Each week in “Walking with the Dead,” David Dunham reflects on the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
An entire episode about the Governor? I’ll admit, I’ve been curious about what happened to him after the end of last season. We all knew he was going to make a comeback, but this isn’t exactly the same Governor. He is seemingly changing, and that change is tied up in finding a new family. The return of parenthood, however, just doesn’t seem like a believable story of redemption.
Redemption continues to haunt Season 4. Episode one highlighted Rick’s own struggle with it. He wants to know if he “can ever come back” to the man he was before the dictatorship. Can he be redeemed from his choices, choices to kill, choices to ignore those in need. This episode asks the same questions of the Governor. Can he be redeemed too? One key to redemption in the show is children. Throughout the show the child/parent relationship plays a vital role in helping a person keep a firm grip on reality, or lose it completely.
This is certainly the case with Rick and Carl. When Rick realizes that Carl has become hardened to death and murder, it brings him to his senses. His burden for Carl and Judith becomes the strand that keeps him tied to the real world. For Carol it seems that the loss of Sophia continues to shape her into Season 4. She became increasingly detached and pragmatic. She wrestles with how to relate to Lizzy – one of the young girls in the prison that Carol has taken as her charge. It’s clear that she loves Lizzy and thinks of her in daughter-like terms, but she won’t allow herself to love her too much or commit too much to her. She has no sentimentality about sending her into quarantine. She even insists, “don’t call me mom.” Such is true of the Governor too.
The loss of Penny destroyed any empathy that the Governor possessed. Though the she had long since turned into a walker, the Governor still saw his daughter when he looked at her. Michonne’s killing of her sent him into a massive downward spiral. He became consumed with revenge on Rick and Michonne. His discovery of the little girl in this episode changes things. The Governor is an emotional wreck at the start of this episode. He is seemingly ready to die. The reality of what he did at the end of Season Three has caught up with him. We hear his voice-over conversation at the start of the episode. Where was he previously? He was in a town. It was safe and full of good people, but the man in charge lost it. “I barely got out alive,” he says. Thus, he attempts to distance himself from who he was. He does not want to be the Governor anymore, in fact he has burned Woodbury to the ground. He even burns his family photo. He is not who he was. Now he is Brian, and Brian has found a new family. It’s the sight of Megan up in the window that draws him into the apartment complex. Prior to that he is wandering aimlessly, barely surviving, barely avoiding walkers. But this girl has revived his fight. He will risk his life to go and get her a chess a game. He will risk his life to go get an oxygen tank for the only man who can make Megan smile. There’s something about this child that stirs up his will to live once again.
A fan on The Talking Dead recently asked: are children a sign of hope or a liability in the post-apocalyptic world. In The Walking Dead I think the answer is “both.” Hope is always risky in the zombie apocalypse. Children give our characters something worth fighting for, and hold out the hope for a future existence. But they can slow them down and impede their survival. Loving them too is risky, because when they die it’s not a loss like every other. It’s the loss of hope. The Governor has experienced this kind of loss and devastation. Perhaps rediscovering this kind of relationship is just what he needs to come back.
I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child. I can’t imagine that heartbreak; I don’t even want to think about it too long. There’s something powerful about the relationship between parents and their children. Children are no doubt a problem to certain lifestyles. My wife and I had to change a lot of things about our life when our daughter came along. But there is also something profoundly compelling in wrapping your kid up in your arms and holding them. Loving like that changes you in ways you didn’t know possible. Suddenly who you were, all that you have done wrong or failed at seems to fade. Your child doesn’t know you as the geek who got beat up in high school. They don’t know you as the employee who got fired. They don’t know you as the Governor; they just know you as dad. Children give us the hope that we can be better, that we can be different. They offer the hope that we can view ourselves like they do. The parent-child relationship changes us in significant ways. Losing that relationship would have to as well.
This whole episode felt a bit forced and cliché at times. The Governor’s conversation with Megan while playing chess was an incredibly heavy-handed metaphor. And it might be a stretch to suggest that the Governor’s redemption is potentially realized in replacing Penny. The Walking Dead regularly emphasizes, however, the significance of human contact. Love is still a powerful compulsion at the end of the world. Maybe we can think about “degrees of redemption.” After all, the Governor has done incredibly wicked things. Loving one girl won’t make up for all of that. There is no question, however, that it is reshaping him. Love brings about a type of redemption, and even if I didn’t like this episode all that much, that’s a message I can appreciate.