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Why David Morrissey Was Never The Same After The Walking Dead

David Morrissey has been in the acting business for quite some time, earning attention across the pond for everything from Shakespearean plays to the "Doctor Who" Christmas special "The Next Doctor." However, the man gained mainstream success in America with his role as the Governor in "The Walking Dead." 

Morrissey was a big fan of the series, and he loved every moment of working on the show. He didn't shy away from the character's evil actions, and instead, he strove to understand the Governor's deeper motivations. His dedication to the role made the Governor one of the most memorable characters in series. At the same time, the show had a profound impact on him as an actor. In fact, taking on such a dark and unsettling character changed Morrissey's approach to understanding people and the other parts he plays. Here's a look at why David Morrissey was never the same after starring in "The Walking Dead".

Morrissey wanted to present a different character than the comics

When David Morrissey was first cast as the Governor, he turned to some of Robert Kirkman's source material for inspiration. In an interview with SFX Magazine, Morrissey explained that he's not much of a graphic novel fan, and he had more questions about the Governor's backstory than "The Walking Dead" comics addressed. So Robert Kirkman told him to read the spinoff novel "The Rise of the Governor" for a deeper dive into the character's history.

It wasn't until well after that first reading that Morrissey decided to jump into the comics. When he did, he found a character who was "very out there and dark and evil." He decided that he wanted to use his screen time to explore how the Governor transformed from the character in "The Rise of the Governor" to the epic antagonist seen in the pages of "The Walking Dead".

Speaking with Den of Geek, Morrissey explained that while getting ready for the show, most of his conversations about the Governor were with showrunner Glen Mazzara. The two of them talked about the Governor's psychology, including his penchant for manipulation and his comfort level with the post-apocalyptic world around him. Morrissey wanted to create a deeply felt, three-dimensional character who would shock fans of "The Walking Dead" comics as much as viewers of the show.

He believes the Governor was a good leader

David Morrissey spent some time studying famous leaders in history to prepare for the role. He told The Walking Dead Universe that he read up on cult leaders like David Koresh from Waco and Jim Jones. But it wasn't enough just to absorb ideas from cultists. He also took a look at more modern political leaders. In Morrissey's own words, the Governor is "able to offer security to a whole group of people." The Governor may be manipulative, in that "he knows how to keep people in a state of indebtedness to him," but he also gives people something they truly need.

Morrissey elaborated on the Governor's relationship to modern political leaders in his interview with Den of Geek. There, he said that leaders have a habit of "turning up the gas on our sense of insecurity, as well as our sense of security, in order to manipulate us." Despite that less-than-savory tactic, in the world of the zombie apocalypse, the Governor can still be considered a great leader because the security he creates is real. Morrissey said, "He doesn't distract his populace with security, you know, that's it. Security is everything."

His biggest challenge was representing the Governor's inner struggle

From the beginning, David Morrissey wanted to represent the Governor with more depth than the character had in "The Walking Dead" comics. In the comics, the Governor charges head-on into antagonist territory. He maims and murders without much in the way of regret. Morrissey's Governor is different. His version of the character understands the evil that he's done, and he struggles to square that knowledge with his own self-image. Speaking with SFX, Morrissey has said the challenge for him as an actor "was making sure [the Governor] did things for his good reasons, that they were absolutely paramount for him."

That struggles comes to the forefront in Season 4. Throughout the character's appearances in that season, Morrissey said he thinks "what the Governor's trying to do is run away from the thing inside himself, and he'll never run away." That struggle can be seen on the screen when the Governor kills Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) while shouting, "I don't want it!" The Governor didn't want to be forced back into a leadership role because he knew it would make him do bad things again. At the same time, he felt obligated to provide his group the protection that Martinez couldn't guarantee.

Morrissey loved the Governor's relationship with the audience

The meat and potatoes of "The Walking Dead," both on the page and on the screen, is the relationships between the characters. For the most part, the characters get to know each other at exactly the same time that the audience gets to know them. In that regard, the Governor is a very unique character in the show because his relationship with the audience is distinct from his relationship to any other person in the series.

