This review contains spoilers.
4.6 Live Bait
I’m not sure what the purpose is behind having a Governor-centric episode in which Philip actually behaves like a reasonable, decent, kind-hearted person—if a bit damaged—and helps a family get out of their apartment and into the broader world of the zombie apocalypse. Given last week’s reveal of his presence hanging outside the prison and the way he seems to have some enmity towards the prison group that toppled his miniature empire as revealed during his chess game talk, it seems like the Governor will continue to be a villain. However, he also risks his life to bring oxygen back to an old man dying of lung cancer, hooks up with a surprisingly clean nurse, and becomes a father figure to a little girl while seemingly abandoning the last vestiges of Philip Blake in favor of a new life as Brian Heriot.
I know that The Walking Dead loves to have shades of gray with its characters, and perhaps giving the Governor the potential at having a new life outside of being the Governor is a chance to allow him to redeem himself. Perhaps he’ll make a Merle-like face turn, considering he’s not quite as evil as the comics version of the Governor. I don’t think he’ll quite be able to be redeemed to that extent, and I have a feeling that this diversion will only help to push Blake in the other direction from his current positive trajectory and back into the realm of high evil.
The center of this episode is a brilliant performance by David Morrissey. When he’s given a chance to do something other than legitimately evil acts, he’s really good at playing the damaged character. There are so many subtle things he does with himself in this episode, from his sitting posture to the way he turns his head away from the little girl when she’s left in his care and the way he seems to go a little too far when it’s time to kill zombies that shows just how far gone he truly is, how much rage he still carries, and how much he’s still at war with his lot in this new world. He’s the centerpiece of the whole programme, and he really carries it well.
Part of that credit is due to the director of this week’s episode. Michael Uppendahl is doing some great work this year in television, putting in top-notch work both here and on American Horror Story. The fact that the episode centres around the Governor is a great idea, if only because it makes you think that, at any moment, he’s going to flash the old Governor and kill these innocent, relatively helpless people who have unwittingly taken him in, then it flat-out refuses to do that. If anything, the episode emphasizes just how alone Blake is. Even in the early moments of the episode, which may actually be either flashbacks or flash-forwards (I haven’t decided yet), Blake is filmed in such a way as to make it clear he’s on his own officially, thanks to a great pan out into a crane shot of the Governor camping out near some sort of abandoned factory. The action sequences are also well-executed, with Blake’s good deed trips all fraught with tension, because they’re in darkened places where folks dropped like flies even in the best of circumstances.
This episode’s writer, Nichole Beatty, deserves credit as well. So much of the interaction doesn’t come from the Governor—who barely speaks—but from the people he stumbles across. Having been locked in their apartment with no contact from anyone but themselves for months at this point, it’s only natural that they’ll view any stranger, but especially a male stranger, with a mix of curiosity and suspicion that pervades their interactions. Lilly the older nurse sister is kind, but guarded. Tara, the younger police cadet sister, is nothing but guarded. The father is a frail old man; the granddaughter is a mute who slowly warms up to the one-eyed stranger that she initially thought was her father. The reactions, and the fact that Blake seems to warm up to them as they warm up to him, is actually a pleasant surprise. I guess I expected last season’s villain to return in full force, rather than to get a pleasant side of the former Woodbury leader.
It does seem that they take to their new friend the Governor a little too quickly, but when he’s running through a zombie-infested retirement home to get bottles of oxygen and risking his neck for a backgammon set, he has to be looking pretty good. Plus he’s the only person that Lilly has seen that isn’t related to her, so that has to make him extra worthy of special attention. Even a non-conversational Governor is pretty charming, what with the eye-patch.
Even though the show has devoted at least one episode to following around its most evil character, it feels like a worthy trip. It gets us away from the tragedy of the week at the prison, it allows to experience a more frail, human side to the show’s Big Bad, and it ended up being both very well written and very entertaining. Live Bait is definitely a step up from last week’s solid episode. Perhaps Brian/Philip/Governor will become a good guy, only to be cruelly executed by a vengeful Carol and her army of Australian Mad Max bikers. We can only hope.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Internment, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks that David Morrissey would make a great real Doctor Who, considering he was such a good fake Doctor Who once upon a time. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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