Plot: The Governor (David Morrissey) is all alone. Following his failed assault on the Prison, the Governor massacred the very same people he once protected. He is quickly abandoned by his only two surviving allies soon after. Now he wonders the streets with only the dead to keep him company. Is redemption around the corner for this former leader or is he doomed to remain in his own personal Hell for the rest of his days?
At long last, the Governor himself has returned. What exactly happened to him following his complete and utter psychological breakdown following “Welcome to the Tombs” was one of the biggest questions of Season 4. We know that Michonne (Danai Gurira) has been hunting him down for months but many people believe the trail has gone cold by this point. In one of the rare episodes that don’t feature a single member of the main cast including Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), “Live Bait” set out to shed a light on what happened post-assault. It was all about the Governor from start to finish. However, it wasn’t the explosive return I’m sure many people expected. Instead of the Governor gathering resources to strike once again, he takes a long hard look at the man he has become. His self-discovery and possible path to redemption made “Live Bait” one of the best character development episodes all series despite some relatively uneven pacing.
David Morrissey is one of the best actors currently on this show and you only need to look at last night’s episode to understand why. Morrissey’s expertly nuanced portrayal of the Governor’s shattered mental state in light of what he had done was exactly what this episode needed to succeed. All of the emotional weight was basically put entirely on his shoulders. The episode opens up with the immediate aftermath of him killing the Woodbury army survivors. Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Shumpert (Travis Love), the Governor’s only remaining allies, quickly abandon him in fear. The Governor then completely burns down Woodbury and begins to wander the streets of Georgia on his own. The Governor’s slow, zombie-like walk and long disheveled hair convey beautifully how broken this man has really become. There weren’t any lines spoken for a good period of time, but all we really needed was Morrissey’s body language to really sell how much turmoil this man is currently in.
It is when the Governor meets up with a family hiding out in an apartment building that he begins the uphill battle to redeem himself. Whether or not he can truly recover remains to be seen (you really can’t erase the horrors he alone has wrought) but the building blocks were placed. Enter in Megan (Meyrick Murphy), a young girl who bears a striking resemblance to the Governor’s former daughter Penny. Megan is accompanied by her mother Lilly (Aubrey Marie Anderson), Lily’s sister Tara (Alanna Masterson), and their ailing father David (Danny Vinson). This Lilly, full name Lilly Chalmers, is not to be confused with the comic/novel/video game character Lilly Caul, and it remains to be seen if they end up playing the same role. This did give us some extensive nods to the novel The Rise of the Governor, including Tara and David, the apartment setting and events, and even the name “Brian” which the Governor adopts. The only real changes are the characters involved, specifically the inclusion of Lilly who replaced April from the novel, Megan, and the fact that the Governor was alone. This is the first time one of the novels has been referenced in another medium and it definitely added that extra layer for fans of the entire franchise.
When the Governor first comes into contact with this small family, they’re not trusting of him and he doesn’t believe he deserves to be with them. The magnitude of his actions weighs heavily on the Governor’s shoulders and his lonesome wandering is easily a form of self-punishment. However, everyone eventually grows closer as the Governor, now Brian Heriot, assists the sisters and their father with important tasks. This includes getting a well crafted backgammon set from the walker infested upper floors and a new oxygen tank from the retirement home for the ailing man. Megan, who has been silent ever since her father vanished, begins talking again as “Brian” becomes a new father figure for her. Slowly but surely, the Governor begins his slow change from the man he used to be.
The Governor’s transformation and growing redemption is evident with his weakening attachment to a photo of his long deceased daughter Penny. That photo is the last current connection he has to his ruthless past. As the episode goes on and “Brian” grows closer, the picture becomes less and less important to him. The beard is shaved, the hair is cut, and “Brian” is happily playing chess with Megan. When David passes away and is promptly killed by “Brian” when he becomes a walker, the three girls become forever attached to this man. Shortly thereafter, “Brian” burns the picture of him, Penny, and his wife, metaphorically erasing his past as the Governor and fully embracing his future as “Brian.”
When it comes to character growth and development, you really can’t get much better than this. Whether or not the Governor actually deserves his redemption is debatable, but he certainly is walking down that road. But to bring us this intense focus the writers threw a wrench in that brisk pacing we had in the episodes prior. The beginning of “Live Bait” brings us right back to Season 3, only to time jump an indeterminate time into the future to where the Governor is wandering alone. Then the story moves along unevenly when the Governor meets Lily and her family in the apartment. It moves as slow as a walker when he first meets them and tries to acclimate, but then suddenly speeds up to the point that David dies of cancer and Lilly becomes romantically interested in “Brian.” Before we know it, the three girls are putting their uninhibited trust in the Governor as “Brian” despite them seemingly only knowing each other for a very short amount of time. So while it’s obvious that the episode was slowed down for focus, you also get the feeling that the writers were trying to move it along quickly. It felt unnatural.
“Live Bait” ends with “Brian” rescuing Megan while they are both stuck in a pit with walkers. His ruthless murdering of them with his bare hands shows that the Governor persona isn’t truly dead, but it was a ton of fun to watch. However, this ends up reuniting “Brian” with Martinez showing that you can’t really escape from your past. From previews it looks like next week’s episode will be entirely Governor/“Brian” focused as well, which I honestly cannot wait for. I thought “Live Bait” was one extremely powerful episode that wouldn’t have been nearly as good if David Morrissey wasn’t the man with the eye patch. However, the episode failed to be truly great with its uneven pacing and general lack of excitement outside of watching the Governor change and murder walkers with his bare hands.