Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 6, “Live Bait”

“Live Bait”

(All images used in this post are screen caps from AMC’s The Walking Dead, unless otherwise specified.)

Well. once again, the mavericks of The Walking Dead have thrown us another curve ball, turning back time and dedicating this entire episode to the Governor’s story and whereabouts from the moment he massacred his makeshift Woodbury army and squealed wheels outta there in a pickup truck with his two henchmen in tow…Martinez and the other guy.

I really liked this episode..especially since I am in no hurry to witness The Daryl Conversation, when Rick has to fess up to Daryl that he sent Carol packing.  When it comes to that conversation, I’ve got all day, every day, to find something else to divert my attention away from that dreaded and inevitable scene….in fact, when it comes to The Daryl Conversation, just call me Nefertiti, Queen of Denial. For now, I choose to pretend it doesn’t exist…la la la, la la.. Daryl Conversation?  What Daryl Conversation? Carol who?

So, what has the Gov been up to since mowing down and hauling ass?  Brooding, for starters, and lots of it.  A key opening scene shows the Gov, staring into a campfire, with three tents set up behind him.. from the darkness, a walker emerges and lurches towards him, teeth bared.  Fire Walker (Talking Dead’s name for her…ha!)  stumbles over the campfire and falls at the Gov’s feet, snarling and hissing as she claws towards him, her skirt starting to catch fire.

Through all this, Gov does not move, makes no attempt to get away or kill the walker…he is in some “shoulda-woulda-coulda” stupor and just doesn’t seem to give a crap about anything anymore.  Martinez emerges from his tent, gun in hand, and easily dispatches the Fire Walker with a single shot to the head. He looks at the Governor, who is still sitting there, motionless and brooding…Martinez rolls his eyes, shakes his head, and goes back into his tent.

The next morning, the Gov emerges from his tent to find himself alone, abandoned by his henchmen…his reaction is pure David Morrissey genius as he looks around and takes it all in…the empty campsite, the tire tracks of the pickup truck, long gone, the burnt-out remains of the campfire and dead walker…hands on hips, he bends forward slightly, like someone who had the wind knocked out of him, then tips his head back, looking towards the heavens, like, “Fuuuuck…what now?”

What now, of course, involves a big rig on the side of the road, and of course the Gov is one resourceful motherfucker…time for Plan B to go into full effect:  Destroy Woodbury.

The following montage is really amazing, set to Ben Nichols’ “The Last Pale Light in the West,” showing the Governor blasting through the gates of Woodbury in the big rig before torching the entire town, resulting in some of the most epic images of the Gov yet…

The Gov's new Instagram self-portrait...

The Gov changed his profile picture.

The Gov as Snake Plissken...

The Gov as Snake Plissken(Chris Hardwick’s joke, not mine.)

The montage continues with panoramic landscape shots, sunset, then daylight, suggesting the passage of time…We see the Governor, disheveled and bearded, walking aimlessly down the side of a road. He stops to read graffiti messages scrawled on the front side of a barn, attempts at communicating to loved ones, telling the sad stories of the fallen…one name stands out in the messages (“Brian Heriotmeet us at home we love you Brian Heriot”). We watch the Governor’s face as he reads this, and hangs his head, as the import of these writings hits him.

This scene is brilliantly done, complete with a voice-over that is layered through the filmed images and music…we hear the Gov telling someone, “I’ve been on the road for a couple of months…” “By yourself?” a woman’s voice asks. “Yeah,” he replies. “Where did you live, before that?” the woman asks. “I was in a town,” the Gov says.  “Were the monsters there?” asks the woman. “No,” he answers. “It was safe….full of good people.” “What happened?” the woman’s voice asks. “He just…lost it,” answers the Gov. “Who?” asks the woman. “The man in charge,” he whispers. “Barely got out alive.”

As the music ends, we see the Governor stumble into the small nameless town, sidestepping a walker before collapsing in the street…as he looks up, he sees a little girl looking down at him from the window of an apartment building.  When he goes to investigate, he finds a family holed up in an apartment…Don, the older father, who is on an oxygen tank; his daughters, Lilly and Tara (who is standing at the apartment doorway, pointing a handgun at the Governor as he approaches) and Lilly’s daughter, Megan, who resembles the Governor’s late daughter, Penny.

