This episode was, at its core, unexpected. I knew we’d get an episode about the governor, but to go back in time, in a sense, back to where we left the governor last season, was pleasantly jarring. It took us back out of the prison, but also took us back out of the present. So as much as I enjoyed this episode, for reasons which I’ll of course go into, I do have one main concern looking ahead: how long will it take us to get us back into the present, with the governor and the prison finally converging together in what was promised us at the end of last week’s episode? Based on the preview for next week, it might be a while. Which might make me antsy, not going to lie.
However, I will first go through the episode piece by glorious piece. And to do this, I must set aside these personal apprehensions as to the pacing and digressions the show sometimes takes this season, and whether they will be worth it as they have been so far or if they will eventually prove too distracting and uneven.
So let us begin with what is arguably one of the most creative, beautiful and chilling opening sequences in the series’ history. I loved the voice over in which the governor says the “man in charge” lost it, meanwhile we watch him brood in front of a burning Woodbury. And let me just say, he really let himself go. When he first stumbles upon the family he ends up bonding and staying with, he is quietly disheveled but also more human than we’ve ever seen him. He retrieves a backgammon board for this replacement-Penny as I like to consider her, and ventures to find an oxygen tank for her grandfather.
The most powerful progression in the episode is specifically that between the governor and this little girl, whose real name is Megan and whose sincerity is so dynamic, her status as pseudo-daughter for the governor is made all the more heart-wrenching. So they bond, then she fears him (when he is forced to kill the undead grandfather after he loses his battle with lung cancer), then she runs into his arms when they flee the house and run into a herd of walkers on foot, and it is capped off finally by their falling into a pit with walkers.
This scene was my absolute favorite in the episode and honestly one of my favorites this season. First of all, the coolest kills happened in this scene: one where Phillip/Brian/the governor pulls the throat out of one, and pounds another in the ground, and pulls the top jaw upwards in order to crack open the head of another. Then, he solidifies his bond with Megan when he tells her he would never let anything happen to her: cross his heart.
But then, we see the governor’s past come back to haunt him at the top of the pit in the form of Martinez, one of his former henchmen, who had dramatically shot a walker who the governor was just watching come through a campfire towards himself. This is where I get nervous: the governor has met a new family, who will probably now be absorbed somewhat into a different camp where there will be plenty of drama. But I’m going to miss our usual gang if that goes on for too long. I love having a break now and again from the usual structure, setting, and characters but at the same time, there are too many questions left hanging in the air, too many unresolved issues that I want addressed: like Daryl’s reaction to Carol being booted off the island so to speak, or what the medicine is doing for those who are sick.
All that being said, I appreciated David Morrissey’s performance in this episode. I actually felt bad for him, despite everything that happened last season, and you almost got the sense that he was too far removed from these events to care about revenge or being evil anymore, at least for the moment. I loved getting a glimpse into where the governor had been this whole time, I just wonder how much time we will devote to catching us up and getting him back into full blown villain mode, if that is indeed what is in store for his character.
After all, this new adopted family seems like a saving grace for a man who burnt his own family photo after holding and folding it throughout this episode, just like he burnt the town which once represented his power and control. Plus, I loved the fact that the pit he and Megan found themselves in was probably one of his former walker traps from season 3. What goes around comes around, even if you desperately don’t want it to.
So, I give this episode 3 and a half out of 5 chess pieces with drawn on eye patches; it was amazing to have a character who is so layered and fascinating come back in the way that the governor did in this episode, and to have him interact so tragically with a little girl who recalls for him his own ‘murdered’ daughter (her questioning him about his eye patch was just plain adorable, and the way he was able to joke around that he was secretly a pirate was also adorable but not without a painful undertone that comes with knowing how he really lost his eye and hearing the way he vaguely recounts this for her).
I only lopped off points because of my personal worry that this episode could be the first of an indefinite amount that veer too off track for too long. But maybe that too just depends on one’s definition of “on track” for a show which has always incorporated new characters and story lines to keep itself from rotting like its walkers do. And in a way, I’d probably be just as frustrated if we did launch right into the present with no understanding of just how rock bottom the governor had truly hit in the months that have passed peacefully in the prison; because how ever long it manages to take, I know that things will eventually come together and we’ll be all the wiser because of these episodes that are more retrospective in nature.