Fans of the comic book series were excited when, back in The Walking Dead's farming days, AMC announced that a beloved character known as The Governor would be finding his way into the program's canon. But the incarnation of the man that Season 3 gave us was to no great end: the year's back half amounted to the show's most convoluted and least gripping league of episodes yet (though not all of this can be pinned on the one-eyed tyrant). We thought that the character might be gone for good at the season's close, but heard tell in the entertainment news circuit that David Morrissey would be signing back onto the show through 2014, bemoaning the extended presence of this poison on the Walking Dead narrative. Yeah, we went into this new episode — that which finally reintroduced The Governor into our routine (after a brief end-of-episode appearance last week) — with a bad attitude. But we have to say that "Live Bait" pulled off something we didn't think likely: a really great, albeit highly unusual, episode devoted entirely to Philip Blake.
Maybe I'm just high off my also unexpected enjoyment of Thor: The Dark World, but The Walking Dead of late is feeling somewhat like a string of Marvel movies. The past three weeks have served as standalone stories, each dedicated to the unraveling and examination of a noteworthy character: Carol first, then Hershel, and now The Governor. And his is the most akin to your comic book origin story, what with an introductory theme song and a complete absence of all other regular characters. Hell, even Morrissey's appearance at the end of the previous episode felt kind of like one of Marvel's mid-credits Nick Fury/Thanos/The Collector scenes. And throughout "Live Bait," there is an ambiance of the cinematic.
The Governor's new story finds him trekking the world, alone but for his scraggly beard, post-Woodbury and without much life force carrying him forward. The character is effectively his own kind of zombie, surviving because of his biological need to, grunting in lieu of speech, discarding any sort of humanity or zeal that once coursed through him. The Governor meets up with a family of four — aged, dying dad, his two adult daughters, and one's 7-year-old girl — holing up in their apartment building and growing begrudgingly attached to the clan... especially the youngest member.
Govsy warms up to little Megan, teaching her about chess, assuaging her resistence to speech, and eventually luring her away from a gaggle of approaching zombies, promising he'll never let anything bad happen to her. Yes, this new back-from-the-dead-and-maybe-angling-to-be-a-person-with-a-soul Governor might be a pretty abrupt jump from last season's pure-evil Governor, but "Live Bait" does an effective job of delivering the man well into this interim state of being, and a young girl just adorable and vulnerable and reminiscent-of-his-own-zombie-offspring-y enough to make the reinvention believable.
And although the last thing Walking Dead needs is new characters, I'm very on board with the Governor's new surrogate family: the caustic Tara and the more compassionate Lily (unless I have that backwards?) — I regret having to lose the endearingly upbeat dad, if only for his quick charm, but the narrative calls for it. Megan needs someone to adore, and the Governor needs someone to adore him.
So the Governor's quest, perhaps that to overtake the prison or in any other way claim the fruits of the Rick camp's labors, are now driven in a new way: by motives that we can sympathize with. Yes, he stands to lose his new surrogate family when they realize what a monster he is, but that point is a far way down the road from here. First, they need to grow to love him. Enough to be conflicted by the idea of his past deeds of psychosis. And then, once Mr. Blake has all that he wants in this world, it's only a matter of time before Michonne (most likely) pops by to spill the beans. Or his brains.
But this quiet, Ben Nichols-scored (that opening number is called "The Last Pale Light in the West") episode gives us hope for a more interesting and down to Earth, albeit still tortured and maniacal, Governor. One we can really get attached to as we watch him take the world down in flames... as scary a thought as that is.