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FWAP Villain Edition: The Governor

Fangirl SquareThe Governor (AKA Philip Blake and Brian Heriot), The Walking Dead

Spoilers through Season 4, Episode 8

Appearance (played by David Morrissey)



Family History

Mrs. Blake – Wife (Deceased prior to the “turn”)
Penny Blake – Daughter (Deceased, whose undead incarnation he keeps chained in a secret room in Woodbury)
(Unnamed) – Brother

Info via The Walking Dead Wiki.

Significant Relationships

Andrea – Ex-Girlfriend (Deceased)
Lilly Chambler – Ex-Girlfriend (Deceased)

Occupation/Special Skills

Before the apocalypse, the governor may have been a disgruntled, unappreciated office worker, and after, he became the leader of Woodbury, a settlement of survivors. After the fall of Woodbury, he became the leader of the River Camp.

Signature Item/Prop

Eyepatch, wall of Walker heads preserved in fish tanks

Personality Traits

Anti-social personality disorder is the governor’s primary personality trait–actually a disorder–and it gives birth to a whole host of secondary characteristics that make him a compelling and realistic villain.

  1. Superficial charm: The governor is a successful orator. He lies…with style. He is able to explain away his more questionable (aka EVIL) deeds, thus keeping the average citizens of Woodbury in the dark about his true nature. He is even able to reframe his heinous acts as righteous heroism. On a more personal level, he uses his sad back story to manipulate Andrea into a sexual relationship with him.
  2. Violation of the rights of others: Where to begin? The massacres? The torture? The keeping of prisoners? The assassination attempts? And on top of those obvious evils is the hiding of the truth from the people who trust him. All forms of physical abuse–battery, sexual assault, etc.–incorporate an emotional component. Long after physical wounds heal, the wounds of the mind remain. Having your free will compromised and your mind twisted with lies is a crime as heinous as a physical attack.
  3. Lack of conscience: The governor does not care about others, and he feels no remorse for his lies or for the many homicides he commits. He enjoys torture and even sets up staged gladiator-style Walker battles for evening entertainment in Woodbury.
  4. Manipulative/use of flying monkeys: In general, the governor hides his depravity: in his secret room of Walker heads, in his torture rooms, or behind lies. But if he can reframe a blatant act of murder as one of courage, he will not hesitate to lie about his actions and the motivations behind them. In addition, he uses a small band of insiders (flying monkeys) to do acts of violence on his behalf. These people know the truth about the governor and keep his secrets.

Let’s just examine a few of the governor’s signature moves. In his introductory episode, he massacres a camp of soldiers, and then returns to Woodbury with the news that they were already dead when his team arrived. He tortured everyone he possibly could: Andrea, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie. He freaking bit off two of Merle’s fingers before murdering him. Then, the governor uses Merle as a scapegoat for the deaths of several other people, reframing his death a righteous act of salvation and not a vicious act of murder. The governor excels at convincing innocent people to go against their own consciences and beliefs and do violence on other innocent people. Too late, these people see the governor for the monster that he is. After a failed attempt to overtake the prison, he murders 23 of his own people who are too scared to fight the governor’s battle for him. And that’s just a small sample of his crimes.

Character Development
Flashback Episodes
The writers of TWD do something genius with the episodes detailing the governor’s story between the fall of Woodbury and his second attack on the prison. They try to manipulate the audience the same way the governor manipulates the people of Woodbury and the River Camp. (The same way abusers manipulate their victims.) They paint a picture of a broken man, unable or unwilling to fend for himself or even defend himself after the fall of Woodbury.

Taking the name Brian, the governor ends up finding his way into the Chambler family–David, Tara, Lilly, and Meghan–mostly attracted to Meghan, a young girl who reminds of him of his deceased daughter. Brian is shown playing chess with Meghan and risking his life to get oxygen for David, the family patriarch who is dying of lung cancer. He offers aid to this family and seems to care for them.

The audience is left to wonder: Could he be trying to redeem himself?

After David dies, Brian takes the family on the road with him and begins a sexual relationship with Lilly, Meghan’s mother, effectively recreating his former family. They eventually meet up with some of the survivors of Woodbury. They join their River Camp and live as a family there. He has been given a second chance.

By this point, the audience may have developed a grudging tenderness for the guy. I mean, look, he seems to be trying. He’s clearly desperate to be a good father figure to Meghan. He will do anything for that little girl. Tara, Lilly, and Meghan love him. And he seems to have changed.