Despite the initial awkwardness and distrust of their first encounter, the family and the Governor begin to warm up to each other. It starts slowly, with the Governor supplying a fake name (Brian Heriot) when asked and dumping a bowl of Spaghettios out the window after Lily comes across the hall with the food offering (after thanking her in a whisper and gently closing the door).  Later, on Talking Dead, when pressed by Chris Hardwick as to why the Governor would dump the Spaghettios out the window, David Morrissey explained that the Governor would not want to be indebted to anyone for anything, even a bowl of Spaghettios.

But, of course, all that changes.  The Governor tries to return the bowl by leaving it at the doorstep, but Tara is having none of it (“Slow down there, buddy, this isn’t the Holiday Inn!”). Before the Gov knows what’s happening, he is invited for coffee and directed to the couch,  and then he is asked to help move the old father to his bed…it is touching and funny to watch this fearsome character be bossed around by a super sassy Tara.

The Gov scoops up the old man easily in his arms and delivers him to his bed, and before he can slip away, the old man asks the Gov if he hears the noises of the walkers moving around upstairs. The old father tells the Gov that Tara has gone upstairs and blasted them countless times, to no avail. He finally told Tara to stop trying, not to waste her bullets. It is clear that they do not know to shoot the walkers through the head.

Then old Don asks the Governor him if he’s ever had kids. “No,” the Gov lies quietly. The old man tells him that the moment he became a father, he knew what it meant to be a man, a real man. This, of course, is the last thing the Governor wants to talk about, and he tries to slip away again, but not before old Don has a request…could the Gov go upstairs and get his neighbor’s backgammon set that’s stashed under the bed? It would mean a lot to his granddaughter, Megan, and may even put a smile on her face, a rare occurrence these days.

So, despite himself, the Governor finds himself in the old neighbor’s upstairs apartment, pulling the backgammon set out from under the bed and finding a box of bullets as well. As he puts them in his pocket, he hears a noise, and upon investigation, he finds, lying in the bathtub, the fugliest walker we’ve seen since the fat bloated well walker from Season 2:

Behold

Behold “Bath Salts Walker,” as named on Talking Dead’s In Memoriam segment…super gross, Nicotero-style!

After the Governor dispatches Bath Salts Walker, he comes back downstairs,  bringing Megan the backgammon set, as well as  a smile to her face.

Then, the Gov returns to the apartment across the hall and pulls out the picture of him with his wife and daughter.  He looks at the picture a moment, then folds the corner down, obscuring his own face, leaving only the smiling faces of his wife and daughter.

Lilly comes over with a gift of thanks, tries to return the Gov’s gun to him, but he refuses it, advises her that they need to shoot the walkers in the brain to kill them. He tries to walk away, again,  but Lily has another favor to ask…if he could try to get another tank or two of oxygen from a nearby old folks’ home for her father, who is in the final stages of lung cancer? When the Governor hesitates, she tells him that her father is the only one who can bring a smile to Megan’s face.

And, so, once again, the Gov goes, and almost gets himself killed in a harrowing scene at the old folks’ home, which is now full of walkers. The Gov barely escapes with his life, but manages to bring back two full tanks of oxygen.  As Lilly comes to tend to his wounds, she sees the picture of him and his family. Later, Megan approaches him, asks what happened to his eye. He says he will tell her, but she must keep it a secret. She holds out her hand to do a “pinky swear” with him. He complies, and tells her that his eye was hurt when he was trying to save someone he cared about. When Megan asks him if he was able to save that person, he tells her no. She tells him that she is sorry for that, and he gently replies that he is sorry as well.

David Morrissey plays the Governor so well in this episode, as the Gov keeps getting disarmed by this family, by their growing trust, caring and need for him. His manner with them, from the beginning, is quiet, and courteous, and gentle, even with Tara, as she sasses and bosses him around.  He tries to keep the family at arm’s length, but he cannot continue to do so, as they keep worming their way in, especially Megan.  Lilly tells the Gov that when Megan saw him from the window that first day, she thought at first he was her father, returning home at last from a convenience store run that he never came back from.

Megan, who barely talked or smiled before, is beginning to open up to the Governor, to talk and smile with him.  And in return, the Governor is opening up to Megan and her family, and we see a side of him that we have not seen before: the father, and husband, as opposed to the liar, torturer, and murderer that we have seen in the past. While we have seen the villian side of the Governor acting the part of the courteous host, the attentive boyfriend, and the heroic leader, this is the first time we have seen him motivated by love and act selflessly, as a husband and father does for a wife and a child.

