Comics Alliance Recaps ‘The Walking Dead’ Ep. 4.06: ‘Live Bait’ [Spoilers]
Season four of The Walking Dead, AMC’s television adaptation of the Eisner-winning Image Comics series created by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore and drawn by Charlie Adlard, is now six episodes deep. And even though the Kansas City Chiefs are playing the most important game of their season at the same time, John Parker is still doing the recap. It's his own minor apocalypse.
After The Governor appeared briefly at the end of last week’s episode, many fans had to be wondering what he’s been up to the last several months. After “Live Bait,” they’re still wondering.
In a long-running TV show adapted from a long-running comic book, there’s a lot of stuff to translate from one medium to the other. Some the show’s choices have improved on what came in the comics, but some changes have been serious flubs, i.e. a depressing, season-long search for a kid we honestly didn’t like that much anyway.
When it comes to The Governor, the show has gotten everything right. The Governor from the comics was too over-the-top, too comicbooky (for lack of a better term), and too one-dimensional to ever work in the show. When The Governor from the comics introduced himself to Rick, he practically said “Hi, I’m The Governor. I’m missing one eye and I have a goatee, and I’m pretty evil. Ask around.”
The Governor from the show, as portrayed by Liam Nees — I mean David Morrissey, is a fully-realized character whose darkness had to be unveiled, who could pass for a lovable man of the people as well as a despot who believed he had been given the chance to be great by God Himself. One of the best things about Season 3 was watching that transformation, seeing those two Governors, at first separate people, and the slow crawl of the dark side fully taking over to form the sadistic Cyclops that we all hate to admit that we actually kinda love.
"Live Bait" begins right after The Governor gunned down his own people, with Martinez and the other guy (sorry, I never got your name) still by his side. That didn’t last long. Later in what appears to be that same night, as The Governor stews in his own homicidal juices silently, a walker goes right through the campfire to get to him, but he doesn’t budge. Martinez has to take the walker out, and apparently that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back: not the thirty neighbors he gunned down, but the fact that he’s catatonic, worthless. The next morning, The Governor wakes to discover he’s alone.
And thus begins his rebirth. The Governor bulldozes through the front gates of Woodbury, lets the walkers in, and burns the whole goddamn place down, destroying his own creation, his baby, his place of power. The song playing is “The Last Pale Light in the West” by Ben Nichols, a hauntingly beautiful song about a bad man looking for a new beginning. It would almost be an uplifting moment if the song wasn’t from a concept about Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, a western masterpiece about man’s savagery. (By the way, how awesome is Thomas Golubic? As the music supervisor for The Walking Dead [and Breaking Bad], Golubic has chosen some fantastic companion music that adds subtle shading and conveys messages parallel to the each episode’s theme. The fact that most of it is stuff I already like helps.)
With nothing left, The Governor goes a-wandering for some time – you can tell because he has long hair and a beard. He looks a little bit more like he did in the comics, but more so he resembles Will Ferrell’s homeless nude model Terrence Maddox, so he’s clearly at his last tether. Right before he’s about to give up for good, he receives a moment of hope, discovering a family still holed up in an abandoned apartment building.
The family is made up of little girl Megan, at-death’s-door grandpa, mother Lilly (could they have casted somebody who looks more like an older version of Maggie?), and aunt Tara the cop. No really, she’s a cop. Just ask her.
Hesitantly, after Tara takes a moment to assure The Governor that seriously, she’s a cop, you can ask anybody and show just how nail-spitting tough she is (which is like bragging to Satan about how hardcore you are), they take him in for the night. He introduces himself as Brian Heriot, a name spray-painted on a marker shed he passed, probably the name of a dead man.
We know The Governor is looking for a new beginning, but what kind of new beginning? When he stares at the old photo of himself with his wife and daughter, does he yearn for the past or torture himself for his mistakes? Does he want to return to his life before the apocalypse, as a family man, to recapture some kind of humanity? To build himself up again, to create a new empire? Does he have a choice?
