The Walking Dead Watch: The Governor Commeth

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Gene Page/AMC

The Governor (David Morrissey) in Season 3, Episode 3 of The Walking Dead

In the greater pantheon of zombie flicks (film and television shows included) we get to see how society reacts to the zombie threat while civilization continues in various stages. In many of zombie master George Romero‘s films, which are heavy on the political allegory, society has been rebuilt with all its complexities, allowing Romero “to sort of make fun of what’s going on in a number of societal events,” as he said in an interview last year.

Until last night’s episode, The Walking Dead has existed in the society you’d expect in first couple of years after an apocalyptic event. It is primal, brutal, back to basics living, where our group wanders like nomads, subsisting off of what they can hunt and scavenge. When Rick leads his team to retake an old prison during the first two episodes of this solid season, they fight in a phalanx, stabbing their way through the hordes of walkers. Yet as basic as their lifestyle may be, there’s a slight stratification in this little society. We have the “Ricktator” who is simultaneously totalitarian ruler and chief of security, his small raiding party consisting of Daryl, T-Dog and a couple of others, and the rest of the group handles the basics of keeping everyone fed and alive.

But the prison isn’t any more of a society than the farm was (please, please let us not return to the languid pace of the “farm episodes”). Last night we were introduced to Woodbury, a town where the people have erected walls to keep out the walkers (they call them “creepers” and “biters”). The Governor is the ruling despot and head of security. He has wall guards and a small raiding party, leaving the rest of the population to execute the tasks of a larger more complex society: the children go to school; there appears to be a library; among the town’s 74 inhabitants, there are several families and an impending baby is seen as a blessing, not the horror show we’re all waiting for with Lori’s pregnancy.

The show’s art direction team and set designers did a bang-up job making Woodbury seem pretty idyllic, which we know means there is nastiness lurking beneath the surface. Sure enough, we find out The Governor isn’t exactly squeamish about violence, he has some definite secrets and he seems to have a thing for Andrea. The Governor doesn’t appear to be a psychopath, but rather a man who believes in brutal methods to keep his people safe.

(READ: The Walking Dead Behind-the-Scenes Battle That Almost Doubled the Zombie Count)

We saw a small portion of what will make The Governor a fascinating character this season. After leading his raiding party to kill a small band of National Guard soldiers and pilage their equipment, The Governor stands before his people and gives a speech about how the soldiers did not die in vain, and the only way to honor them is to do everything they can to keep Woodbury safe (in other words, do everything he tells them). It’s a brilliant piece of political theater that we know will keep them in line.

Woodbury isn’t a thriving metropolis, and I wonder if making it such a small settlement–74 people–limits the different story lines we can get out of the town. For now at least, the stories look like they’ll revolve around The Governor. We know he has some attachment to disembodied heads and he’s having his top minds work on what appear to be scientific experiments on walkers so they can better understand their enemy. Society took a big leap forward last night, and we now have a captivating and brutal leader moving us forward.

Zombie Kill Report: Only about a half dozen, and most of those were to show us how the Woodbury perimeter guards deal with “creepers.” This was one of the few episodes where we had more human deaths than zombie ones, as The Governor and his forces down an Army helicopter and ambush the remaining soldiers.

New friends…and answered questions: Last night’s episode marked the third time we’ve seen Michonne. But from her cinematic entrance to the quick scenes that showcased her prowess in this world, we never knew her name, nor did we know why the hell she dragged armless, jawless walkers on chains. We learned about both last night: Her name is Michonne, and The Governor’s resident geek correctly surmised that she uses the disabled walkers as protection. We learned also that zombies do, in fact, need to eat otherwise they starve and waste away slowly, and that if they’re deprived of food they become more docile. I imagine both of those rules will come in handy in the near future.

And the return of an old pal: Early last season we correctly predicted that Merle would return and crash the party. We hate to gloat, but, we were exactly right. It turns out Daryl’s semi-psychotic, racist brother Merle managed to gnaw his way through the handcuffs Rick put him in way back in Season 1. He now wields a  pretty badass stump cover with a pneumatic blade. Other than that, not much seems to have changed. We saw last season the kind of havoc Merle can cause in imaginary form; imagine the insanity that’s about to go down now that he’s there in the flesh.