Image Comics’ horror series The Walking Dead became famous for the fact that anyone could die at any time, which made it all the more shocking when the Governor survived his horrific torture at the hands of Michonne Hawthorne. As revenge for her brutalization at his hands, Michonne dismembers the villain with her iconic sword, leaving fans asking how he possibly survived the shocking extent of the injuries she inflicted – a question which writer Robert Kirkman has explicitly answered.
In the midst of flesh-eating zombies, Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard’s Walking Dead #27 introduces the Governor to the series’ expanding mythology. The respected leader of the safeguarded Georgia community known as Woodbury, the Governor is a former weakling who has found himself hardened by the zombie apocalypse. While there had already been a host of minor human threats, the Governor represented the first recurring foe that protagonist Rick Grimes and his group of survivors had to contend with. After a helicopter crash leads Rick and fellow group members Michonne and Glenn to Woodbury, the Governor reveals his true colors, exposing himself as a greater monster than even the undead horde.
Late 2020 saw the beginning of the bi-monthly Walking Dead Deluxe series, with Dave McCaig coloring the originally black-and-white art, as well as behind-the-scenes notes and issue scripts from Robert Kirkman. The letters page of The Walking Dead Deluxe #46 discusses the incident in which Rick’s trio finally made their perilous escape from Woodbury, with a vengeful Michonne torturing the Governor and leaving him for dead. The villain is quickly found by members of the Woodbury community, including a drunken medic named Bob, and nursed back to health in time to stage a game-changing assault on Rick and his group at the nearby Meriwether County Correctional Facility. As a reader asks how Bob somehow managed to keep the Governor alive, Kirkman responds, « The idea is that Michonne was keeping The Governor alive… so she could torture him more. » While The Governor sustained serious injuries upon his reunion with Michonne, Kirkman affirms that « His wounds were bad, but not impossible to heal from. »
This is something which is apparent during the issue where Michonne tortures the Governor, as she takes pains to cauterize and dress his injuries. However, the scene is so brutal, many fans missed this fact, and instead ascribed his survival to Bob, whose competency had been in question up to that point. Kirkman’s explanation makes it clear that the Governor survived because of the thorough nature of Michonne’s attack, not despite it.
While it would have likely saved lives, the Governor facing his end in Woodbury would have prevented the villain from making the sustaining impact that The Walking Dead needed to truly prosper, as Kirkman has also mentioned believing the prison massacre he carried out in response helped the franchise reach a new level of popularity. Michonne’s torture of the Governor lives on as perhaps the series’ most shocking moment, but The Walking Dead made it clear from the start how and why he survived, as Robert Kirkman has pointed out since.