Well, well. Maybe ol’ Hershel is right after all and you really can come back from the bad things that happen to you here in the walker-pocalypse. Because of all the gents I expected to remain the epitome of ice-blooded, comrade-killing evil, Philip “The Governor” Blake is it.
And yet, there he was, the most sinister guy we’ve yet to encounter on The Walking Dead, broken, abandoned and facedown in the street before the vision of a little girl in a window brought him back to his feet and back to life as a — gulp! — lion-hearted family protector who calls himself Brian.
And in an episode completely free of the prison populace, we find out just how he got there.
The lonesome campfire ’round which we saw him sitting in last week’s preview was actually built shortly after he gunned down his own army n the wake of the failed prison takeover and torched what remained of Woodbury (and his past life). Numbed by failure and despair, he watches, motionless and emotionless, as a walker shuffles toward him, apparently fine with becoming a human S’more. At the last moment, Martinez — one of his two surviving henchmen — blasts the zombie, shaking his head pityingly at his formerly ruthless leader. The next day the Governor crawls out of his little yellow tent to discover he’s been left behind — thus beginning a long and lonely march into the desolation, gaining a Kris Kristoffersonian crop of facial hair and further losing his mind.
Hollowed eyed and gasping, he shuffles into town and collapses in the street in front of an apartment building, opening his eyes one last time and seeing momentary salvation in the form of the little blond girl in the window.
Turns out, she is Megan, daughter of former nurse Lilly who is holed up in the building with her officer-in-training sister Tara and their cancer-striken dad Don. Surviving on the contents of a food truck abandoned outside the building, the quartet is only to happy to welcome a fellow survivor into their fold, once they’ve stripped him of his weapons and tried their best to seem menacing.
Choosing the name Brian Heriot — which he’d spotted during his travels on the side of a barn survivors had used as a sort of message board — he accepts a roof over his head, but nothing more. At first. Then he begins earning his keep, risking his life to score a neighbor’s backgammon set that Don hopes will cheer granddaughter Megan up, and an oxygen tank from a local nursing home that will keep Don alive to play backgammon. He also lets Tara — who wonders why the zombies she shoots just keep getting back up — know you have to take out the head if you want to take out the walker.
And when Lilly gently nurses his head wound from his zombie-dodging adventures at the old folks’ home — telling him that Megan thought he was her runaway dad returning when she spied him in the street (and perhaps revealing why her family is so open to this grizzled and growling intruder when she calls their existence “boring”) — his heart begins to thaw. The evolution is completed by a newly chatty Megan offering him a pinkie swear that she won’t reveal the secret of how he lost his eye. He tells her he’s a pirate — not a formerly crazed dictator who kept his own undead daughter on a leash in a cage.
Just like that, Brian/The Governor/The Bri-vernor is the freshly shorn and shaven new patriarch of the clan, teaching Megan to play chess (telling her sagely that you can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game, which I expect we’ll revisit soon enough) and smiling gently when the girl draws a eye patch on the king. But the happy family moment is short-lived. Despite the fresh supply of oxygen, Granddad dies — and only The Bri-vernor knows what is about to happen next even though, Don’s untouched by zombies. The end of the world is anything but borking, Lilly, and you’re about to find out why.
As he tries to think of a calm way to let the daughters know to back away from their father’s body, the old man turns and nearly makes a snack of Tara’s arm before The Bri-overnor smashes his head to a pulp with an oxygen tank, horrifying the older females until they get the reality of what just went down.
Lilly helps him bury Don. Tara softens her badass stance. But Megan cowers in fear. And that is the worse thing that could happen to The Bri-venor’s now-tender heart.
That night, he burns the family photo he’d kept in his pack and prepares to leave this new family he can’t bear to fail, too — stopping for a gruff good-bye before hitting the road. But the ladies aren’t giving up on the guy that they see as their best hope for survival, and soon The Brian Bunch is cruising off in their food supply truck in search of better fortunes. Which, for their leader, includes getting lucky with Lilly in “my parents are in the other room (or right next to us)” fashion.
The next morning, the truck’s battery is dead and the quartet must set out on foot, poor traumatized Lilly dragging her little pink rolling suitcase at the back of the pack. The Brian Bunch’s fortunes grow even worse when Tara rolls her ankle just in time for a zombie horde to appear around the bend. Lilly grabs her sister and makes a break for the woods, as The Bri-vernor turns to Megan. Not wanting to horrify her further by lunging at her, he hold out his arms and waits. Megan runs to him, and he scoops her up, passing Tara and Lilly and leading the way to safety.
And then the bottom falls out — literally — when the pair plunge into a walker-filled pit and The Bri-venor must use his bare hands to do them in — in some the show’s most inventive zombie kills to date — tearing the throat out of one and using a moldering bone to flatten the skull of another.
Sweeping Megan into his arms, he promises the terrorized girl that he will never let anything happen to her — just as Martinez peers over the edge of their dirt-walled prison.
So what of it, Walking Dead fans? Will the collision of his past and his burgeoning new life bring back savage old habits and traits, or has “Brian Heriot” been forever converted by the rediscovery that in order to want to live in this world, you have to have someone to live for? Does it affect how you see his reason for being at the prison gates? Is a new Woodbury in the offing with the folks in this new camp — or is he seeking an unlikely detente with the Grimes Crew for (or fostered by) the two women and the child in his care? Is that even possible with Michonne and Daryl inside — and might they catch up to him first? Is the virus still a potentially deadly weapon?
Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Next week on The Walking Dead “Dead Weight,” “One-eye Bri” and his new/old posse make an ominous discovery in the woods.
New episodes of The Walking Dead premiere Sundays at 9/8CT on AMC.
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC