Surviving: A Review of The Walking Dead Season 4, Episode 7 “Dead Weight”

Posted: November 26, 2013 in Reviews, The Walking Dead, TV
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Tonight’s episode slowed things down a bit more from last week’s already slow pace, meaning at times it almost felt as though things began to drag a little. This turned around in the second and third acts, and ended on a scene that clearly threatens two of the better liked characters in the show. Read more after the break.

<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S04E07, “Dead Weight.” Read more at your own risk.>>

The title of this week’s episode is “Dead Weight.” This is what Martinez warns the Governor they can’t have around the camp, and by the end of the episode, the Governor has done his best to remove as much of the dead weight as possible – only it’s not quite in the manner that Martinez intended.

The opening montage switches between scenes of Martinez introducing the Governor to his new group, and the Governor playing chess with Meghan. Naturally, the interplay between the two scenes acts both as a foreshadowing device (see my comments on making “moves” in the chess game below), and as a contrast between the action just witnessed in the pit (at the end of last episode), and the domestic scene of the Governor doing laundry and playing chess. I’ll discuss the initial introduction to Martinez’s group first.

After pulling Meghan out of the pit, Martinez hands a rope down to the Governor who then climbs out. He hears Lilly asking, “Are you okay, Brian?” and Martinez realizes he’s changed his name. Rather than exposing him, he plays along. Martinez starts to tell him about their camp, when another man in his group – Mitch (Kirk Acevedo – you might recognize him from Oz) – says, “Hell no, Martinez.” He doesn’t want to spread their thin supplies any further, but Martinez overrules him without a second thought. He tells the Governor that there are only two rules: “One, I’m in charge. Two, no dead weight. Contribute, or be cast out.” Much like Woodbury, everyone is expected to do their part for the community – the Governor agrees, and he and the Chambler women are accepted into the group.

The chess game is metaphor and symbol-rich. The Governor is doing laundry, wringing out wet clothes and hanging them on a line, while Meghan sits on a chair by him, a chessboard in front of her. He tells her that it is her move, and she says she’s thinking. “Can’t think forever,” he says. “Sooner or later you need to make a move.” She doesn’t like the fact that he never lets her win, and he tells her about how his dad never let him win either. “Was your dad mean?” she asks. “Sometimes.” “Were you bad?” “Sometimes.” This is about as open as the Governor gets – he’s being honest with Megan, yet is still cagey. Details rarely pass the man’s lips. He tells her that they’re all going to be okay, and she asks, “Because we’re good? All of us?” The Governor hesitates, then stands up, unable to reply. He turns his back and goes back to wringing out the clothing, as Meghan moves a bishop. She looks up at him: “Your turn.” He doesn’t turn back. “Brian? It’s your turn.” He scratches his chin and swallows, still not turning back. “I’m thinking,” he says, and the camera cuts to a wide shot: one end of the clothesline is attached to a camper – the other, to a main battle tank. The chess game is, as it always tends to be when we see it in movies, television, or books, a symbol for the wider game that is going on around it, the strategies and moves the characters are making. Moving the bishop is interesting; if Meghan had moved the king, or a pawn, it would have tied directly into their conversation last week. By moving the bishop instead, I think it suggests that the Governor still has options at this point: will he be this new man of peace he has been developing, or is he going to go full-Governor again? One thing for certain: he’s neither a pawn nor a king at this point, but he is, as he tells Meghan, “thinking.”

We next see the Governor and Lilly inside their camper. It’s sprung a leak (which looks suspiciously like a bullet hole), and they talk about fixing things. Of course, this is just more fodder for the Governor’s already over-worked imagination. He still doesn’t know what to make of Martinez, and the fact that he doesn’t simply fix the leak speaks volumes: he’s not ready to call this place a home. Fixing it puts his stamp on it, and at this point, he has no interest in doing that.

We go into the woods, where Martinez is leading a detail of the Governor, Mitch, and Mitch’s brother Pete (Enver Gjokaj, one of the regulars from Whedon’s Dollhouse). The Governor is only armed with a pistol, while the other men have automatic weapons. Mitch is trying to rile up the Governor, calling him One-Eye, and making threats, but the Governor doesn’t rise to the bait. They pass a pond that Pete tells him is dead, which foreshadows a later moment in the episode. They are approaching a survivalist’s cabin, hoping to find supplies. As they approach, the Governor spots the decapitated body of a soldier tied to a tree. It has a sign pinned to its chest: “LIAR.” When they get to the cabin, they find a second headless soldier in a recliner out front, this one with “RAPIST” on its chest. On the porch, they find a third – this one has its head, but the back of the skull is blown out by a self-inflicted gunshot. On its chest hangs a third sign: “MURDERER.” There’s also a picture at it’s feet, a picture of a man, a woman, and their child. It looks eerily like the Governor’s own family photo, the one he burned last week. The picture is placed here just in case we’ve missed the symbolism of the three bodies as we’ve approached the cabin. Each one sits as an accusatory finger pointed directly at the Governor and his conscience. He’s been attempting to turn over a new leaf, to become a new man, with the Chambler family and his new persona as Brian. But his subconscious mind, as manifested in these three bodies, won’t let him forget his hard, cold past. He’s a liar: he told the people of Woodbury he’d protect them; he’s a rapist: although it is only implied, we know he violated Maggie; and he’s a murderer: not only of those he and his people killed at the prison, but more importantly, of those whom he had promised to protect.

Back at the camp, Lilly has set up a nurse’s station, and is helping with basic first aid for the other survivors. A woman, a former soldier named Alisha (Juliana Harkavy), is getting treated for a minor wound, when Tara comes out of the trailer. The two women flirt a little – could they be the first openly gay characters in the show?

We go back to the cabin, where the Governor disposes of two walkers – the survivalist’s wife and child – and finds the soldier’s heads on the floor, still trying to bite. This is again an attempt to tie this place to the Governor; after all, he too used to keep the zombified heads of his enemies in his zombie aquarium. We move forward a bit, and see the men counting up their new-found supplies, and enjoying some beer they found. Martinez starts to talk about the old days in Woodbury, and the Governor is none too subtle in letting him know he’s not interested in talking about it. Peter tries to figure out what happened, and the Governor tells him not to think too much about it – after all, it’s a pretty close mirror to his own break with sanity, and he doesn’t want the reminders bringing his story out.

Later, Martinez is sitting at the Governor’s camper drinking beer with he and the women. He’s talking again about Woodbury, telling Lilly that it was a good place. She tells him she likes what he’s done with this camp, and that it’s the first time she’s felt safe. The Governor gives her a look, which she misses, as if to say, “Are you serious?” This isn’t about him being offended – he knew they weren’t really safe at the apartment – it’s about him realizing how terribly exposed they are in this camp. No walls, no protection. She tells Martinez he’ll have to tell here all about Woodbury one day, because “Brian” won’t say a word about it. The Governor says, “I say, leave the past in the past.”

Martinez shuts up, but looks concerned. He follows the Governor to the camper, and seeing the leak tells him he should take care of his home. Big mistake. The Governor gets out some duct tape and reluctantly fixes the leak, but in doing so is implicitly recognizing that this is now his situation, like it or not. He has to make the best of things, and in his thinking, that means doing whatever it takes to protect him and his own.

Martinez takes a bottle of whiskey, and he and the Governor go on top of a camper outside the main camp, shooting golf balls at walkers stuck in pits around them. Martinez tells him that Shumpert the Bowman is dead, that he’d gotten careless and was bitten. He tells the Governor, “There are some things you just can’t come back from, they become a part of who you are.” This is, of course, speaking directly to the internal struggle going on within the Governor at this moment. Can he afford to continue being Brian, or must he embrace his old self in order to preserve what he has now forged for himself? As if to help him come to a decision, Martinez compliments him on his new family, telling him that he couldn’t do that himself – he couldn’t risk losing them. Martinez then suggests that they could “share the crown,” share control of the group. This is no less than an admission to the Governor that he isn’t strong enough to keep them safe, and the Governor does what he needs to: he whacks Martinez in the head with a golf club. He rolls Martinez off the roof, and then drags him 50 yards to a zombie-filled pit, forcing him down inside to be eaten. As Martinez struggles, the Governor first yells, and then whispers as Martinez is taken, “I don’t want it…I don’t want it.” What is it he doesn’t want? Power? The crown that Martinez offers to share is an echo of last week’s chess match with Meghan, when she drew the eye-patch on the king. If the Governor is to govern, it’s not going to be in a timeshare arrangement.

Words cannot convey the shocking nature of this scene. It is sudden, it is visceral, and it really comes without warning. Certainly, in retrospect as I’m writing this review I can see all the signs leading to this moment, but the sheer violent brutality is simply stunning. If last week’s kill with the femur indicated the fury still within the Governor, this murder of his former lieutenant shows the cold pragmatism that really makes him tick. Martinez isn’t strong enough to lead? Fine, he can feed the biters.

