Well, if we had imagined that Phillip/the Guv’ner/Brian Herriot was possibly on his way to becoming a reformed man, with a renewed sense of compassion and empathy, this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, Dead Weight, clearly proved we’re as gullible as the people who have fallen victim to his manipulations.
By the way, all his pseudonyms are starting to confuse me, so I am just gonna call him Guv from now on.
In the opening scene he’s playing chess with Megan, washing and hanging out clothes at their camp, for all the world looking like a post-apocalyptic stay-at-home dad. Megan asks Guv if he was ever bad, if his father ever punished him. He says, yeah, sometimes. Then she wonders if she’s bad, since her father was mean to her. But he tells her no. “It’s your move,” she keeps saying and the worn expression on his face says he’s got some decisions to be made, probably about the camp he is now living in. The last wide shot shows an enormous tank on the other side of their RV.
They’ve joined an encampment run by Martinez, who tells Guv that he is in charge, and no dead weight is allowed. Guv gamely steps up to help kill biters when the crew is on a hunt or supply run. The other guys helping Martinez run things are a pair of brothers: Pete, a good looking, ex-Army guy whose heart seems in the right place, who urges Martinez to take Guv in, since he has women and children with him. Pete’s brother Mitch is also ex-army, wears a huge pack and shaved head, and clearly has an every man for himself mentality.
Speaking of punishment, when Guv is on a hunt for food with Pete, Mitch and Martinez, they head for a cabin in the woods rumored to belong to a survivalist who may have a lot of good supplies. En route, they find headless corpses strapped to chairs or trees, with hand-lettered signs reading “LIAR” and “RAPIST.” (Finally a nod to what must surely be a problem in this mercenary world: the sexual abuse of women. We saw hints of this behavior in the two losers that Rick, Glen and Hershel blew away in that bar not far from the Hershel’s farm.) The survivalist himself has apparently committed suicide on his porch, having attached the sign “MURDERER” to his own chest. Judge not others lest ye be judged? Who knows what these Doomsday prepper types have going on in their paranoid minds?
Inside the cabin, the find some warm skunky beer and share stories of who they were before. There are heads on the floor and an uncomfortable glance between Guv and Martinez has us wondering if Martinez will share some stories about the crazy leader of fallen Woodbury. When he’s asked about his own past, Guv defers and says he is just trying to survive.
Later, over more beer, Martinez and Guv’s new family have dinner. None of them are used to the alcohol, and get tipsy. At one point Lily mentions this is the first time she’s felt safe; the Guv gives her a strange look and leaves the table. We wonder if she’ll become a victim of his strange code of justice at some point. Megan mentions the roof is leaking and Martinez tells the Guv, “You should fix that.” Guv says “I’ll do that,” and when he starts to repair it with duct tape, Martinez invites him to hit some golf balls off the roof of the RV, accompanied by a bottle of hard stuff. Meanwhile Lily, Tara and her new girlfriend Alicia, and Megan have left the camp. When Martinez casually mentions wanting the Guv to “share the crown,” the Guv hits him with a golf club from behind then kicks him off the RV. He then drags him, kicking and fighting, into the pit they’d been dragged out of earlier. Guv says again and again to Martinez, “I don’t want it,” and pushes him head first into the biters.
When it’s learned Martinez is dead, it’s assumed he fell in the pit because he was drunk. Pete announces he will take over; but there is dissension, including from Tara, who Mitch then calls a “little bitch.” Pete tells everyone to calm down, and then says it is temporary until they can all discuss and vote on it, that for now they need to keep things running.
Pete, Mitch and Guv go for another hunt, during which Pete mentions he could use help running things; Guv says being a leader is hard. Pete’s leadership is then called into question when they discover a camp in the woods, with few people but lots of supplies. Mitch wants to overpower them and steal the goods; Pete says no, they can find their own supplies. But when they circle back, the people have been killed by others who took the supplies. Mitch stabs an elderly man who stirs, but is not yet dead.
Guv goes to talk to Pete, who assumes the topic of conversation is Mitch, and his hasty stabbing of the old man. He stabs Pete, then sinks him in the pond. When Guv arrives at Mitch’s RV door, his hands are bloody and his gun is drawn; but the Guv knows someone as headstrong and self-centered as Mitch will make a good henchman, once he’s informed who is running the show.
The dead weight wasn’t the Guv’ner; it was the good people leading the camp who might sully his way of doing things by tempering their good sense with compassion. It’s clear that Guv doesn’t want to live in this world unless he is running things.
Guv offers Mitch a cigarette, and tells him a story about his father, who was a cruel taskmaster, who beat Guv and his brother for minor infractions, like getting caught smoking his father’s cigarettes. We wonder; was it the smoking or the theft they were punished for? And was it this cruelty that Guv learned to emulate, or is he simply angry at the world because of injustices leftover from childhood? Either way, we realize that the post-apocalyptic world will be full of people with issues, walking wounded who are in desperate struggles to survive.
Watching the harsh actions of some of these characters, we wonder how far we’d go to protect ourselves and our loved ones. But more sobering is the thought that the natural leaders who emerge in times of crisis may well be people who are motivated by a desire for power and a need to control others, by adults who have never gotten past the cruel treatment of their parents, who are just looking for someone, anyone, to punish.
The episode ends with the Guv having arrived at the prison, the closing shot from two episodes ago, and he spies Michonne and Hershel burning bodies. He lifts his gun; he has Michonne in his sights.