Chasing Contentment by Erik Reymond, Free for CAPC Members
In Chasing Contentment, Erik Reymond identifies the lie that satisfaction and contentment come through consumption.
Each week in “Walking with the Dead,” David Dunham reflects on the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Checkmate. There’s no more chess for the Governor after Michonne stabs him through the heart. His assault on the prison confirmed what viewers suspected last week: the Governor is back in full-force. His resurgence comes as he reconciles himself to his immutability. Experience has told him he can’t change, no matter what Rick says. The normative role of his experience leaves him with no hope of redemption.
Our experiences are a vital part of our comprehension of truth. We learn about the reality of “hot” by touching things that are hot. We learn that heartbreak is painful because we go through it. People may tell us things, but we don’t often truly know something until we experience it. But for the Governor his experiences seem to have encapsulated his entire perspective on the truth. It is not a piece of the puzzle, it’s the whole picture. Throughout this episode he reveals experience as the sole source of his truth.
At the beginning of the episode he tells the camp that before he met his new family he was ready to die. He couldn’t accept, he tells us, that “you couldn’t live in this world without getting blood on your hands.” Experience has dictated that reality for him. Bloodied hands is an experience Rick can echo. He tells the Governor’s new army “we’ve all done the worst kinds of things just to stay alive.” But Rick has had other experiences too, experiences of redemption, of “coming back” from the bad things he’s done. The Governor has not. He tells his new love interest that being prepared to kill the people at the prison is the only way they can survive. He says, “it was always gonna be like this.” Experience demands that he kill, and his experience is his justification.
The only reality for the Governor is an existential reality. When Hershel tries to dissuade him from attacking the prison he asks, “If you understand what it’s like to have a daughter then how can you threaten to kill someone else’s?” The Governor has only one response, “because they aren’t mine.” He can kill anyone’s daughters if they’re not his. If he hasn’t experienced that loving relationship then it has no value. His experience is the only standard. That distinction is what makes Rick and the Governor so different.
Rick’s experience says people can change. He speaks to the army at the fence and assures them, “you put down your weapons, walk through those gates you’re one of us. We let go of all of it.” He tells them, “we get to come back.” He has experienced that himself. He ruled with an iron fist, he was prepared to torture, kill, and abandon anyone if it would protect the core group. But the Ricktatorship has ended. He tells the Governor, “I don’t make the decisions anymore.” Rick came back from those bad decisions because he believed in an objective morality beyond his experiences. He makes this point to Carl at the end of season three. They’re going to welcome the former Woodbury people into camp because it is right, it doesn’t matter what experience has taught them. That’s the great difference between the Governor and Rick. There’s right and wrong, and even when survival calls him to blur those lines he doesn’t do so without great inner turmoil. Experience is important, but it’s not supreme.
The Governor is ruled by his experiences. Rick’s speech at the fence is more than he can bear. “Liar,” he says as he swings the sword into the side of Herschel’s neck. The legitimacy of the Governor’s redemption has been the unanswered question of the last two episodes. In this episode it finally comes to resolution: there is no redemption for the Governor. When forced to shoot his new daughter before she turns he doesn’t even blink. There’s no emotion, no pathos. He can’t change because his experiences tell him redemption isn’t possible. His actions reveal his hopelessness. He kills without mercy. That’s the Governor regular viewers have come to expect, but it’s the belief in moral objectivity that makes his final demise satisfactory for regular viewers.
The Governor’s story has, at some level, felt like an intrusion into the normal development of the story. The show has revolved around our main characters, largely around Rick. This departure has felt somewhat annoying. Why should we care about the Governor enough to endure this story? The Governor has always provided the foil to our main hero. The contrast is not just about morality, it’s also about hope. The Governor can’t see past his experiences, but his end serves as a warning to others. His story gives other characters in the story a model. His story calls them to believe in hope. In the zombie apocalypse these characters need a hope that says there is more to life than what they experience.
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