Back in his trailer, Lilly finds the Governor crying on the edge of his bed. He tells her he’s had a bad dream, one which he cannot remember. But what he’s mourning here is not Martinez; it is instead the bad dream to which he is finding himself reawakening. He knows that if he is to keep his promise to Lilly and Meghan, if he is to keep them alive, he is going to have to go back into those dark places he thought he’d escaped. He’s mourning Brian.

The next day, Peter and Mitch tell the survivors that they’ve found “what’s left” of Martinez, and that Peter is going to be taking charge of the group. There is some protest, and he agrees to set up an election shortly. Meanwhile, he, Mitch, and the Governor go out to hunt for supplies. They see a camp of about a dozen people, well-armed and supplied, but while Mitch wants to take their food, Peter refuses – he doesn’t work that way. The Governor watches, but follows along. After they get a rather disappointing haul of a couple of squirrels, they come back across the camp, only to find everyone dead and the supplies taken. Mitch is angry, and stabs a nearly dead old man in the temple. Peter is upset at his brother, and the three men return to their camp. Each time Peter hesitates, the Governor gives him a look. If Martinez was weak, what does that make Peter? Completely untenable. Of greater long-term importance, however, is this: who raided the camp? They obviously came in quick, killed efficiently, and took everything, all without the Governor, Pete, or Mitch hearing anything. Watch for this group to play a role at some point in the future.

When the Governor gets back to the trailer, he’s nearly in a panic (but not because of the new, dangerous group of humans). “Pack your things,” he says, “this place isn’t safe anymore.” In his rush to go, he slips up, telling Lilly that he can’t lose them “again.” She looks surprised, but doesn’t press him. He is trying one last time to escape the inevitable. He still thinks he can run away – certainly, from Peter’s ineffectual leadership, but more importantly, from becoming himself again – but that slip is telling, as he’s literally reliving the events that led to losing Penny in the first place. He and the three Chambler women plus Tara’s new girlfriend, Alisha (yes, they’re now a couple), pile into a car and try to leave the camp that night. Before they get far, they come across a small mob of zombies stuck in mud, trying to get into the camp. Although it looks as though they’re forced to turn back due to not being able to get by the zombies, I think the greater reason for turning back is that the Governor realizes there is no more running away. Running away simply gets you dead, and at least here he has a group of people with food, weapons, and a tank. He walks up to the zombies, staring them down, then turns back to the car. The old look is back.

The next morning he straps his weapon belt on. Lilly awakes and asks him what he’s doing. “Surviving.” He goes to Peter’s camper and knocks on the door. “We need to talk,” he says, and as soon as Peter has his back turned, he muffles his mouth with one hand while stabbing him in the kidneys with a knife in the other. Peter falls to the floor, and the Governor strangles him, hushing him as he does so, “Shhhhhhh.” Creepy as hell, and a sign that not only is the old Governor back, but there is something truly sinister about this new iteration. Why do I say this? Consider that he stabs and then strangles Peter. He’s not, however, stabbing him in the head. Peter’s coming back, and it’s the context of his zombification that is of particular note – more on that below.

The Governor now goes to Mitch’s camper, and here he has another surprise in store. While he pulls a gun on him, he doesn’t want to kill Mitch. No, he needs a new lieutenant, and Mitch is just strong enough and just dumb enough to fit the bill. He offers him a cigarette, and then tells Mitch a story about he and his brother stealing cigarettes from his dad. They got caught, and his brother took the fall, even though it was the Governor who stole them. His brother got hurt because of being a “Hero,” a word the Governor spits out in obvious distaste. Being a hero gets you hurt or worse, and he has no interest in being one. He makes his offer: “I’m running things now, and I will do whatever it takes to protect this camp. Now if you join me, I promise you you’ll never have to worry if you’re doing the right thing or the wrong, because we will do the -only- thing” – whatever it takes to keep their people alive. Despite the fact that Governor has just killed his brother, Mitch agrees to work with him, letting the Governor light his cigarette in a symbolic gesture of acquiescence.

Mitch asks him about Pete. The Governor tells him they’ll make him a hero, that he died protecting them. Mitch questions whether people will believe, but the Governor tells him that people believe what they want to believe. “Everyone loves a hero.” As they’re speaking, we see the Governor dragging Pete’s body to the dead pond we saw earlier, dumping him into the water near a small pier.

