Villainlicious: The Governor (The Walking Dead television series) [by Bea Harper]

SO. After the highly indulgent and poorly veiled worship of Col. Tavington, I decided to basically made a column devoted to the discussion and exploration of my favourite villains from film, television and literature because as you may well know, I adore my villains quite frankly, I can’t imagine an exciting fictional life without them. They inspire me and I want to continue my appreciation for them by devoting this column ‘Villainlicious’. Remember- villainy is a matter of perspective and in the eyes of a worthy villain, they are in the right.

The Governor aka Philip Blake

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Overview

Ask anybody who have read ‘The Walking Dead’ comics by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, and chances are, the character of The Governor aka Philip Blake will enter the conversation, usually attached to adjectives such as ‘reprehensible’ and ‘villain’. The Governor is one of the long-running comics’ most enduring characters because of how vile and transgressive he is, in a sense, he was the figurehead of the worst elements of human nature that can arrive out of an apocalypse. With a taste for murder, manipulation, sedition, subjugation and rape, the man looked like the bastard fuck child of Danny Trejo and Tom Savini, the type you’d see running a sleazy, dirty porn shop that specialised in underage pornography. The guy was just foul, and while Negan and the Saviors are just as notorious, The Governor is still held highly as one of the most memorable and cruel ‘The Walking Dead’ characters ever committed to ink and page.

But here’s the thing; for all of his disgusting acts, once you looked past his deeds and his appearance, there really isn’t that much to him as a PERSON. You see, when creating a rounded character, good or bad, the creators need to keep in mind they are still human in one way or another, so the notion of vulnerability is a key ingredient to ensure this. With every respect to the writers, the comic rendition of The Governor is little more than a glorified mustache twirler who gets what he deserves in the end after his reign of repugnant terror. The Governor in the television series played by David Morrissey however, is quite a different beast, and dare I say, a better one.

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Makings Of The Monster

When I first heard that British thesp Morrissey was going to don the eye patch, my incredulous primary thought was “The guy from the second ‘Basic Instinct’ movie? Say what?”. I hadn’t really seen him in anything else outside of that miserable cash in of a film so from my perspective, the prospects were incredibly dubious. As I continued to follow the progress of the show, I began reading more about the show-runners’ reasons for electing to cast the actor in such a crucial role. He was said to be fearless, he was said to be a deep and accomplished actor who really lend a lot to not only the role but also the show. Hmm. Interesting. Some time later, the official stills for Season Three were released featuring Morrissey in costume and in character and I won’t lie- my interest, as well as other things, were aroused. The guy looked good, more than good, he looked different compared to the comic equivalent. When the show finally made it’s return and we were properly introduced to the character, it clicked with me- this Governor was going to be worlds apart from his inked avatar and for the better. This was not a lowlife scumbag this was a human being, a human being with needs, wants, goals and ideologies.

I adore it when villains are paid close attention because to me, the villains are just as important if not more so than the heroes because they offer an opposing view to what could have been a one-sided situation.

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Psychology

Upon his formal introduction in Season 3, The Governor initially came off as congenial, but at the core, was a volatile and disturbed psychopath with extremely sadistically predacious attributes (the man gets off on torture and the hunt like nobody’s business). He was silver-tongued, effortlessly able to talk his way in and out of situations using his more charming powers, and was able to use his manipulative abilities to coerce others into doing his bidding. He was obsessed with protecting the people that he cared about by taking charge and doing what he saw as the only way of survival for his people, which included killing outsiders. Throughout Season 3, he gradually revealed his barbaric nature and from there, a demon emerged. His sadistic and violent personality was further inflammed when the suspicious Michonne broke into his house and slew Penny, thus triggering homicidal desires within him. From then on, he lost most of his sanity and embarked on a ruthless crusade, seeking retaliation on Michonne and Rick’s group (the latter having attacked him and “stolen” Woodbury away from him).

In Season 4, after wandering alone for months following the fall of Woodbury, The Governor adopted a “makeshift family” that he found whilst wandering and retained much of his old identity, finding a sense of belonging with his new cadre of survivors. However, he lied to them, keeping his past and his violent nature a secret, while convincing himself that he is doing this to protect them, a fact of which was actually true. According  to Morrissey himself, The Governor was genuinely fighting himself in a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” fashion, another major separation from the comic equivalent. The comic Governor made no pretenses about his behaviour or any excuses Philip Blake in the television series still had a sense of maintaining personal self-control rather than reveling ceaselessly in wanton bloodshed. This battle with himself ultimately proved to be fruitless, as he returns to his old actions to protect his new family by killing his former Woodbury residents and attempting to re-take the prison from Rick’s group by holding Hershel and Michonne hostage. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for anybody.

The television versions’ old life had been lost due to this disruption of the status quo and he had to adapt to life in this new world, adopting a stronger, steely persona. He valued hard work and honesty in Woodbury, (highly ironic of course given his own personal dishonest tendencies) but he had a dark secret that he was unable to give up because his old life was still coiled around his mind; his zombified daughter, Penny. Penny was a remnant of Philips’ previous life and he couldn’t let go of her because to him, killing the monster wearing his daughters’ face would be as good as killing his own past. In several scenes in Season 3, we watch Philip gently brush his daughters’ hair while he talks softly to her as she chows down on some severed limbs he has bought for her to snack on. It’s practically a domestic normality for him, you can see a sense of contentment on his features as he does so. This was his little girl, not some flesh-eating ghoul.

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When Michonne uncovered Penny’s existence, Philip begged her to spare the girl, but Michonne disposed of her, causing him to fly into a horrible rage. He tried to kill Michonne for destroying the final vestige of his life and ended up losing an eye in the process. At this point, this was when Philip really started to steadily travel on the downward spiral that saw him go from caring if deeply troubled leader to malevolent threat to Rick and his crew.

I won’t go into too much detail in the interest of spoiling the plot for anybody who hasn’t watched the show, but although the character ends up doing some pretty foul things, he still maintains a distinct air of credibility even in his most tyrannical moments thanks to Morrissey’s phenomenal work. I feel a huge reason why Morrissey works is because he is an actor who understands the need to inject humility into his work. He knows he is playing a character who will ultimately end up being ‘The Villain’, but what makes a Villain a Villain? It is a combination of their own mindset as well as the circumstances they find themselves in, so in a sense, it’s precisely the same as what makes The Hero a Hero- just on a skewed angle. In one episode, Philip accepts to treat with Rick so they can reach some type of agreement in a final attempt to broker some type of true between their groups. Both men give their reasons and hear each other out, but by that point, Philip is absolutely hell-bent in his aims that any other alternative Rick proposes is unacceptable. Of course, this meeting ends up fruitless, but at the same time, the Governor learns how Rick is as a person and decides to use this intelligence to benefit his own goals. Hungry for blood as he may be, he isn’t a fool and the ordinance he eventually brings down on the prison isn’t just of the firepower variety, but also the cerebral.

Final Words

In closing there is no doubt in my mind I much prefer the television version of The Governor in every way. Sure the comic character was shocking and vicious, but simple malevolence isn’t enough to keep an intelligence audience invested. There needs to be depth, there needs to be logic and there needs to be reasoning. Thankfully the creative minds behind ‘The Walking Dead’ understood this and delivered on that brief with sincerity and thankfully David Morrissey saw this as a creative opportunity rather than a paycheck. The Governor has officially become one of the greatest villains in recent television and I have a strong feeling his legacy will continue to endure even when the tale of the television series is done.

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This song perfectly embodies the beastly nature of the Governor to a T.

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