I am going to write about dads today. I will not yet touch upon the role of women in the post-apocalyptic landscape. Like that of men, it is ever evolving. However, it is my contention that the roles of women, children, and the elderly are more fluid. Men are expected to be traditional providers, whereas the other groups can contribute in different ways. Notably, the characters of Andrea, Michonne, Carl, and Hershel illustrate this, which I will elaborate upon in future posts.
The figure of father is very important in The Walking Dead. We have Hershel the gentleman farmer, father to Maggie and Beth. He also serves as a father to the other group members, dispensing counsel and comfort when needed. In addition to being the primary protector of the Atlanta group, Rick is willing to kill to protect his family. Shane paid the ultimate price for attempting to take advantage of Rick's temporary absence by trying to usurp his paternal role. Dale cared for Andrea so deeply that he risked his own life to prevent her from committing suicide in the fiery CDC explosion. She, in turn, repeatedly confided in him as she would her own biological father. Woodburians had the Governor to look up to, and of course he is also father to his undead daughter Penny, whom he kept sequestered in his apartment. You could say that God is dead in the apocalyptic world, because He has let down his flock so profoundly that they feel compelled to seek out new guidance on earth in the form of mortal man. That is, there is no Father, only father.
In the episode entitled “Live Bait,” the Governor attempts to erase his past. He leaves the persona of Philip Blake behind to become “Brian Harriet,” a name he saw in a graffiti message on the side of an abandoned building. Forms of communication in the post-apocalyptic world are primitive; people often leave desperate messages for loved ones scrawled on signposts or blank walls. Now it is easy to become someone else, because most of the people who may have known your original identity are dead. The Governor is forced to, maybe even happy to, reinvent himself, to embrace his rebirth.
|For a price, you too can dress up like the Governor.|
First, he ritually cleanses house by murdering the followers who enlisted to ambush Rick’s prison. He achieves two goals in doing so: he ensures that no survivors remain to tell the story of humiliating defeat at the hands of Rick’s group. He also realizes that he is losing Woodbury, which began to slip away from him even before he attacks the prison. People were starting to flee; they no longer felt safe under his leadership. He had failed to protect them. On a superficial level, the Woodbury militia also openly defied his orders by refusing to return to the prison to resume the fight. The scene was eerily reminiscent of cult leader Jim Jones’ final act, in which he murdered his 909 followers in 1978—men, women, and children—by forcing them to drink cyanide-laced grape Flavor-Aid. Those who refused to drink or tried to escape were shot. The difference is that, unlike the Governor, Jim Jones had been obsessed with death his entire life; he shot himself.
The Governor has no desire to bring about his own death. He needs to stay alive to reinvent himself. His formal role as leader, however, is no more; Brian Herriet will do for now. It is a blank slate upon which he can imprint a new persona made up of aspects of his former self. He helps Tara and Lilly by disposing of their dead father and retrieving an oxygen tank from a nursing home overrun with walkers so that the old man can live a bit longer. He saves Lilly’s daughter, little Megan, from vicious zombies, holding her close as he probably once did his deceased daughter Penny. When a bedraggled Governor first looks up to Tara and Lilly’s apartment to see Megan standing at the window, her silhouette undoubtedly reminded him of Penny, waiting for her daddy to come home.
It is true that Blake has little compunction about using violence to achieve his ends. You might even say that he enjoys inflicting pain and exerting his power over others. However, he has human needs too. For example, he responds positively to Lilly’s overtures; the Governor requires sexual affirmation. His attachment to Megan also reveals that he misses being a protective father, not just to a group of followers, but more importantly on the micro level of daddy. When Michonne kills zombie Penny, this is devastatingly taken away from him.
Who is this new man? In “Live Bait” the Governor undergoes a baptism by fire. First, he sets the abandoned town of Woodbury afire. Then he burns the last remaining image of his family: himself, his wife, and his daughter. Before he set it alight, he carefully folds his own image out of the picture, leaving just his wife and daughter. When he finally does burn it, he destroys Philip Blake, his role as husband and father to these two specific individuals.
This does not mean that he has entirely abandoned the notion of being a father and a—dare I say it—lover. In the latest episode, in fact, he embraces both. For the time being, Lilly and Megan have filled in a void. I think these are the two constants we have in the character of the Governor. He will always have to lead someone. This new world cries out for leadership. Small groups of desperate, disparate individuals are hungry for someone to reassure them that it’s going to be okay, that this nightmare, this holocaust will be over one day. In the meantime, providing them with the essentials of life like food and safe shelter is enough. The Woodburians enjoyed such a life for a time, complete with the occasional block party featuring cold lemonade and laughing children. But this was an illusion. Once the fortifying walls came down, Rick’s group attacked, and the Governor killed his own people, Woodburians were on their own again. Many joined Rick’s group for this reason; they replaced one father with another, seemingly more benevolent one. But is he?