Last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead” was a relatively elegant resolution to the melodramatic mini-saga that has been the rebirth of The Governor. Last week, it seemed he’d found a new family and thereby redemption. But, of course, it was only a matter of time before he reverted to the murderous tyrant who ruled Woodbury with proverbial iron fist. Sunday’s “Dead Weight” struggled with some clunkiness — enough with using chess to telegraph the man’s trajectory — but where the episode scored is how it resolved the apparent conflict in the Gov’s personality. He is, at heart, a family man, a protector. Last night, we witnessed how that nature counterintuitively twists him and drives him to ruthlessness. Call it “Breaking Brian.”
Let’s skip over little Megan asking Brian if he was ever “bad” and his cryptic response. She’s a kid; he doesn’t have to tell her the truth anyway. “You seem different now — changed,” suggests Martinez later. “Are you?” That’s the big question at hand. But, in the moment, it seems that Martinez is the one who has changed. Out from under The Governor’s supervision, Martinez — who is guilty of crimes similar to those of his former boss — has softened. He runs a camp, commands armed lieutenants, but he wears self-doubt like a soiled military shirt. Sure, he stonewalls his old friend at first, but once old One-Eye Bri is within the fold, Martinez can’t wait to divvy up the burden of leadership.
Brian doesn’t want that. We know this because, after bludgeoning Martinez with a golf club at the mere mention of sharing, he screams “I don’t want it. God dammit!” We’ve seen this before. Earlier this season, Rick tried hard to throw off the mantle of leadership to no avail. In these times, nobody wants to be in charge — for reasons Martinez made abundantly clear before he ended up in pit of biters and discarded Titleists. Nevertheless, ex-soldier Pete admirably steps up to run the little camp. Pete, like Rick, is a good man. We know this because A) his pillage-minded brother Mitch is not and B) because he is very handsome. Bearing first-hand witness to the sibling rivalry brewing, Brian’s first instinct is to flee. ”What about Pete?” protests Lily as he barks at her to pack. “You said he was a good man.” He snaps back, “Well, I was wrong,” knowing that good is simply not good enough.
While trying to get his surrogate family to freedom, Brian nearly drives their automobile right into a metaphor: A pit of undead, stuck in the mud, leaderless, practically climbing over each other to escape and eat. That is, unless this night-driving sequence is just a dream — which, honestly, it kind of feels like. (Remember that clunkiness, I mentioned earlier?) Either way, this is presumably where Brian realizes that the only way to protect the ones he loves is by killing Pete — who, I guess, he doesn’t even like — and taking charge of the camp. There is no room for mercy or morality when it comes to survival. Mitch accepts this when he agrees to be Brian’s second. Kowtowing to his brother’s killer kind of makes Mitch seem like a soulless dirtbag, but as we know from Merle, dirtbag brothers make great flunkies.
After the safety and relative beauty of Woodbury, there is no way that this camp, with its meager barbwire perimeter and leaky trailers, would ever be good enough for the hulking man with the eye patch. He soon returns to his own personal Alamo — the prison — but not before staring another metaphor in the face. Looking down at Zombie Pete, flailing helplessly at the bottom of a lake, The Governor sheds the timid Brian persona forever. This is what happens to “good” men. Moments later, discreetly watching Rick till the soil with Carl, he appears certain that he is the stronger of the two leaders. Then, as he points his gun at a smiling, unsuspecting Michonne, it seems that, for his second term as Governor, he will stick to a tried and true strategy: kill or be killed.