Review: The Walking Dead - 'Live Bait'

By: Heather Seebach

**The following contains S4E6 spoilers**

To hear my podcast discussion of this episode with Jeff Konopka, click here!

Last week's episode ended on an exciting cliffhanger that revealed the Governor standing just outside the prison walls. Prior to that, we last saw the Governor killing his own townspeople for fleeing a fight and then driving off with Martinez and Shumpert. This latest episode Live Bait is entirely about the Governor and where he has been all these months. As readers of these reviews probably already know, I am a bit of a Governor fangirl. I love a good villain and from the page to the screen, the Governor has long been a favorite of mine. So needless to say, I was already a bit biased toward liking this episode. My fandom aside, however, I still think this is a fantastic episode in its own right.

  Before I launch into a long spiel about redemption and character development, I'll jump right into one of my favorite aspects of this episode - the gore! From the Governor taking out grandpa Irreversible-style with the oxygen tank, to his Victor Crowley-esque skull-ripping, Greg Nicotero and his team were working overtime this episode!

I think we have a winner for Zombie Kill of the Week - take your pick! There is also that great scene with the dead war veteran in the bathtub. I like that scene because the zombie's face is fucked up, and had a gun in-hand, so the guy clearly tried to kill himself and missed. For a minute there, I actually wondered if this apartment building for some reason had hard-to-kill zombies (what with that guy and the ones on the upper level getting back up). That would have been a pretty cool idea actually! Alas, Tara is just a horrible shot.

Philosophical question: Are they still called walkers if they have no legs?
Okay, now onto the more complex stuff. When we catch up with the Governor post-massacre, he is living out of a tent with Martinez and Shumpert. Seeing that the Governor cares little about surviving - let alone leading - anymore, the other two men take off. Left alone, his first order of business is returning to Woodbury and burning it to the ground. Is this to block others (like Rick) from having it? Or a symbolic way of saying goodbye to that Governor? Probably both.

When he meets the family in the apartments after years alone, he tells them of Woodbury: "The man in charge - he just lost it. I barely got out alive." This could either be the Governor lying to protect himself, or a genuine admission of guilt on his part. Again, I believe it's a little of column A and a little of column B. His near-catatonic state at the beginning of the episode suggests a heavy mind. I suspect he is punishing himself, what with forcing himself to eat cat food over spaghettio's and pushing other people away.

Side note: I love that scene of beardy, dirty Governor and the zombie crossing paths on the street like two down-on-their-luck derelicts.

"Can ya spare some change?"

The Governor tells the other survivors his name is Brian Heriot (which, of course, he got from the side of that house). Fun fact: in the novels, Philip's real name is Brian. I don't think that fact stands on the show, but it was a cute bit of fan service nonetheless. Philip/Brian/Gov quickly takes a liking to the little girl, Megan, who obviously reminds him of Penny. He is convinced to run dangerous errands for backgammon and O2 tanks because "it would make Megan smile." Lines like, "You don't got a baby girl of your own" and "She thought you were her dad" sure don't help, either! Ouch.

I like his scenes with Megan ("I'm a pirate"), especially the chess scene. Sure, it's dripping with symbolism, but loved the dialogue anyway:

"You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game."

"That's the king - he's the guy you want to capture."

"He looks like you!"

As he spends more time with the girls, the Governor becomes protective of them, especially Megan (naturally). It devastates him when, after killing zombie grandpa, the girl is scared of him. And at the end, when she leaps into his arms, his face exudes sheer bliss.

I know many people will hate this episode for one of the following reasons: a) "It's boring"; or b) "The Governor should not be painted sympathetically!" During the interval when we did not see the Governor, fans probably assumed he was off torturing kittens or something equally heinous. People tend to forget he is still a human being and a complex antagonist. While I loved the comic book version of the Governor - who was pure evil from the beginning - I genuinely love that this Governor is more than just a two-dimensional villain. Much like with Shane, we are following the progression of a good-man-turned-bad who still has sympathetic qualities because, well, he's a complicated person.

Bad deeds are not a switch you simply flip on for good - just look at Carol! These are desperate times and certain individuals - Shane, Merle, Carol, Morgan, the Governor - are going to do immoral things for the sake of survival. It all comes down to how-far-is-too-far, and who decides? It's all shades of grey, and that has always been a theme of this show, so why would a sympathetic Governor episode piss people off? As for the "boring" argument, I don't know what to say except I found this episode tense as fuck! I literally saw an Uproxx commenter complaining the Governor's kills were "too unique and innovative" and that realistically he'd just stomp them. Hey bro, while you're analyzing the realism of The Walking Dead, take a moment and remember this is a show about ZOMBIES.

In a nutshell, this is a Philip episode, not a Governor one. This sort of character study is typically reserved for flashback episodes, but instead 'Live Bait' shows us a (presumably) changed man. In fact, some of the characters (Tara; Lily) and references in this episode were pulled from his back story in the novel, Rise of Governor. Is he really a new man, though? Could someone so monstrous really ever be good again? Despite what this episode may tell you, I say, no. This is not a new Governor, this is the old Philip. Lest we forget he was an everyday family man once. When zombies took his family and his happy, regular life, he became a changed man - one that would do anything to protect his people.

He held onto Penny because she was all he had and he needed to believe she was alive. It's not all that crazy - remember Hershel's farm? So when Michonne destroyed Penny, it pushed him over the edge and unleashed a monster we had not yet seen. As Philip died, the Governor was born. Once his men abandoned him, however, he was vulnerable, desperate, and possibly near death. Lily and Tara did him a kindness, but more importantly, Megan reminded him of Penny and treated him like her own lost father. Now with something to live for, we are seeing the old Philip again. When was the last time he looked at that family photo? As the Governor, he had no interest in being that weak man who couldn't save his family, but now a piece of that is returning. Seeing as this is The Walking Dead, however, I know this will not last. That man from Woodbury will rear his head again soon - either when Lily and/or Megan dies, or when his ugly side inevitably drives them away.

There will be no sappy redemption story here. Audiences seemed eager to forgive rape-y, backstab-y Shane, or racist, Glenn-torturing Merle, but give the Governor a sympathetic story and apparently it's too much to swallow. Personally, I find The Walking Dead most interesting when it is humanizing the monsters - be they human or zombie. I also like seeing the "good guys" do bad things (ahem, Carol). This is a fucked world where the rules of right-and-wrong are drastically altered. There is no room for black-and-white morality here.

In addition to the character development and awesome zombie kills, this episode introduced Lily and Tara, two characters I already like more than most of the regular cast! Chances are, they won't last long, and that kinda bums me out. Still, it's inevitable that the Governor we know and hate will return soon enough.

'Live Bait' ends with the Governor coming across Martinez again. Based on next week's preview, it looks like Martinez is his own leader now and tentatively takes in Philip and the girls. I'm eager to see how this all leads to his appearance at the prison.

As always, here are some funny episode reaction from Reddit:

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