Despite trying to avoid engagement with the family, he’s drawn in by their obvious need for help, for protection. These people have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Apparently, no matter how many times you shoot them, they just keep getting up. Despite being a police officer (No really. I have a badge, just not with me) she’s yet to tag one in the head. He starts doing little tasks for the family, risking his life for them, which seems very un-Governor-like.
While searching through an apartment for a backgammon board (I did say little tasks), The Governor finds a box of bullets under the bed. Instead of taking the whole box, though, he only takes one. If the message weren’t clear enough, The Governor finds the legless former resident (is legless-ness going to be a theme?) in his bathtub, walker-fied. The man tried to kill himself but is apparently a worse shot than Tara, and The Governor finishes the job and takes the dead man’s gun. One gun + one bullet = Governor no more.
The family’s need puts a stop to that. After imparting the most necessary nugget of wisdom in the post-apocalypse – have you seriously never shot one in the head? Not even accidentally? – he takes on another, more dangerous task to repay them for their kindness, to be a father again, and maybe die in the process. If Lilly hadn’t asked him for help, the episode probably would’ve ended there, with The Governor eating his own gun and all of us noting what a bold, unexpected choice the show made. Instead, The Governor risks himself again to retrieve oxygen tanks for Gramps (don’t smoke, kids).
He has a family again. Megan, the little girl who Gramps insisted didn’t talk, is annoyingly gabby. Did Gramps just mean that she didn’t talk to him? Maybe backgammon is just a special game. The Governor bonds with Megan, subconsciously trying to replace Penny, genuinely looking as though he wants this fresh start, this new family.
But the darkness is still there. When Megan asks what happened to his eye, he says it was because he was trying to protect someone, Penny, glossing over the part where he kept a collection of pickled walker heads and tortured people. As he teaches Megan to play chess, he says “you can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game,” and, not sensing the dark message like we do, Megan draws an eye patch on the king.
Please, Megan. Don’t encourage him.
When Gramps finally kicks it, because these people don’t know anything, they’re totally unaware that he’ll come back, and The Governor caves Gramps’s face in with the same oxygen tank meant to give him just a little more time. (Heavy.) Tara, totally a cop, fist-bumps The Gov, which is just… tacky. I’m all for pounding it, but your pap-pap just died twice. Probably not the best time to bro it out. You’re a police officer for God’s sakes.
Saying goodbye to the past completely, The Governor burns the picture of his old family, intending to move on. But with Grandpa dead, Lilly, Tara and Megan have no reason to stay in that apartment. No reason other than it’s fairly secure, they have a massive food supply, and seem to have gotten along pretty well over the past two years. Nonetheless, they want to leave, and they want The Governor to take them.
Tara reveals she’s not actually a cop! Wow. In a series full of twists, this one really had my head spinning.
The Governor accepts the role of leader, patriarch, family-man. He even has sex with Lilly, because that’s how it’s done in the apocalypse: with whoever shows you a bit of kindness. Okay, I’m more than willing to believe that the breakdown of society does that to people, but even this seemed way too easy. The three women characters in this episode were all flat and one-dimensional: the loving mom, the girl with the tough exterior, and the damaged kid. Lilly’s decision to sleep with The Governor feels like a throwaway, a random choice for a one-note character. Maybe she really does care for him, maybe it was the right decision, but because Lilly was so flatly presented, we’ll probably never know.
Now that he has people to care for again, The Governor has people to hurt for again, and it’s not long before they run into trouble. A pack of walkers split them up, and The Governor grabs Megan and runs, falling into a trench filled with more walkers. After literally taking them apart by hand, The Governor looks up to see the last person he expected to, and definitely the last person he wanted to, his former right-hand-man Martinez.
Whether The Governor has really changed is still up for grabs. Will he make a real go at this new family, or fall back into his old war-mongering habits again? Will Martinez save himself a world of trouble and just kill him?
Even though it would make a lot of sense, we know that’s not going to happen. The Governor’s journey back to the prison has only begun. He has a lot of bad road left to travel, and the last pale light in the West was just the thing he needed to keep him moving back towards himself.