The Walking Dead, S4 E6: “Live Bait”

Raise your hands if you were dying to know what the Governor has been up to all these months. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Well, you’re in not-luck with “Live Bait.” Normally, I’d be all for watching David Morrissey brood for an extended period of time, especially in a Jane Austen novel, but not when it comes to his ridiculous villain in The Walking Dead. His reappearance at the end of “Internment” nearly retroactively ruined the episode, and I was not looking forward to his continued existence in last night’s episode. Even now I can’t say my fears were eased, but neither were they stoked.

So. Woodbury. Last season, the Governor went on a vengeance-fueled killing rampage after Rick’s rescue mission. At some point he returned to the scene of the crime and burned the town down. Or, at least one building. Not sure why he’d even bother, catharsis maybe? Whatever. Point is it looked cool having him stand, head cocked and face all a’glower, in front of a burning building.

After a few weeks/months/indeterminate amount of beard-growing time, the Governor winds up on the doorstep of the apartment belonging to a family of survivors, a mother with her daughter, sister, and father. Somehow, beyond all reason, the family has made it nearly 2 years into the Endverse without figuring out how to kill skineaters. That makes them either so incompetent that the only thing keeping them alive is blind luck, or so amazingly fortressed that the last thing in the world they should do is leave to go on walkabout. The girl takes to the Governor—now calling himself Brian Hariot after seeing the name written on the side of a building during his wayfaring days—and the mom takes to feeding him spaghetti-o’s. And eventually to sleeping with him. Because who doesn’t get turned on thinking about the creepy, unfriendly stranger with a mysterious background who just smashed in your zombie dad’s face in front of your emotionally fragile daughter?

They make it about a day or so out of town before the RV breaks down, as it so obviously would. It would’ve been smarter to stay in the apartment building than go out in the open with limited provisions. They’d either have to ditch the vehicle because of bad roads, migrating cannibal hordes, or a lack of fuel, and given that everyone’s main goal thus far has been to find a nice corner somewhere to wait out the apocalypse, this particular act seems more than a little counterintuitive. The group is attacked by biters, and during their escape Brian and Megan get separated from the sisters. Megan witnesses several particularly vicious zombie kills by Brian, but apparently it only makes her love him more. Martinez, one of the Governor’s ex-henchmen, finds them trapped in a pit. The episode’s end didn’t bring us to its beginning, where Philip/the Governor/Brian was hiding out near the prison fence, which presumably means we’ll have another week centered around him. There are only two more episodes before season 4 goes on hiatus until February, so place your bets now that the prison gets attacked before the break.

“Live Bait” was the first episode completely devoid of anyone from Rick’s camp, and getting away from the prison was a breath of fresh air. The plague storyline, while initially intriguing, is wearing thin. It’s been great watching Rick and co. become more developed characters with complex motivations and unique personalities, even if they are a little tropey. But there’s only so much to be done with the plague. You can’t fight it, you can’t stop it, and you can’t run away from it. Unless Hershel can figure out how to cure it, the audience is stuck with repeating episodes of random, nameless ex-Woodburyites dying and undying in the prison. Focusing an episode entirely on the Governor is a bold change of pace, even if it was neither merited nor necessary.

I just can’t figure out how I feel about the episode. It happened, I watched it, it ended, and… I just don’t understand what the point of it was. If it was an attempt at rebooting the Governor, then fine, I guess. The writers have done a lot of character rebooting this season, and a lot of general—and badly needed—backstory and personality exposition on the prisoners, which has helped improve the show’s overall quality. You can tell a crappy story and still have an interesting/engaging show as long as you have interesting/engaging characters, but a poorly told story AND boring blank spaces in vaguely human shapes is a failure.

But why reboot the Governor at all? He can’t be part of the spin off—pretty much the only thing AMC and Kirkman have said about it, which is set to premiere in 2015, is that it won’t have anything to do with any characters, locations, or plotlines from TWD—so, what then? A redemptive arc? We just sat through that with Farmer Rick. Why bother trying to redeem him in the first place? It certainly makes his relationship with Rick more complicated. And if he stays at the Big Bad, then does he do so as his own one-eyed king or Martinez’s pawn?

Rick is a man who desperately wants to be a farmer but is really a cop, while “Brian” is an asshole who wants to be a farmer. Both characters are rife with gray morality, but where Rick will always end up on the side of light, no matter how many times he shoots his best friend or talks to his dead wife on the phone, the Governor will always end up dark. Rick wants to restore civilization; the Governor wants to build an empire. By redeeming him the writers place him in direct opposition of Rick. Which leads me back to Why? Why bother redeeming him just to turn him back into a moustache-twirling psychopath? And if he’s going to be a morally conflicted opponent, well, what’s the point of spending all this time with a character who’s just going to be bumped off in a few episodes? Rick can’t trust Carol enough to let her stay with the prisoners, so there’s no way they’ll let the Governor crash on their couch. He has to die, preferably sooner rather than later. Why not let him go out in a blaze of cartoonish glory than with a pathetic whimper?

Final Thoughts

  • That Woodbury fire CGI was terrible, right? Like, ABC terrible. Someone needs to learn how to budget better.
  • Wait, so all of a sudden walkers are so easy to deal with that all you have to do is step aside and let them trip on a curb?
  • Ew, Brian and Lily, the kid’s only 2 feet away. Not cool. Keep it in your pants or take your sex break outside.
  • In case you didn’t get the in-joke, Brian was the real name of the Governor from the comics, as detailed in Rise of the Governor. Brian took the name his brother’s name (Philip) after he died, and Penny was actually his niece. 
  • If you ever had any doubt about whether or not TWD could be subtle, this ep was a resounding NO. We’re talking stunts so glaringly obvious they made Rick’s burning of his sheriff’s shirt look obscure.
  • I feel like I know that name, Brian Hariot. Anyone else recognize it?

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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