'Walking Dead': David Morrissey talks Governor
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
Remember that kinder, gentler version of the Governor we were introduced to last week on The Walking Dead? You know, the one who was rocking a wacky beard and retrieving oxygen tanks for sick old men? Well, he was decidedly less kind and less gentle in this latest episode (titled “Dead Weight”). First off, he clubbed Martinez with…well, a golf club, and then fed him to zombies. After that, he killed poor Pete (who made the mistake of not raiding another camp for supplies). By the end of the episode, the Governor was back in charge of a group of people, and with his gun trained on his old nemesis Michonne.
We spoke with the man who plays the Governor, David Morrissey, to get his insight on what we saw from the former Woodbury leader in these past two episodes. Was it the lure of power or need for safety that caused the man to go on yet another murderous rampage? How stable (or unstable) is this guy? And how was he able to play the character in so many different stages over the past two episodes? David Morrissey shares all! Well…almost all. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At first we thought the Governor was maybe a changed man after all he went through. But then we see him murdering his old pal Martinez and then murdering the person that took over as leader after Martinez, so maybe he hasn’t changed so much after all. Or maybe the methods haven’t changed but the motivation has? What’s your take on him at this point in the story and why he did what he did?
DAVID MORRISSEY: Well, the thing about him is I think he’s a man that we see struggling to stay away from that awful responsibility of leadership. He doesn’t want that. He wants to be led. He wants to protect the people he loves. And he’ll do anything he can to protect them, even be subservient if that’s what is needed. He’s in that community with Martinez and I think he just wants to be a quiet civilian, really. But he sees weak leadership around him. He sees the people there who say, “We’ll protect you,” and they’re not able to protect them. They’re not able to protect the people he loves. So he’s forced to take responsibility the only way he knows how and with the thing that has served him in the past, and that is being ruthlessly vigilant when it comes to his duty in leadership and protection.
Nobody else is going to do it. He’s got to step up. He’s got natural leadership qualities so he has to step up and do it. And he doesn’t want to do it, and what we love about him and what we admire about him is his fight before he takes up the reins. He tries to get out. He says to Lilly, “This place isn’t going to be safe anymore. It’s not safe. Things are going to be bad here.” And what he means is things are going to be bad with him. He can feel that dark side rising inside of himself and he’s trying to get away from it. And he can’t get away from it. He tries and he hits this wall of zombies and he knows that he’s got to go back and face that camp and face those people and take the reins of leadership.
EW: Is the Martinez killing a moment of just pure madness where he is fighting against his own impulses? He’s been so emotionally shut down until that point and then we see some of that madness bubble up to the surface.
MORRISSEY: I think Martinez makes the mistake of admitting weakness. He says to the Governor, “I’m not sure I can keep this place safe.” Had he turned around to the Governor on that day where he was playing golf and said, “There is no way this camp is not going to be safe. I’m going to make it safe. I’m going to do everything I can to make it safe,” then the Governor is going to say, “Great, I’ll follow you.” But as soon as the man admits weakness, then the Governor is going to take control. And the Governor is killing him and screaming, “I don’t want it!” What he doesn’t want is the responsibility. He doesn’t want the responsibility he is forced to take because of this man’s weakness. That’s very important. He’s putting a crown on his head that he doesn’t want. But nobody else but him is worthy of wearing it.
EW: And then he kills the one brother, Pete, and takes over the camp because he feels it’s the best way to protect this new family he’s come across. But once gets back in that seat of power, does he start to become comfortable again in that role?
MORRISSEY: The reason he kills the brother is because he doesn’t want weakness. He’s learned form the past that weakness and doubt is a very infectious disease. So he gets rid of the weakness and goes for the strength and the strength is the other brother. For a minute the audience thinks what the Governor is about to do is go kill the bad guy. He’s gonna go kill the tank driver. But he kills the good brother because he knows that he’s got to take that mantle and he’s got to rid of that weakness — the weakness of doubt. His leadership qualities come, I think. He’s a man that’s not afraid to make tough decisions and that’s why he’s a force to be reckoned with.
EW: There’s that scene where he tries to get away in the truck but they come across those zombies stuck in the mud blocking the road. This is sort of a classic horror trope in which someone is trying to escape danger and they can’t, but what was so interesting about this scene is that in this case the danger he is trying to escape is within him. And this seems sort of symbolic of the fact that he can no longer run away from who he is and the choices he may have to make along the way.
MORRISSEY: Yeah, there’s that great book with the quote, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And I think what the Governor’s trying to do is run away from the thing inside himself, and he’ll never run away that. He’s trying to run away from responsibility. He’s trying to get away from the danger behind him, which is this camp falling apart. He’s trying to find safety, and, of course, he can’t find safety externally in the world of The Walking Dead. He’s got to find it internally. He gets to that point where he realizes that the only way that he can be truly safe and the only way he can make the people around him safe is if he takes control. You know, if you want a job done, do it yourself.
And that’s where he is with that, and he realizes when he drives away and he’s on that road and he comes against that wall of zombies — he could take another road, he could go somewhere else. But he knows that wherever he goes he will face that same scenario. What he has to do is go back and make himself secure. And all the time he knows that there is a safe place somewhere. And that’s the prison. He’s seen the place. He knows that it’s a place of sanctuary. He knows that that’s where they can live. So if he’s gonna go to that prison he’s gotta go back with some great negotiating tactics. So he goes back and he’ll take hold of the reins of that community and let’s see what happens in the next episode.
EW: We hear a lot about the various stages of despair and in these two episodes you’re basically playing this guy in some of these various stages. Was the biggest challenge for you in the pacing of those stages and letting us see this man first devolve and then evolve again into something else?
MORRISSEY: The writing has to lead you from emotion to emotion and I think the writing in both of those episodes was brilliant and gave me all the tools to work with. I think the main thing for me is that you believe that a man who has done terrible things can do good things as well. That you believe that a man who is a killer and a mass murderer can actually turn around and show loving feelings. And anybody who has studied any sort of psychology will tell you that is the truth of real life — that nobody is all good and nobody is all bad. That people do fight the bad sides of themselves and hope that the good sides win and that is a struggle people have in various degrees all the time. Everybody has that struggle. Some people have it more than others and with bigger things at stake. So that’s the thing for me, making sure each turn that the Governor makes is a believable turn and twist, so you don’t just suddenly go, “This is a different man and this is a different character,” but that it is all the same person. And an inner conflict is being registered.
EW: Registered by both him and us?
MORRISSEY: I think that the relationship that the Governor has which is really important and very unlike any other relationship he has in The Walking Dead is his relationship with the audience. The audience sees the man at his lowest and his meanest and his most vulnerable and his most loving. They see every aspect of him. And they have secrets about the Governor that no other character has. They might be secrets that are terrible secrets of destruction, but they might also be secrets of love and vulnerability. And only the audience has that relationship with him. That’s what I love about the character, that his relationship with the audience is total. Much more total than it is with any other character. What Rick feels about the Governor, what Lily feels about the Governor, what Michonne feels about the Governor — they only have that information via certain aspects of the man. The audience has their relationship knowing everything about the man and that’s very important.
EW: Well, I can’t wait to see what happens next as we ended this episode with the Governor pointing his gun at Michonne. You’re not going to tell me if you pull the trigger or not, are you?
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