This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Live Bait,” was a departure for the series, and an interesting idea, though the execution was flawed (i.e., boring). It was the first full-length episode entirely devoted to a flashback; in fact, it will be the first of two flashback episodes devoted to The Governor’s whereabouts since his failed battle against the prison camp in the season three finale.
This first flashback episode, however, felt almost as though it could’ve been reduced to a musical montage. The storyline was familiar; the beats were predictable. It was a slow, crawl of an episode, almost entirely a character building exercise designed to build sympathy for what was once The Walking Dead’s most loathed villain.
Did it work?
Kind of. It’ll be necessary to see the second flashback episode to know if it will truly be successful, but despite the almost glacial pacing and a predictable, mundane storyline, by the end of “Live Bait,” we began to see The Governor in an entirely new way. He’s sympathetic. There’s part of us, even, that is rooting for him, unless you sit and think minute about all the people he killed so senselessly last season, and what he perpetrated upon Maggie, and the fish tanks full of walker trophies. Then the entire episode felt like a cheap and manipulative way to redeem a character that didn’t deserve to be redeemed. But, at least, we can see what kind of person Phillip/Brian was before Woodbury, and it’s not too hard to understand how the loss of his first family cost him his sanity.
The episode takes us back to the moment at the end of series three when The Governor drives off with Ceasar and Shumpert, after killing his Woodbury militia. The Governor falls into a deep, depressed funk, and it’s clear he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. He leaves Caesar and Shumpert, goes back to Woodbury to see its destruction, and begins a months-long walking journey (in an actual musical montage, to Ben Nichols’ soulful “The Last Pale Light In The West”), in which he also grows a cliched depression beard, acknowledging that he just “lost it” as leader of Woodbury.
On his last legs, he eventually falls in with with a family hiding away in an apartment complex, living on the non-perishable goods from a truck driven by the family’s grandfather, who is dying of cancer. The family doesn’t know a lot about the biters; they don’t know, for instance, that you have to kill them in the brain, or that everyone transforms after their deaths (how that family survived as long as they did despite their ignorance is something of a convenient mystery).
The Governor, initially, remains mostly catatonic, still grieving the loss of both Woodbury, and his daughter. He adopts a new name, Brian Harriet (as opposed to his name in the comics, Brian Blake. FYI: Philip Blake, in the comics, was the name of The Governor’s brother, which The Governor, Brian Blake, adopted as his own). He trashes the butter beans the family offers him, opting instead to eat cat food, as a kind of self-flagellation.
And so begins the Governor’s slow (really slow) journey toward self-redemption. He ends up caring for this new family. He shaves his depression beard. He retrieves, at considerable risk, an oxygen tank for the ailing grandfather. Over backgammon and later chess, he draws the youngest daughter, Megan, out of her silence. When the grandfather dies, he saves the oldest daughter from a zombie bite after the grandfather turns. And he begins falling in love with the mom, Lily (The Unit’s Audrey Marie Anderson). He finally lets go of his old family (burning their picture to symbolize the transition), and adopts this new family as his own. “You had a family, I know that,” Lily says to The Governor. “We can’t be them, but for now, you’re stuck with us, and it’s just the way it’s going to be.” He even makes love to Lily in a bed he is sharing with her two daughters. It’s kind of creepy, to be honest. I get that space is limited, but at least roll over onto the floor before you start banging next to the kids.
The Governor takes his new family back out into the world. But after their truck — with all the non-perishables inside — breaks down, they’re forced to go on foot. When they’re confronted by walkers, The Governor and Megan — the youngest daughter who The Governor has begun to think of as his own — fall into an empty grave. The Governor saves her from four or five biters, killing them with his bare hands in some of the most brutal ways we’ve ever seen on the show. “I’ll never let anything happen to you,” The Governor tells Megan, who has essentially become his Penny now. “I promise,” he says, before espying Caesar standing above him.
Next: 6 Open Questions We Have About The Governor
And so, after a trite, 42 minute storyline that we’ve seen countless times, we’re supposed to already feel differently about The Governor, to forget everything we ever knew about the man, and sympathize with him as a father, a protector, and a good man, who had made a few mistakes — like mass murder — for the good of his people. Clearly, The Governor has a hypersensitive protective streak easily capable of overriding rational thought.
(The open questions below contain spoilers from the promo for next week’s episode, Dead Weight)
1. Where is Shumpert? — We still don’t know exactly why The Governor left Caesar and Shumpert (or vice versa) in the beginning of the episode, nor if Shumpert is even alive. He isn’t seen on the “next on” scenes.
2. Is Caesar friend or foe? — There is definitely an open question about whether Caesar and The Governor are working together, or against each other. Caesar suggests that The Governor’s family is “dead weight,” which this new camp doesn’t want, but it also appears that The Governor takes charge of the new camp, when he says he’ll do anything he need to do to protect them. On the other hand, it also looks like he may be working against his new camp in order to protect his new family. Does he work with them in order to take them down from the inside?
3. Whose side will the Governor be on in the inevitable showdown between the marauders and the prison? — If the Governor is truly redeemed, will he go against the prison with the marauders, or will he somehow use the prison to get rid of the marauders, save his family, and redeem himself to Rick? Is that even possible? Or will he leave his family with the prison to save them from the marauders? Is he using this new family to get to the prison? The roads did conveniently lead him back toward the prison, after all. Is there a long con at play?
4. What will Caesar tell The Governor’s new family about The Governor? — How much will Lily learn about The Governor’s past from Caesar? What will the Governor say about the prison gang? That they destroyed Woodbury and drove him away? They they were the bad guys? Will The Governor end up in a new web of lies with his new family?
5. Is it possible that Carol is among the marauders? No. The timelines do not sync up, unless The Governor meets Carol two or three days before he goes to the prison. We likely will not see Carol again this season. The question remains, however: How will Daryl react to Carol’s absence? We may not see that reaction until the mid-season finale, and how will Daryl’s reaction play into the return of The Governor to the prison?
6. Will Rick ever accept The Governor? — Even if The Governor is a completely different guy than he was at the end of season three — which is far fetched — there’s no reason for anyone at the prison to know that. There’s also no reason for anyone at the prison to trust the Governor. There’s no reason to think that those at the prison wouldn’t kill him on sight, no questions asked. So, will there be a showdown?
We know from Andrew Lincoln that Rick’s going to have a hard season finale, from an interview with TVline.
There’s been one scene that was pretty painful to do — it’s always the midseason finale! [Laughs] It was all going so well for me this year, I was farming and just kicking back – I thought it was going to be a really relaxed season for me – and then they just go, ‘Bam!’
We also know that David Morrissey wants to stick around on The Walking Dead, this season and even beyond. Was that misdirection to disguise the fact that he’s going to die? Or is it actually possible for him to stick around within the prison?
How would that work? The show can’t have two storylines running parallel forever. Will the transformed Governor be able to ingratiate himself into the prison somehow? Can he save the prison from the marauders and gain Rick’s trust? Or has he (and the marauders) been planning to weaken the prison for weeks so that he can take it over? Are they behind the infection? The mice? And if the Governor takes it over, does that mean the end of Rick? Or of Carl or Judith, which would debilitate Rick to such an extent that he wouldn’t be able to put up a fight against The Governor and the marauders?
There are a ton of scenarios, and I haven’t the first clue how it will all play out, but despite the slow nature, and the cheap manipulation of “Live Bait,” it sets up a very intriguing, unpredictable final two episodes. I think the mid-season finale is going to be a soul blaster.