn't know. I cried for Jim, who was left bitten and alone under a tree. The first time I saw Dale I was positive that the old guy of the group was going to go sooner rather than later, but I let myself get attached to him anyway. Sophia's exit is a scene forever burned into my mind. I was stunned when she shambled out of the barn. I felt a loss when Lori died because of Rick's devastation. His agonized howl was gut-wrenching, and his subsequent the telephone conversations with ghosts were mesmerizingly haunting(?). But I really had no good feelings toward Lori after she basically told Rick he needed to "take care" of Shane and then was appalled when he actually did so in self-defense. There's no way Shane was coming back, so I was glad of his death but was deeply affected at the same time. Shane struggled so much. It was a depressing end for him, but after he aimed a gun at his friend's head while they were searching the woods together and later sacrificed Otis, I was very wary and scared of him. I was hoping until the last moment that Shane could be saved while simultaneously willing Rick to pull the trigger, as if anything I felt strongly enough about would change what the writers had already written and the actors had already filmed.
So what happened with Andrea? Laurie Holden did a great job with what she was given, and I will always sort of miss her and feel that she's a part of the family. But the character was so standoffish and she seemed to make bad decision after bad decision, such as not killing Phil the Raging Maniac when she had the chance because she couldn't bring herself to do it. Still, I wanted Andrea to survive and make it to the prison not just for the sake of the group, and not because I loved her (I didn't, unfortunately), but because she wanted to save people. Also, she was a fighter and her death scene seemed out of character. Andrea should have been able to defeat one zombie, but she wasted time talking and then dropped the pliers on her first attempt. Of course, picking a tool up with your feet while strapped to a chair would be quite hard to do, but it was predictable and a let down. Predictable is a word I hardly ever associate with The Walking Dead, but everyone in TV and movies always drops whatever important thing they need at just the wrong time. I was like, "She going to drop the pliers. Yup. Wow, what a surprise." It actually served to reduce the tension and take me out of the moment, and then they cut away in another failed attempt to be suspenseful. If Andrea had been unable to free herself because Milton turned earlier or if the struggle had been shown and we could see she was too exhausted to fend him off then it would have been more exciting. So that was frustrating, yet Milton's part in it was heartbreaking. The likeable, soft-spoken guy finally stood up to the big bad and lost his life for it but struggled to stay alive long enough for Andrea to escape. Oh well, it's just a small blemish in this consistently tense and intriguing show. I forgive the writers because of what they gave me with Daryl and Merle's emotional final scene, for the Governor's closing act - the moment any remaining spark of decency in him was extinguished - and for every other gut-wrenching moment before.
Now I can't wait for season 4. There's so much promise in a continuing storyline with The Governor, because he won't let his downfall go unanswered, even though he should kinda probably maybe sort of possibly be blaming himself for being such a d-bag. I hope they don't write The Governor in a way that I want him to die early next season, though. I love to hate him. I love to see his progression, losing his grip more with each episode. I mean, he's so awful that he won't survive forever (he's too reckless for that now), and I don't want the show to get stale, but David Morrissey is astounding and I hope he's around for a while. He revitalized the show and brought a living, scheming menace to it more dangerous than just a horde of slow-moving zombies. Without a doubt, he puts everything into this role. Just fantastic. But I feel that after his time as The Governor is up, Morrissey's next show has to cast him as the most soft-hearted marshmallow ever just to make up for all the evil. ;) I've not often felt so physically and emotionally drained by television, but I can't wait to do this all over again. It's going to be a long wait.