Live Bait is a massively unique episode in The Walking Dead’s history. For the first time ever, there’s no Rick (Andrew Lincoln). There are also no appearances for any of the key cast – bar a few flashbacks – such as Daryl (Norman Reedus), Glen (Steven Yeun), Hershel (Scott Wilson), Michonne (Danai Gurira) or any of the other familiar faces. This episode is all about one man: The Governor (David Morrissey).
The last time we saw the eyepatch-adorned psychopath, he was killing off his own ‘followers’ in a deranged rage. Since then, bar the briefest of brief tease at the end of last week’s episode, the character’s whereabouts have remained a mystery. Whilst we do get a slight look back at where he’s been, this is a very different man than the man we saw keeping his zombified daughter locked up – for whatever reasons – back in Season 3. This isn’t the same man that had severed heads kept in fish tanks. This isn’t the same man who can’t let somebody even take a breath without having his own agenda. This Governor is now going by the name of Brian, is bearded, long-haired, and looking like he’s just crawled out of a bush after necking 20 cans of Special Brew. This Governor is far, far, far removed from the slick, charismatic, manipulative Governor that audiences have become accustomed too.
When I say that this episode is purely about The Governor, I mean it. He’s in every single scene, as we briefly see what happened in the aftermath of his last appearance, but then we get him channelling his inner Bill Bixby as he wanders down empty roads. In fact, I’m pretty sure if you listen carefully enough you can even hear that sad Incredible Hulk score playing. The wandering hobo finally comes upon a family; a scared, concerned, on-edge family, like so much of the desolated world that we have seen in The Walking Dead. Said family give Brian a bed for the night, trust him, seek assistance from him, and then depart on the road with him. For the whole time that this is going on, you find yourself constantly waiting… waiting for The Governor to take advantage of the situation, to mercilessly kill this trusting family, for him to slice his way through their bodies before then eyeing up a corpse to hump. We don’t get that, though.
Morrissey is great, much like he was last season, and it’s a nice change of pace for both The Governor character and for the show as a whole. In terms of the show, for once we’re given a break from life at the prison. For once we’re taken out of that environment and we get to look at things from someone else’s perspective; the perspective of a downtrodden man aimlessly walking through life and looking to try and put things into perspective. So down-and-out is The Governor at this point, even the walkers seem to think he’s one of their own, as he casually passes them by without them even taking a second sniff.
This change of pace for The Governor, and not the ‘revenge’ arc that we were expecting, seems to hark back to the man that he used to be before the shit hit the fan. In his new companions he sees a sense of family, he sees the chance to serve as a protector, a father-figure, a patriarch. Still, despite all of this, we’re given just an inkling that the old Governor is lingering in there somewhere, as he proceeds to bash in a man’s skull with an oxygen tank at one point. Even then, though, this isn’t an act of depravity and destruction; it’s for a valid reason, for the ‘greater good,’ and done to protect those around him. As the episode comes to a close, we’re reintroduced to long-time Governor cohort Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo), and it appears that the life of Brian is about to cross paths with the life of The Governor.
A very different episode of The Walking Dead this time out, but a welcome change from the usual shenanigans that we’ve come to see. Yes, The Governor is back, but just how changed is he and how long is this new leaf going to remain turned? Live Bait tries to be different – it is different – but some of the decisions made by the characters throughout the episode have you scratching your head, and the show seems to be taking lazy, tried-out options when it comes to getting sympathy for The Governor character, i.e. throw in a young girl and let him play the caring father figure. It was by no means a bad episode, but a lot of the merits of Live Bait depend on where The Walking Dead is going with The Governor character down the line.