David Morrissey of 'The Walking Dead' on the Return of the Governor

'This is a man who is absolutely trying to isolate himself,' the actor says

David Morrissey, The Governor, The Walking Dead, q&a, questions, interview
Gene Page/AMC
David Morrissey as The Governor in The Walking Dead.
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In Season Three of The Walking Dead, the survivors were mostly consumed with the terror inflicted upon them by an eye-patch-donning villain who called himself The Governor. Played by British actor David Morrissey, the Governor fast became one of the better TV bad guys in recent memory. He devised zombie fights, which people could watch like a baseball game. He kept his little girl, who turned into a zombie, chained up so he'd always have her. And his general thoughts toward violence and torture were much different than the "as-needed" approach by Rick Grimes and his crew. 

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But at the end of Season Three, the Governor's world of Woodbury came crashing down and he was left out in the cold, with no one to govern or care about. Until now. As the end of the fifth episode revealed, the Governor is back. But is he a changed man? Rolling Stone spoke with David Morrissey about his character's return and his motivations for the season.

The Governor is back. Tell us about his return.
What we see at the end of episode five is the Governor lurking in a forest just outside the prison. Of course, with what we know about the Governor, that's bad news for Rick and everybody else inside the prison. We don't know whether he's up to scope it and plan an attack on the prison or whether he's there to negotiate, or whether he's a changed man as he's standing there. We don’t know that yet. 

Season Three finished with the Governor killing his own people and we see the trauma that this man is in and how he sort of gives up; he gives up on life and he’s sort of wandering around the world, around Georgia sort of waiting to die, really. He’s given up. And then he sees, just at his last moment when you think, "Oh that’s it, he's just absolutely going to die," he looks up and he sees this little girl in the window of an apartment and he follows her and he finds her and her family and her mother and her auntie and her grandfather are living in this apartment, and the Governor is there and he doesn't really want to help these people but slowly and slowly he's dragged in to helping them and supporting them. 

That was an awakening of some sorts for this man — him choosing life over death, and that's what we see. 

It sounds like in some capacity he is a changed man.
He wants to be, but I think he's intelligent enough to know that the man that he was is still lurking inside. I think there's a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like quality to him, that he absolutely knows his capability for badness, his capability for evil, for going into blackouts, I would suggest. Not knowing his own actions, not knowing what he's capable of — he's fighting that all the time and I think if you're aware of that about yourself, then when that happens to you, the people you don't want to be around is people that you love. Because that's a terrible, terrible situation, and it makes it hard for people that you love.

A lot of The Walking Dead is all about the idea of being a team player. When I saw first saw him lurking in the forest, I wondered if he wanted to join the team and play ball.
That's a question you have to ask, and if he does want to play, then how's that going to work with Rick? In this world, the one thing that you need is a sanctuary, you need protection, and if you're in a world that's not a great place — the prison is an obvious place to be in terms of safety. In the zombie apocalypse, it's great to keep zombies out. He needs the safest place to be and I think the prison is the obvious place.

One of the great things to watch in Season Three was the power struggle between Rick and the Governor. Do we start to see a semblance of that return in this season?
Yeah, I think there's power struggles, really, amongst different characters all the time. I think the Governor's natural place that he's found is that he can lead, is that he can step up. And we saw in Season Three that he got drunk on that leadership. It was a corrupting influence on him as an individual. But he liked it and I think once that genie is out of the bottle, it's a hard thing to put back in the bottle. You know you can lead, you know the qualities of leadership, you know the qualities that somebody needs in order to make the decisions that have to be made in order to survive. We see that military situation all the time: you want someone to be decisive but you don’t want them to be hot headed. And that's a very fine line sometimes between those two places. You know, sometimes you have to make decisions very, very quickly and you want someone who can be decisive, but you also don’t want someone who’s foolhardy. I think the Governor knows he has that ability.

So in Season Four, it is about the raw elements of him deciding whether he’s going to step up again and become this leader, whether he’s going to take control. Because he knows how to. I think he would prefer not to — but sometimes the situation demands it. 

In terms of crafting the character, is there anything different you're doing this season that you weren't doing last season?
I think we see him in a very different state. When we pick him up in six, he looks like a homeless guy; he's got hair down to his chest and he looks like Jerry Garcia. A thin version of Jerry Garcia. So he's sort of emaciated but with a big old straggly beard and long hair, and he's given up. It's a very, very different tone to the person I played last season. It's very much a man who’s less sure of himself. A man who’s not wanting to be a leader, a man who’s fighting leadership, and man who's fighting responsibility, a man who's trying to get away from the human race and the responsibilities around that. While the person we saw in Season Three was a man who was embracing all that and loving all that and being drunk on power, this is a man in Season Four who is absolutely trying to isolate himself. He reminds me a little bit of Harry Dean Stanton at the beginning of Paris, Texas: He's just walking and walking and trying to walk away from all that's come before and there's a real nomadic almost sort of strange search for death really. 

Are you in the show for the rest of the season?
I am. We've been down in Georgia, you know this time of year, that fall. It's just a great place to be. The trees and the temperature and everything is just gorgeous this time of year, it's so beautiful.