Walking with the Dead: In which the Governor Remembers who He Is
How do you accept who you are when who you are is a monster? Often culture teaches us to love ourselves just as we are. Accept who you are and you’ll find the happiness you seek, we are assured. The Governor’s struggle to accept himself, however, seems a far more complicated matter. While he wants to be Brian– a simple family man, far more interested in survival than in rebuilding civilization–, he realizes in this episode that he has to be the Governor. The Governor’s return comes only as he begins to see the value of the monster within.
For weeks now Brian has been fighting for supremacy over the Governor. With a new family and a new camp he wants to put the past behind him completely. His former enforcer from Woodbury, Martinez, wants to relive moments, but Brian won’t swap stories. He won’t be the Governor again. He makes that point very dramatically when Martinez attempts to rope him into sharing authority over the new camp. He doesn’t want that power and authority again, and he screams “I don’t want it” while he hangs Martinez over a pit of walkers. He’s clinging to the name Brian, but like the other weak leaders in this new camp, Brian is going to have to be removed.
The Governor returns in this episode. He has learned to accept who he is and what he must do to survive. Unbeknown to himself, Martinez helps him to come to this conclusion. He and the Governor discuss another of their former friends from Woodbury. While atop the RV hitting golf balls Martinez says, “Some things you just can’t come back from. They become part of who you are. Either you live with them or you don’t.” Moments after this discussion Martinez is dead, and the real Governor has returned. He tries one last time to give dominion to Brian, but his escape route is blocked. In turn, he says the only thing he can do is “survive.” Survival is what the Governor does best.
This internal struggle isn’t nearly as Jekyl-and-Hyde as it might seem. The Governor is not at war within himself over two different persons, he is trying to hide who he really is behind the façade of Brian. He really is the monster. Slowly, however, he comes to see the value of the monster. He killed Martinez, and he killed Pete the weak replacement leader, because they couldn’t protect his family. Pete, in particular, is weak, he says, because he wants to be the hero. Everyone loves a hero, but they need the Governor. Heroes just end up getting themselves killed. He recounts the story of his brother who tried to protect him from an abusive father. “He got two black eyes and a broken rib, and I got beaten anyway,” he says. Heroes are weak. He outlines a better leadership philosophy:
Join me and you will never have to worry about doing the right thing or the wrong thing, cause we will do the only thing.
Morality is a liability in this world, and the Governor can protect these people because he doesn’t care about morality. The zombie apocalypse doesn’t need a hero, it needs a monster. A violent age requires a violent leader. It requires the Governor.
The Walking Dead is clearly an exploration in morality. It sets up the Governor alongside Rick and asks us to consider: who is the better leader, who can truly protect you? It’s not enough just to ask “who is good,” the larger question is can “good” keep you alive? In the zombie apocalypse morality gets reduced to pragmatism: if it can provide for us, or keep us alive, then it is good, and only then. The monster can protect them, therefore the monster is good. But such an approach betrays the very love that the Governor feels for his new family. You can’t have genuine love and also believe that morality is reducible to “what works best.” True love calls for something higher, something transcendent. True love requires true morality. True love can’t survive long when the monster is leading the way. That is, of course, why the Governor needs to pretend be Brian before the eyes of the community. He thinks the Governor alone can save them, but if they see the Governor they will hate him. As much as he might be necessary for survival, he is still socially unacceptable. Even in the zombie apocalypse society still believes in some form of a moral standard.