Maybe he can be trusted.

And that’s when it happens. We see the monster behind the mask again.

Brian realizes that the River Camp lacks good leaders, a fact that puts his new family in danger. Once again, he is motivated to do whatever it takes to keep them safe, including murdering said leader in cold blood. In this world, safety means walls. And the safest place around is…the prison. Does he go to Rick and his group at the prison and ask for refuge? Uh, no. He tells the River Camp that the people at the prison are evil and that they slaughtered his family and destroyed the town of Woodbury. His lies convince his group of innocent followers to participate in an armed–with a tank–assault on the prison. As the attack occurs, the River Camp people begin to see the hidden aspects of Brian, his ruthlessness and evil, and Lilly turns on him, finally ending his miserable life.

And viewers have just been through an abuse cycle: The governor appears remorseful (reconciliation phase) after the fall of Woodbury. He goes through a period of relative normalcy with the Chambler family (calm phase). As they venture out on the road, things get stressful (tension building phase), and then the governor acts out (acting out phase). Viewers experience a version of the emotional manipulation that keeps many abuse victims locked in their unhealthy relationship. Some little part of the viewer’s mind might have wondered if maybe–just maybe–the governor had changed. And the human part of us–the part that expects most people to behave normally and to have a conscience–hopes he did.

The writers’ manipulation of the viewer helps to us to understand the governor’s manipulation of the people of Woodbury, the River Camp, Andrea, Lilly, Tara, and David. Often, TV watchers find it easy to sit back and say, “They should have seen it coming. Why didn’t they kill him when they had the chance?” Just like many people wonder how Carol could have stayed with Ed despite the domestic abuse she suffered. Or how people will proclaim that if their significant other ever hit them, they would punch him in the nuts and leave for good. If abuse were only physical, then many victims would get out fast. But there is always an emotional component, manipulation, and mind control. It’s never that easy.

How is Brian/the governor different from Rick? Rick–and TWD’s other protagonists–own up to the difficult things they have had to do in order to survive. They feel bad about some of the choices they have made. The governor only owns up his crimes if he can spin his actions for a greater, manipulative purpose. He feels no shame or guilt.

The Takeaway for Writers

Let’s compare two abusers–two people who not only lack empathy for others and but who enjoy the power of hurting them–in The Walking Dead: the Governor and Ed Peletier. Killed in season 1, Ed was the physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive husband of Carol and the father of Sophia. Ed is a stereotypical abuser found in fiction: a meathead who makes no attempt to hide his ill-treatment of his wife. (In defense of the writers, they had only 2 episodes to convey Ed’s abusive nature. No real time for realism there.) Ed tries to issue orders to all the women at the quarry. When Carol steps in to ease the tense situation between her husband and the other women in the camp, Ed hits her in front of everyone, causing Shane to give him a much deserved beat down.

What makes real abuse so difficult to face is that it is done mostly in secret, behind closed doors. The victim–no matter how many bruises she receives–fears that no one will believe her story. Because his deeds are done in private, the abuser could easily explain away his actions, even putting the blame on the victim. It makes sense that an abuse victim is ashamed and terrified to reveal the truth. That’s why many victims stay so long despite such awful circumstances.

This fear is compounded when you couple it with the fact that many abusers are like the governor, superficially charming and facile liars. The governor hides behind a facade of charm and is therefore able to manipulate many people. Few of his group members actually see his true self. That is reserved for his little army of flying monkeys–Merle, etc. His speeches and lies are compelling enough to convince a group of people to forget their own sense of morality and to go to war with another group of innocents.

The governor is a far more realistically drawn villain than Ed, and the comparison will help writers depict a more rounded antagonist. An abusive sociopath’s greatest weapon is not his fists; it’s his ability to rob people of their own freedom of thought and will.

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One thought on “FWAP Villain Edition: The Governor

  1. As I said in another comment, I’m am just seeing TWD unfold on local network TV in syndication so I’m pretty lost as to the progression of individual characters much of the time. BUT, the first time I saw the Governor, was in a close shot of just him before his eye was injured. The camera pulls back and you see a nice looking guy obviously brushing someone’s hair. Then you notice the sounds.

    Then the camera pulled back to show him brushing the hair of a little zombie girl, I couldn’t find the remote fast enough.

    This show is hard for me to watch sometimes, but the writing and character development are superb. And your analysis is great.

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