Oh sure, spend months creating a utopia with barbecues and cocktail hours in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and everyone adores you. But spontaneously open fire and mass-murder a bunch of your constituents ONE TIME, and all of a sudden no one loves you anymore. Welcome to the world of the Governor. The lonely, lonely world of the Governor.
For 4.999 fantastic episodes of The Walking Dead's fourth season, Old Eyepatch was a no-show after dominating so much of Season 3. But in the final moments of last week's fifth episode, "Internment," we saw the Governor spying on Rick's prison oasis, and many fans of The Walking Dead wondered, "Where the F have YOU been, Guv'nah?" Well, this week, "Live Bait" revealed the answer. He's been roaming the Earth like Caine from Kung Fu or running his own traveling beard circus, of course.
Allow me to repeat what I said last week: I thought Season 4 was doing just fine without the Governor. And even if you're a fan of his, I'm guessing "Live Bait" split the show's audience into two camps: "Woohoo, the Governor is back, and yay I find myself attracted to this episode!" and "Yuck." It was an episode entirely dedicated to the character of the Governor, and some parts of it were absolutely incredible. But then we still had 55 minutes to go.
Let's start with the incredible part, the opening scene, which had the atmosphere of a condensed Jim Jarmusch film. I was pretty floored by what I saw and heard. It was like an indie Western broke into AMC and took over the first five minutes of the episode, playing Ben Nichols' "The Last Pale Light in the West" and dubbing in dialogue as the Governor explained what he'd been doing to an unknown partner in conversation. This was moody, tone-setting beauty, carefully thought out to help us empathize with this man who had lost everything—his flock, his friends, his will.
And MAN, was it effective. I wanted to give him a blanket and a cup of warm tomato soup and then comb the ticks out of his beard and scrub out his eye-hole with a toothbrush. After putting down all those sorry Woodbury folk, the Governor, Martinez, and Shumpert took a long, silent drive to nowhere and camped out. Totally bummed (I guess?) by what he'd done, the Governor didn't even want to kill a flaming zombette that was bearing down on him, forcing Martinez to take action. Was the Governor on watch duty while the others slept? That would explain why Martinez and Shumpert took off without him the next morning (well, that and the fear of being shot at the Governor's whim). Then Gov drove a huge truck to Woodbury and burned it to the ground for some really cool shots of slow-motion fire. And after that, he hit the road and looked at survival graffiti, which told a bunch of mini-stories and summed up the world's situation pretty well: Everyone is F'd.
It was a dazzling opening and a bold, artistic step forward for a series that once closed a hatchback car door on a zombie and featured Rick talking into a phone that wasn't plugged in. If The Walking Dead always had scenes like these, it would win a damn Oscar.
But then the rest of the episode happened. Gov shacked up with a pair of ladies, Tara and Lilly, along with their father and Lilly's daughter Meghan, and all of them were severely undereducated about what was happenings in the world around them. Tara was shooting zombies in the chest, for crying out loud! Even if The Walking Dead exists in an alternate universe where zombie movies and comics and lore don't exist, it's entry-level knowledge that headshots are fatal whether you're up against zombies, humans, wolverines, butterflies, or clowns. Anything with a head, really. I can understand why people make up names like "biters," "roamers," "walkers," and "skin eaters"—wait, actually I don't get that last one at all—instead of just calling them zombies in a world where zombies don't exist, but there's really no excuse for not giving a headshot a try.
Because of their inexperience, they welcomed the Governor cautiously at first, and then they practically begged him to stay. He was useful to them because he was no dummy about zombies, and they swapped Spaghettios for chores like backgammon board-fetching and a run to an old folks' home to get Papa another oxygen tank.
It didn't matter what the Governor did, it was how he did it. Gov's behavior with them was definitely odd, both standoffish and obliging, probably because he's a man without purpose or need now that he has nothing. There were times when it seemed that he didn't even want to go on, and he faced threats unenthusiastically. The old Governor would've stuck meat hooks into a zombie's face; this one just sidestepped or scooted on by 'em. But when he did have to take some out, look out! Gov was BRUTALLY NASTY with his zombie-killing, releasing pent-up anger by getting all hands-on with the slaughter. This was a internally conflicted man, tortured by his own existence and facing the consequences of his post-apocalyptic decisions. Distraught over the losses experienced both before and after the proverbial shit went down. He stared at a photo of his pre-apocalyptic family, his wife and his daughter Penny, and folded it so that he was obscured, as if he didn't belong in the same frame as them. Because the man in the picture was long gone. And the man he'd gone on to be was gone, too. As for the man who's left now? The Governor doesn't know him. We don't know him.
And yet, for all his forlorn longing and emotional emptiness, most of "Live Bait" never reached out and grabbed me. It was obvious that the Governor was having a rough time and dealing with some heavy stuff, but it didn't connect to what was happening around him or explain his decisions. This Governor was too unformed, too between-phases to really be gripping. The closest he came to being a relatable character was in his relationship with Meghan, an obvious last-ditch effort for him to relive what he'd had with his own daughter Penny (Meghan thought he was her father, and the case may have been vice versa for the Governor). But before that bond could grow stronger and draw compassion from us, it was interrupted by the Gov bashing Meghan's zombie grandfather's brains in. Maybe that was the point of "Live Bait," that this world is punishing the Governor by never allowing him to have another relationship with another person. I just wish it had been more interesting.
In the end, the Governor's new lady friends were almost certainly eaten and he and Meghan ended up trapped in a pit created by Martinez. Is this karma for the Governor? Is he at the mercy of the hands he nearly cut off? It would be fitting, to be sure; he dug himself a hole, and now he's in it.
– Getting laid in the zombie apocalypse is pretty easy if you know where to look. What was the purpose of the Governor and Lilly doing it in the back of a truck? And where were Tara and Meghan when this happened?
– Ummm, the Governor ripping a zombie's head in half with a bone was awesome.
– Theories on why he dumped out his bowl of Spaghettios? And what did he eat instead? Cat food?
– Glancing over my notes, I saw this: "This Governor is a wussy weirdo." What do YOU think of the Governor now?
– "You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game," the Governor said while playing chess with Meghan. That would indicate that the old Governor is still in there somewhere, trying to win. But how he acted did not. I'm not sure what "Live Bait" was trying to do with his character here.
– Could Lilly and Tara REALLY have gone this long without knowing that the dead rose and the headshots were effective? I maybe could've bought that in Season 1, but in Season 4, after over a year had passed? It's not like they were in the boonies, there must have been some traffic to pass through.
– Did Meghan and her teddy remind you of the first zombie Rick killed in the opening of the pilot?
What did you think of "Live Bait"?
AIRED ON 3/29/2015
Season 5 : Episode 16