David Morrissey talked about this relationship with Entertainment Weekly. He pointed out that the show's audience gets to see the Governor in ways the other characters don't. The audience sees him at his lowest points (when he guns down a group of his own people) and at his most vulnerable moments (when he burns the picture of his family before the apocalypse). No character in the show has the same amount of knowledge about the Governor as the audience does. Only the viewers understand the character in his totality. For Morrissey, that's the best part about the role. He loved that the Governor's "relationship with the audience is total."

It made him more empathetic

It's common knowledge that actors have to get into the minds of their characters. And the process of understanding the Governor and his actions made David Morrissey more empathetic in general. "You don't have to sympathize with him, but I have to empathize with him," Morrissey told SFX. Morrissey needed to understand, on an emotional level, what would drive the Governor to do some of the evil things he does. As with many other people who do bad things, Morrissey said, "I think [the Governor] is driven by fear." What feeling could inspire more empathy than fear for one's life?

At the same, taking on the role forced Morrissey to look at the other characters in "The Walking Dead" through a new set of eyes. He's openly expressed his love for the show and its characters, particularly the main cast, but that sense of love isn't shared by the Governor. Rick and the others at the prison might be the protagonists of the show, but they're antagonists for the Governor. Morrissey explained his view of the characters through the Governor's eyes by telling Den of Geek, "They are a threat to his security, terrorists are a threat to our way of life, and that's how he sees them."

It made him understand why bad people do bad things

According to Morrissey (via EW), "Nobody is all good, and nobody is all bad." The Governor as a character fully embodies that idea. He provides his people with safety and security. He loves Lilly Chambler (Audrey Marie Anderson). At the same time, he's a mass murderer who destroys countless lives. The Governor may be a fictional character, but his motivations for doing bad things are very human reasons that can be seen again and again in real life.

Talking with SFX, Morrissey described playing another role based on a man who tortured Winnie Mandela (an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa and Nelson Mandela's wife). He saw a similarity between that man's motivations and the Governor's. For both men, their actions have "to do with fear of self, a fear you yourself will be exterminated by your enemy." They both take that fear and use it to "demonize [their] enemy in some way." Morrissey said that "even though to us it's abhorrent, and we find it unforgivable, quite rightly," the fear is still real for the men themselves, and it drives them to do terrible things they otherwise wouldn't.

Filming The Walking Dead ruined Mad Men for Morrissey

In 2013, David Morrissey spoke with Conan O'Brien about the process of filming "The Walking Dead" ... and how it ruined other shows for him. The series shoots in Georgia, and they're often filming through large swaths of the summer. The heat and humidity is incredible. Plus, the actors are covered in dirt and fake blood, and many of their scenes involve intense action and athletic combat. By the end of filming a season, many of the actors have lost weight just from the sweat and exertion.

Morrissey quickly pointed out that the crew members and zombie extras have it harder than he did, as they don't have air conditioned trailers to escape to in between takes. Despite the heat, everyone loves working on the show and is incredibly passionate about bringing the zombie apocalypse to life on television.

However, all this has changed the way he views one particular series. In the interview, Morrissey said he used to be a huge fan of "Mad Men." Now, he has a different perception of the show. He watches the actors wear nice, clean suits and play out their scenes in fancy offices with air conditioning. It all leaves him wondering, "How can you pick your check up at the end of the week?"

Morrissey appreciated never knowing when the Governor would die

According to David Morrissey, no one knows when their last episode of "The Walking Dead" is going to be. During his interview with Conan O' Brien, the actor talked about the process the stars all went through when they got a new script for an episode. They each took the script back to their trailer to do a quick read-through to see whether or not they lived through the episode. Usually, the person who stayed sitting in their trailer when the actors regrouped was the one who didn't make it. Morrissey said that the show's willingness to kill off major characters was something he appreciated about it.

Back in 2013, Den of Geek asked Morrissey if he'd discussed his character's eventual exit from "The Walking Dead" with showrunner Glen Mazzara. Morrissey said, "I haven't actually, because I don't really want to have that conversation." Despite that reluctance, Morrissey knew his days were numbered from the very beginning. The Governor died in the comics two years before Morrissey's first season of the show ever aired.