It is all very confusing for us, the viewers and the fans…aren’t we supposed to really hate this guy? Can this gentle, caring, tender guy really be the Governor? The answer is, yes, he can.  He has the capacity to be both evil and good. He was a loving father and husband at one time, but was broken by tragedy and grief, losing his humanity along the way.  But, then he found this family, and the redemption he thought was lost to him was offered up again.

But to take the chance to love again is to also chance losing again…and if the Governor lets this family in and opens his heart, which he has clearly done, and loses them, can he come back from that?  Many of my friends think not, and I agree…if the Governor loses Lily, Tara, and especially Megan, I don’t think he can come back from that.

Meanwhile, some time has passed, maybe a week or more…the Governor’s hair is neatly trimmed, and the scraggly beard is gone. A close-up shot of a chess board, as the Gov is teaching Megan how to play chess, while Tara and Lilly are tending to their dying father. Megan holds up a pawn and asks about it.  The Governor tells her it’s a pawn, a soldier. Megan asks if the soldiers die. The Governor says sometimes they do. Megan asks if you lose if the soldiers die.  “Not necessarily,” answers the Gov. “You can lose a lot of soldiers and still win the game.” Megan then holds up the white king questioningly.

“That’s the king,” says the Gov. “That’s the guy you want to capture.”

Megan takes the white king and draws an eye patch on it in black marker, hands it to the Gov. “He looks like you,” she says. The Governor looks bemused as he holds the piece. “Yes, he does,” he agrees.  They begin to play. Later,  Lilly comes into the room, gives Megan and the Gov a sad and significant nod of the head. Don has died. As the Governor realizes that it has been some time since Don’s death, the alarm shows in his face.  He tries to get the girls to leave Don’s room, but they ask for a moment…and of course, Don’s eyes open as he reanimates as a walker, and he grabs for Tara.

The ensuing scene is the beginning of a rapid downward spiral for the Governor’s happy family respite.  It is also the beginning of some truly gnarly hand-to-hand combat style walker-slaughter, courtesy of the Governor.  He quickly grabs one of the oxygen tanks and bashes Don Walker’s head in with it, pounding it bloody into the pillow as the horrified women scream and try to stop him.  Megan is traumatized, and later, when Tara acknowledges that the Governor saved her life, and that Don would be grateful for what he did, he looks towards Lilly and Megan.  Lilly shakes her head no…Megan is not ready to forgive or accept him.  The Gov returns to the apartment across the hall, retrieves his things, and sets a flame to the picture of him and his family, pushing it out the window.

When he tries to leave, Lilly insists he take them with him.  They leave in Don’s delivery truck, sleeping in the back at night.  Lilly presses up against the Governor while the others sleep.  My best WD buddy texted me, He’s totally gonna fuck that lady! I texted back, The Gov’s got mad game, even as a madman! 

Of course, the truck breaks down, and as they trudge down the country road, Tara reminisces about a mushroom-addled camping trip gone sour when an old girlfriend broke it to her that she was more into guys…this causes her to stumble and cry out as she falls, and the Governor hears the telltale sound of a herd of walkers, alerted by Tara’s cry, who are coming towards the sound.  He tells them to drop their bags, that they need to run, and after a long moment’s hesitation, Megan runs for the Governor and jumps into his arms. He tells her, “I will never let you go.”

In their running from the walkers, the Gov and Megan fall into a deep pit that is three or four walkers deep.  The Governor pulls off some serious bare-handed walker kills, punching through the first walker’s throat and pretty much tearing its head off…he takes a femur and forces another walker’s mouth open so wide its head tears open (lovingly named Pop-a-Top Walker on TD). Super gnarly and impressive. After killing the walkers, the Gov looks up to find Martinez, gun in hand, looking down at him.

Questions:

How do you feel about the Governor after this episode? Do you feel more sympathetic towards him as a character?

How do you think he and the girls will be received by Martinez and his new crew?

If the Governor loses Megan and the other women, do you think he has a chance to keep his humanity, or do you think he will be pushed beyond that point?

Playlist:

The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire”

Alice in Chains, “Man in the Box”

Ben Nichols,Last Pale Light in the West”

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