The Walking Dead 4.06 Review: “Live Bait”

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By adopting a storytelling style more akin to season three episodes like “Clear,” the fourth season of The Walking Dead has a little more breathing room for character development — or at the very least, something for the actors to chew on instead of the undead.”And although “Live Bait” isn’t going to win any awards for character complexity, it certainly serves its purpose, systematically breaking down The Governor until his character is literally up in flames (twice, as he burns down Woodbury and the picture of his family), ending just as he’s finally beginning to “rise” from the dead.

Where “Live Bait” stumbles — as episodes of The Walking Dead do — is with its secondary characters: the ragtag bunch The Governor stumbles upon isn’t an interesting bunch. In fact, they are direct contradictions to the type of people The Governor would let into Woodbury in the first place: two women whose independence quickly disappears when a strong male shows up (seriously: they survived for months, but are too scared to leave or kill a zombie once The Governor arrives?), a guy dying of cancer — and of course, the obligatory stand-in for what The Governor has lost, a little girl who doesn’t want to talk anymore.

They’re inherently one-dimensional characters (one of them even sleeps with The Governor, a goofily executed subplot conveyed by lingering looks through most of their interactions leading up to their night time rendezvous). So it’s on The Governor’s character to carry the weight in “Live Bait” – and thankfully, Nichole Beattie’s script is up to the task of giving a few compelling looks into The Governor’s rapid journey back to humanity.

In a matter of minutes, the opening scenes of “Live Bait” have The Governor at his absolute weakest: he’s become the epitome of the walking dead himself, a hideous-looking creature who shuffles around, unable to recognize or interact with the people he once associated himself with. He may not have bitten anyone at Woodbury, but he certainly turned on his own kind, becoming a cold, heartless beast similar to those lurking in every nook and cranny in the world. Like the zombie he later finds on the floor in the bathroom upstairs, he doesn’t even mind when the girls take his weapon from him.

Those two scenes in particular are quite important: had The Governor surrendered his weapons effortlessly after coming up the dead man upstairs, it would’ve represented the end for The Governor, the parallels between him and the actual dead becoming crystal clear. Presented the other way around (as it is in the episode), The Governor picking the weapon back up becomes the moment where returns back to the world of the living, a reminder that the “last man in the West” ain’t gonna survive without a gun in his pocket (the fact it’s a revolver is a nice little touch to the Western undertones of the episode).

Of course, the episode makes its emotional play by connecting The Governor with Megan, the child who doesn’t want to talk much except when The Governor comes around (boy, the female race just can’t resist this guy!), even after he kills a lot of zombies in gruesome fashion right in front of her. Again, another scene showing The Governor “coming back to life” (literally regaining his will to live and fight to protect someone while in a grave, a beautiful bit of set design to compliment the narrative), and another hint that this man’s returned from “the fire” he surrounded himself with in season three.

Obviously, this peace isn’t going to last long: a Governor without a conflict is like a cowboy without a horse, so there will come a time when The Governor’s darkness again boils to the surface (the death of Megan in the near future? Something that happens in the ominously-titled “Dead Weight” next week?). But if for only an hour, “Live Bait” gives humanity to the character that previous attempts like season three’s “Made to Suffer” did. Removing The Governor from the villain role — if only for a short time — was a necessary, mostly well-executed move to keep his character interesting as he floats alone in the narrative seas of The Walking Dead.

But if for only an hour, “Live Bait” gives humanity to the character that previous attempts like season three’s “Made to Suffer” didn’t – or more accurately, couldn’t, instead making The Governor a one-dimensional wacko who stored zombie heads and gunned down his own people for still-unclear reasons.

Other thoughts/observations:

–        so when do we meet Brian Hariot?

–        The Governor don’t take no charity: he throws their gift of Spaghettio’s out the window. Look too much like brains for ya, big guy?

–        The Governor agreeing to help an old man that’s clearly dying not only works to build his relationship with Megan (using her grandfather as a proxy for emotional connection), but shows that something in him has changed, at least for now: The Governor of Woodbury would’ve taken him back behind the shed, Old Yeller-style.

–        The jump cut from The Governor slamming the oxygen tank into Grandpa’s skull to him slamming a shovel into the ground was terrific.

[Photo via Gene Page/AMC]

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