Slowing down has never been one of The Walking Dead‘s strong suits. Except in the episodes that had Lennie James guest starring, episodes that examine character motivations tend to be plodding and a bit shallow. But “Live Bait,” which examines the path of the Governor (David Morrissey) after the fall of Woodbury, did a very nice job of showing how last season’s most feared character might have actually become a changed man during his exile, moving along just fast enough to keep the viewers interested.
Last year, I had mixed opinions about the Governor and Morrissey’s portrayal of him. He seemed maniacal for maniacal’s sake and a little weird, but he rarely if ever felt as menacing as he was in the graphic novel that this show was based on. Morrissey’s struggle to contain his British accent under an exaggerated drawl didn’t help, especially in scenes with his fellow Brit-turned-Georgian, Andrew Lincoln. This week’s episode, though, put the character of the Governor in a new perspective, showing that beneath the crazy, there was a good man lurking. Going forward, the key to his plot will be how much the good man struggles with the power-hungry nutjob we came to know last season.
What might help is the presence of Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson), Tara (Alanna Masterson), and little Megan (Meyrick Murphy), who gave the Governor shelter when he was at his scraggly-bearded weakest. Throughout the episode, the nurse and the newbie cop tried being tough, but repeatedly demonstrated that they needed the Governor around, mostly because they’d sheltered themselves from the walkers this whole time, to the point where Tara had no idea that she had to put a bullet in their brains in order to kill them.
The Governor’s been out there, and he knows how to deal with the world’s horrors. They both saw it when he had to put their poor dad (Danny Vinson) down after he finally died; if he didn’t, the pseudo-tough Tara might have been very ironic zombie chow.
He still thinks of himself as a family man, and the way he told Megan about his eye patch indicates that he still thinks that he was in the right about keeping his zombified daughter “alive”, which cost him his eye at the hands of Michonne (Danai Gurira, who, like all of the prison-based cast, wasn’t in this episode). So the old Governor may not be 100% out of him.
But the way he interacted with the tattered photo of his family throughout the episode was telling; he kept folding over his face, a move that indicated that he didn’t recognize the smiling dad in the picture anymore, or at least didn’t want to be reminded of that guy. And when he burned the picture after saving the women from their zombie-dad, he set fire to his face. The Governor is a man in pain, always wanting to be his previous self but knowing that’s not possible.
You’ve got to love the irony of the Governor, in an effort to protect Megan as the four of them were being chased by walkers in the woods, fell into one of the same walker traps that he used to have his henchmen set when he was leading Woodbury. For a moment, I thought he had fallen into one of his own old traps. Then his estranged “number two,” Caesar (Jose Pablo Cantillo), says, “hoolleee s—”, and things took yet another unexpected turn.
How is the Governor going to deal with working with Caesar and whatever ragtag mercenary team he’s gotten together? Will he revert back to his bloodthirsty ways or will he stay loyal to the Chalmers family as a new surrogate dad to Megan? Will the budding romance between him and Lilly—Tara dropped more than a hint at the end of the episode that she won’t be a romantic rival—help soften him? And how does he get back to the prison, which is what we saw at the end of the last episode?
All of this is intriguing, and it’s making season 4 into the show’s best. After last week’s chaotic, Hershel-centric episode, it was risky to back away from that and shift the focus, especially for a show that’s proven less-than-stellar when they’ve done it in the past. But “Live Bait” sets the stage for a bang-up second half-plus of the season, as the Governor, Carol (Melissa McBride) and the prison folk all are ready to converge into one big ball of drama. I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll keep building to that.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 PM Eastern on AMC.