Back in the camp, the Governor begins to take control, assigning people tasks and warning them about strangers – if they see anyone, they’re to avoid them and report back to the camp. He dismisses them – the people are responding immediately to his sense of direction and purpose, as he knew they would. That night, the Governor is looking at a map, and circles a location. Lilly gets up to see what he’s doing, and he says, “Maybe we can find a better place.” He pauses. “If we’re willing to fight for it.” Hmm, a better place meaning more secure, with walls and protection from the walkers, and relatively close so that they can move a rather large encampment of people – plus they will have to fight for it? Sounds like a place we may already know. But Lilly resists – she sees this camp as home, and doesn’t feel they need to find another place.

The next day, Meghan is playing tag with her aunt Tara. While trying to find her, she runs into a walker who has wandered into the camp, and he tries to follow her under a trailer. Tara grabs his leg, only to have all the meat slough right off in her hands. Just as the walker is about to bite Meghan’s foot, a shot rings out. The Governor has come full circle, ending this zombie in a way that mirrors the zombie kill Martinez made at the beginning of last week’s episode. This walker, coming right into the camp, brings it home to the Governor just how precarious their situation is here. He goes to the pier on the pond, and watches the now-zombified Pete. He’s under water, tied to a weight, trying to reach up. The old grinding music we associate with the Governor starts up – he’s in full-on Governor mode, and has even started a new zombie aquarium.

He goes for a little ride, and here we find ourselves connecting with the end of episode 405 two weeks ago. He’s watching Rick and Carl through the bushes, and pulls his gun. He tries to get closer – for a better shot? – when he hears a noise: Michonne and Hershel emptying the bodies out of the back of their trailer. He raises his gun, sights down the barrel, and – smash cut, end of episode.

Talk about a cliffhanger! This episode sets up next week to be a true climactic battle, with two of the better-liked prison survivors literally sitting in the gun sights of their greatest enemy. The Governor has traveled a long journey to get to this point, and he appears to completely embraced his old persona. He did try to fight his fall, but in the end he realized that only in embracing it can he do his utmost to save his new family. Next week promises to be a nail-biter – I just hope we get some resolutions before the winter hiatus has us waiting until February for more episodes.

Steve’s Grade: B
While it appears that the Governor’s redemption was short lived, perhaps it is only in embracing his darker side that he is able to find true redemption. The pace was a little uneven in the first half, but picked up substantially at the halfway point, setting up for what will hopefully be an exciting mid-season finale next week.

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  1. Jamie says:

    Once again Stephen – excellent review! I especially liked how you pointed out the symbolism of the cabin, the heads and the monikers. The folks on Talking Dead brushed this but clearly missed the significance. That said, Fred Armisen described the Governor as Gov 2.0 and I think he is exactly that. He is now capable of so much worse than Gov 1.5. He’s no longer protecting or blindly (1/2 blind?) seeking revenge, in his mind he’s surviving.
    I have to say though I am surprised at the new pace. With the tank at the gate next week what will be left for the 2nd half of the season? Also, in the preview to next week did you hear him say, “They will be looking for their people.” What do you think happens to Michonne and Hershel? Oh the suspense!

    • zillwood says:

      Thanks, Jamie – I think they have the potential to make next week’s episode one of the all-time greats, so I hope they don’t bungle it – but I have faith based on what we’ve seen this year so far. That tank is a game changer for sure, and finding out what happens to Michonne and Hershel is bugging me too. My guess is that he incapacitates Michonne, and then takes them both prisoner. He doesn’t want Michonne to die quickly – he wants her to suffer. I could see him keeping a zombie-Michonne on a chain, just like he did with Penny, should he get the chance. Hershel is a gamble. He also tells his followers that there are good people at the prison, and I suspect this is because he has Hershel alive. He’d be hard-pressed to convince them that Hershel is evil, and may be trying to mitigate their questions. Six more days!

  2. Jamie says:

    Michonne on a chain – Yikes! Glad she won’t keep her superpowers.

  3. Br'nn says:

    I doubt they would go the full length of what he does to Michonne in the comic, as that happened in Woodbury and was what cost him his eye, but if you haven’t read the comic, Michonne on a chain would be the least of her worries if they revisited that storyline.

    As always, another excellent review. The tank plays a big role in the Governor storyline in the comic, as does a woman named Lilly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if something big happens in the finale and the first episode in February. Can’t wait!

    • zillwood says:

      Me neither! And I’m beginning the comic as soon as final exams are done and marked next week. I’m really looking forward to it – 98 issues to get through =)

  4. […] Surviving: A Review of The Walking Dead Season 4, Episode 7 “Dead Weight” ( […]

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