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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the “Live Bait” episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead revealed the Governor’s (David Morrissey) backstory Sunday with an episode that picked up immediately where season three concluded, showing the eye-patched villain on the road after his brutal massacre on his own group.
Out on the road after his two henchmen abandon him overnight, the Governor sets up camp with a new group holed up in an apartment building (still!) waiting for the National Guard. There, he goes by a fake name (Brian) and shaves off his beard and shaggy hair — the signs of his downward spiral and the trademark image of his comic book counterpart. As he bonds with sisters Lily and Tara and young Megan, he saves their lives after their father passes and turns.
Ultimately, “Brian” and the girls hit the road together in search of a better shelter and a new life — as a new family after the Governor burns the photo of his late loved ones.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Morrissey to break down the events of the episode and preview next week’s second Governor-focused episode.
The Governor tried to reject companionship. Why?
What we see in episode six is a madman wanting to be isolated, to be on his own, not wanting to have any responsibility. But when he encounters this new family, he realizes that he can reinvent himself and his past. It can give him the opportunity to live as a different person. That’s a massively liberating thing for him; he didn’t want to get involved with anybody else and have to care about them, love them and have responsibility for them. He’s fighting that, but he loses that battle. He has to admit to himself that he does care and he can love. A normal society would think of that as a very positive emotion — that he is engaged. But in this world, it’s a dangerous emotion because if you’ve got something to lose and fight for, then you’re going to get hurt.
Why does the Governor burn down Woodbury?
There’s a sense of destruction about it that that was the place he built. His hopes and dreams of another future were placed in that community; that was where the new world was going to be formed. There’s something in that destruction — saying that isn’t going to happen, so let’s scorch that and get rid of it. It never existed to him. There’s a sense from then on that there is closure from his past — that Woodbury didn’t ever exist, that the people didn’t exist. There’s a blackness about him from then on. It’s just a blank space, and that’s what he walks away from. Woodbury was built and it could be built again. He doesn’t want anybody going to Woodbury. That was his dream and his hopes and dreams were put into that place. The last thing he wants is Rick or anyone to inhabit that space.
Where does he get the idea to use a fake name?
He sees this amazing bond on the wall with messages from survivors. Those are messages of hope, but when you see them written together, they’re really messages of despair and of a world gone mad. He sees it as a testament to how the world has gone crazy so that when he’s reinventing himself and he tells the story about the past and where he used to live, that name pops into his head. It gives him an identity and place because he’s able to say the name of a real person — somebody who he knows was on the road. It gives him a real chance at total reinvention. Inside that is hope that the name can live on.
The Governor at first folds over his portion of his family photo before ultimately burning it. What’s his thought process there? Can he no longer look at himself after what he’s done? Is he saying goodbye to his former family in place of a new one?
It’s a bit of both. What he looks at is a vision of goodness: his wife and child in good times — but he can’t look at himself because that vision of goodness is gone. When he reinvents himself, he’s acknowledging that that’s gone now and he has to let that go. He has to rebuild and reinvent and totally commit to going forward. His past is where there are stones around his feet that will only drag him down, and he’s got to really invest in his new life. He has to become this other man. He can no longer be Philip, and he has to take away all ties to the past.
We get a glimpse of what the Governor was like as a father when he bonds with young Megan. Is this a way of regaining his humanity?
There’s an amount of that that’s always there; it’s an innate thing. Nobody is all gray and no one is entirely bad. We are a mishmash of those things all the time. The Governor is not saying, “What would it be like to be nice to this young girl?” It’s a natural state for him to be, as natural as other messy stuff that he does. It does awaken a great responsibility in him for this girl, her mother and sister. He hates having responsibility, but he is a man who works well with it. Talking care of people he really loves is when he’s at his best; it’s not something that’s manufactured. What I like about that scene is that he’s really closed down; he’s not going to talk or engage with anybody else. The great thing about kids is they’re truth tellers. They don’t skirt around politeness. Everyone wants to say to him, “What happened to your eye?” but it takes this little girl to say, “What happened to your eye?” Because she asks him a direct question, it knocks him off-guard and he suddenly goes back to being this playful person. When he says he’s a pirate, she gets right under his defense and he starts laughing — and breaking down at the same time because he can laugh, cry and love. What he wanted more than anything is to build an imaginary padded cell so that nobody could touch him, and someone touches his heart, and from then on he’s just falling.
Lily and “Brian” wind up hooking up. How will he handle this romance in a way that’s different from Andrea?
He’s a different man. With Andrea, he had all sorts of secrets going on in order to keep Woodbury going. He had a different ego: He was in his mancave and he had all attributes of success and was drunk on power. He doesn’t have that now and is a man with nothing. He’s a homeless guy they take in. He’s a much more vulnerable man in every sense. He’s more emotional. He’s much more open, in a way. Even though he’s trying to keep people away from him, there’s something about how they touch him in a different way. He’s looking at Lily and Megan as if he’s looking at his own wife and child. There’s an element where he burns his past so that he has to invest in the future and the new people in his life. She’s a different woman as well: Andrea was a fighter and had seen terrible things and fought battles; Lily has been isolated in this apartment, and she needs protecting in different way.
Caesar (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Shumpert (Travis Love) — the lone witnesses to the Governor’s atrocity — abandon him, but he winds up crossing paths with Caesar at the end. How will “Brian” explain who he really is to Lily, Tara and Megan?
His real problem is that he has spent the entire episode reinventing himself with these people and then someone from his past walks right into his life. That’s going to be his problem in episode seven and from then on — how can he be Brian when he meets someone who knows all about his past? How is he going to play that? That will be his dilemma going forward. The question of how long he can keep this going for, that’s this season. From now on, the dance that he has to play is about which person he’s going to be. Who will win out? Will it be Brian or the Governor who wins out? Or a new character in between those two characters, who can walk that tightrope between those two emotions — that’s his dilemma throughout the season. That’s why it’s important not to preempt why he’s outside prison. We like to think that he’s there to create death and destruction, to be the slightly comic version of the Governor. But he might not be that person. There might be another twist in this man and his tale of humanity and how he negotiates survival.
People ask me all those questions all the time, and it’s not something I can say.
What will the Governor’s next interaction with Rick’s group look like?
Everyone is learning lessons about survival. Where does trust lie among these people? This season, we see a new threat happening to everybody: Are we stronger together or apart? The Governor is there and maybe he’s got a different plan about that prison and how he gets in there. Maybe he’s there to flush something out. We don’t know really. The real fine line is can there be trust from Michonne and the Governor? Rick and the Governor? What’s to be negotiated? We’ve seen in real life — in our life — that you have to negotiate with your fiercest enemy for the greater good. Revenge is generations and generations of misery. There’s a point where some generations get together and say, “Enough of this. We’re not going to negotiate with the enemy.” That might very well be played out on The Walking Dead.
What do you think of the “new” Governor? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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