The Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 6: “Live Bait”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Nichole Beattie
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC
Anyone who listens to our Walking Dead podcast has heard me comment on how much I would like to see the writers of the Walking Dead take bigger risks. Just last week I mentioned how I’d love to see an entire episode that doesn’t feature Rick and the gang. I also stated how much I’d like to see more flashbacks featured on the show. That said, I also made it very clear, that I wasn’t necessarily happy with the sudden return of The Governor in the final moments of last week’s fifth instalment, “Internment“. The sixth episode of season four titled “Live Bait,” gives me everything I asked for, but there is one problem: it revolves entirely around the one-eyed villain from season three, who most of would prefer to never see again. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this decision.
After dominating so much of Season three, The Governor was a no show in the first five episodes of The Walking Dead’s fourth season. The last time we saw him, he was mowing down his own followers with a machine gun before escaping with his two favourite henchmen, Martinez, and Shumpert. We all knew he would eventually come back, but some of us were secretly hoping he wouldn’t return so soon. While David Morrissey is a fine actor, The Governor from season three was written as an over the top, moustache-twirling, cartoonish villain, that left many critics (especially my co-host Kate Kulzick) extremely frustrated. And so “Live Bait” is a tricky episode to review, since we don’t know what the writers intend to do with his character here on out. If the writers try, and more importantly, succeed in turning him into a truly interesting antagonist, we can all look back on this episode and wholeheartedly agree it was a necessary one. Only time will tell.
“Live Bait” opens with an incredible scene, playing Ben Nichols’ “The Last Pale Light in the West” and following The Governor driving a huge truck towards Woodbury and burning it down to the ground. The cold open provides for some beautiful images, as The Governor begins to destroy any reminder of his past, starting with Woodbury, a place he worked so hard to build. In another scene later in the episode, he stares at a photo of his now deceased family and folds it in a way that removes him slightly from the same frame as them. The image of Morrissey against Woodbury in flames was effective, but no more effective than The Governor later burning the same photo of his wife and his daughter Penny. The man in the picture is long gone, and so The Governor sets fire to anything and everything that traces back to his past. The writers try their best to inject humanity back into our local one-eyed tyrant, and to be fair, this new version of the character (who introduces himself as Brian) seems far more focused than The Governor we once knew. His transformation from silent, loner to father figure is well written, well acted, and, almost convincing.
“Live Bait” isn’t a particularly exciting episode of The Walking Dead, but it’s a hell of a ballsy one. But no matter how well written, acted and directed these 42 minute are, I can’t help but not forgive nor forget about all the heinous crimes The Governor has committed in the past. It just seems that there is no turning back for this character; he’d grown from a monster, to an even greater monster, and while he might not look or act it here, he is still a monster. Is redemption even possible for his character? I don’t think so, but I don’t think it really matters. Characterization is all I am hoping for, not just for our heroes but our villains too – and there can be none more focused than this episode in which every minute is spent with him. Shades of The Governor still remain, though they emerge in small subtleties, and in grander moments. The chess sequence was a great touch, referring not only to him as King of Woodbury, but also referencing the pawns he’d sacrificed at the end of season three. And of course The Governor had no qualms with stabbing a walker in the head. The juxtaposition between him pounding the oxygen tank into the skull of Lily’s dad, to him shovelling dirt while burying his re-animated corpse, shows both his natural instinct to survive, and a new respect for a life taken away. Even more powerful, is the tragic scene in which The Governor discovers the walker stuck in a bathtub, and decides to put the former-amputee-war-vet out of his prolonged misery.
And yet, despite Morrissey’s strong performance, and Michael Uppendahl’s confident direction, “Live Bait” never fully won me over. At one point Lily jokingly tells The Governor while tending to his wounds, “Who would have ever thought the end of the world could be so boring?” One can’t help but think the writers injected this throwaway line as a meta-commentary on what they assume many viewers who normally expect big action set pieces, will complain about. However, my disappointment didn’t come with the lack of cranial ruptures, spewing-blood gouts, and ground-beef spillage; instead it comes with the decision to have a little girl be the catalyst for The Governor’s change, all the way to the casting someone who looks a lot like Penny. As I remarked on our podcast last week, Scott M. Gimple and his team are doing a much better job writing season four, but I can’t help but notice how they continue to recycle some of the same ideas and beats from previous seasons. We’ve already spent quite some time watching The Governor struggle with losing Penny, and not once but twice. And more recently we’ve seen Sophia resurrected in the form of Lilly. Season four hasn’t been especially subtle in the way it reinforces the parallels between dead little girls and those still alive.
In the final scene, Megan and the Governor become live bait when they fall into the ditch. However, Megan, is the real bait, as she slowly brings The Governor back to life in their short but sweet time spent together. Megan inspires in him a big change; The Governor is offered a second chance, and while his rebirth is a bit of a stretch, Morrissey’s performance allows us to believe in it, at least for the moment.
– Ricky D
The fact that the sisters have survived this long without figuring out that you have to destroy a zombie by attacking the brain is remarkable. At least now the Governor is there to educated them about what is happening in the world around them.
Megan: “Cross my heart and hope to die”
I believe Tara is the first openly gay character we’ve had on the show.
The Governor (still lying, or at least in denial): “I’m never gonna let anything happen to you.”
Don’t forget to listen to our Walking Dead podcast. New episodes drop every Monday night, with a different special guest each week.