At a Rhode Island Comic-Con panel in 2017, Morrissey told fans the cast held a "death dinner" for someone whenever it was their time to leave the show. They needed to have the dinners at someone's house so fans wouldn't see the group out in public and start speculating about who had died. And there were "a lot of tears" behind the scenes when it was the Governor's time to die.

The role brought him mainstream success In America

David Morrissey had been acting on stage and on the screen for years before joining the cast of "The Walking Dead." Before the show, though, he wasn't immediately recognized on the street, particularly in America. Describing his San Diego Comic-Con experience, which happened before his first appearance in the series, he told SFX, "We went down, and people went crazy for us, screaming at us as we were driving along outside the hotel. It was like being with a rock band. I'm a big fan, so I'm in there, driving along like the roadie."

His "roadie" status ended after "The Walking Dead" Season 3 landed on AMC. The season premiere had more viewers than any basic cable drama in history. The Governor didn't make an appearance until the third episode of the season, "Walk With Me," but enthusiasm for the show hadn't died down at all. By the time Morrissey walked onto the screen, over 10.5 million people were watching him in the role. Afterwards, when Morrissey attended comic conventions with "The Walking Dead" cast, fans were screaming for him as much as for anyone else.

Playing the Governor informed Morrissey's work on Britannia

Years after his time on "The Walking Dead", David Morrissey found himself in a role with some similarities to the Governor. "Britannia," which aired its first season in 2018, is a historical fantasy that loosely follows the events of the Roman invasion of Britain. Morrissey stars as Aulus Plautius, the Roman general who invaded Britain. Plautius is a ruthless and determined leader, not unlike the Governor.

Morrissey draws some distinctions between the two characters that illuminate his approach to the Governor's psychology and help him establish his Roman character. According to Morrissey, the Governor may have the leadership qualities present in General Plautius, but he has none of the conquering drive. As he explained to CBR, the Governor "set up his own enclave, and he was sort of not interested in going beyond that." If it hadn't been for the unfortunate run-in with Rick and the group at the prison, the Governor likely would've never left Woodbury. Morrissey also saw that the Governor lived in a world without order. It was the zombie apocalypse, after all. General Plautius is "in a world that has a strong tradition to it," so he's much more secure and, in some ways, less brutal because of that.

Morrissey stopped watching The Walking Dead after Negan entered

David Morrissey had been a fan of "The Walking Dead" before he signed onto the show, and he remained one after he left. Though he probably still considers himself a fan to this day, he did eventually stop keeping up with the show on a weekly basis. In 2020, Morrissey spoke with Digital Spy about when he finally decided to stop watching the show: He kept with it long enough to see Negan make his dramatic entrance. It turns out that Morrissey and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are friends, and the two of them spoke about "The Walking Dead" in the lead-up to Morgan joining the main cast.

Morrissey very much enjoyed Morgan's take on the baddest of bad guys in "The Walking Dead," but he didn't stick around to see how the fight against Negan and the Saviors played out. He said that his main reason for giving up on the show was that, with all his other projects going on, "It was difficult for me to commit to watching it in the way that fans do." However, Morrissey stepped away from the series at the same time as many others. "The Walking Dead" saw a significant ratings dip in its seventh and eighth seasons, but it's still one of the most popular shows on television.

Morrissey wants to return in a film about the Governor

Could fans someday see David Morrissey back on screen as the Governor? He certainly hopes so. Most fans got their first taste of the Governor in the pages of "The Walking Dead" comics that were adapted for the AMC series. Morrissey, however, fell in love with the character through three of Robert Kirkman's novels: "The Rise of the Governor," "The Road to Woodbury," and "The Fall of the Governor." In an interview with Digital Spy, Morrissey said, "There's stories to be told in those novels that I think are really fascinating." Since two of those three books all take place before the Governor's arrival on "The Walking Dead" show, there might be an opening for a prequel spinoff.

In Season 4 of "The Walking Dead," Morrissey had a handful of episodes more or less to himself as the show explored the Governor's fate after the fall of Woodbury. He proved that he's more than capable of being a leading man in those few hours of television, but when Morrissey pictures coming back to "The Walking Dead," he doesn't envision a prequel series at all. Instead, he says he'd "love to return, in a filmic way" to tell the stories in Kirkman's novels. Rick Grimes is getting a movie, why not the Governor?