“Live Bait” is a love-it-or-leave-it kind of episode of The Walking Dead. If you’re anxiously awaiting Daryl’s reaction to Carol’s banishment or if you hated every second the Governor was on the screen last season, this was not the episode for you.
On the other hand, if you enjoy watching a broken villain pull himself together again (and if you’re a fan of bearded David Morrissey), then you were probably into this episode just as much as I was.
Going into this I figured it would be about the Governor interacting with the prison group again; I didn’t expect to ever see what happened to him after he massacred his own people at the end of last season. Thankfully, I was wrong about that, and “Live Bait” picks up right as the Governor is driving away from the scene of his crime.
In the wake of the shooting, the Governor is numb to everything: he only watches as a walker stumbles into his campfire and right towards him, he burns Woodbury in stony silence, and he does the bare minimum to survive as he walks on alone.
Well, until he sees Megan, a little girl who reminds him of his daughter, watching him from an apartment window. He makes his way inside and meets her and her family—Lily, Tara and their sick father. Tara, who says she’s an Atlanta cop, takes care of assessing the Governor’s threat level at the door. He’s quiet and cooperative, with no hint of a scheme or ulterior motive. It’s almost unsettling to see him so lost and depressed.
Of course, he doesn’t give his real name, settling instead for Brian Heriot, after a name he saw desperately scrawled on a wall by people who were looking for him. It’s not an accident that he chooses to be a person who was clearly loved by a family or friends; that’s what he’s always wanted most, whether from his own family or from the people of his community.
It’s sad to watch him alone in the apartment across the hall, staring at a picture of his once-happy family while he refuses the food and kindness of Lily. Of course, just because a character has a sad back story or motivation, that doesn’t excuse their past atrocities.
Predictably, he stays longer than the one night he originally said. And of course, the thing that gets him to start warming up to the new family and helping them out is the dad’s plea to find a backgammon set in hopes of getting Megan to smile. Apparently, Tara hasn’t figured out that she has to shoot the zombies in the head to kill them, which I find hard to believe. Months holed up here and she never tried a head shot?
Anyway, the Governor carries out the mission with ease, only running into the walker body of an ex-military man with no legs in the bathroom. It looks like he tried to shoot himself, and the Governor finishes the job with a knife and takes the gun and the backgammon set he finds under the bed.
Megan does seem happier, and the whole family has warmed up to the Governor. Lily asks him for one more favor, to brave whatever’s in the local nursing home to grab a couple more oxygen tanks for her dad. He’s dying of stage four lung cancer, and is almost out of the oxygen Lily stole from her hospital job when the outbreak started.
The Governor agrees, of course, and makes his way into the nursing home with little trouble. In fact, he doesn’t kill any of the walkers he runs into on the way, leaving the infirm ones where they are and simply closing the door on a nurse walker. He manages to bring back two tanks after escaping the onslaught of walker orderlies that were in the common areas.
It all seems too easy, so of course when the Governor starts bonding with Megan we could all guess something terrible was about to happen. But before everything goes to pieces, we get this cute scene between the Governor and Megan. She asks about his eye, and doesn’t buy his pirate story. He ends up giving her the true but non-horrific version of how he lost it, simply saying he was trying to protect someone he loved. Major props to David Morrissey for this scene, by the way. Even with the eye patch and the shadowy lighting, we can watch him visibly soften towards Megan. She’s the same age his daughter would have been, and even kind of looks like her. Plus, as Lily reveals, there’s a sad symmetry between the Governor thinking of her like his daughter and Megan thinking he was her long lost dad returned from his “trip to the market” years ago. I hope he got eaten by walkers for that.
The Governor finally ditches the shaggy bearded look, and starts teaching Megan chess. It’s strange to translate his ruthless strategic maneuvering of people and events in Woodbury to a board game. Megan draws an eyepatch on her king piece so it’ll look like the Governor. It’s almost too adorable.
That all crashes to an end when Lily interrupts their game with the news that her dad has died in his bedroom. The Governor panics, knowing that he’ll turn and that the women don’t know that yet. He tries to rush them out the door so they won’t see him kill their dad/grandfather but too late- the man’s a walker and he grabs Tara. The Governor acts quickly, braining him with the oxygen tank, but he’s lost Megan’s trust. It’s heartbreaking to see the look on his face when she hides from him again. I blame David Morrissey for making me feel bad for the Governor, and that is 100% a compliment.
Tara and Lily forgive him, because they know he saved them and did what he had to do. When he goes to leave, they insist on hitting the road with him. This can only end badly and he knows it, but agrees anyway. At first it’s all road-trip fun in the food delivery truck. They’ve got shelter, Tara comes clean with the Governor about only being in the police academy and not an officer, and Lily and the Governor totally get their mack on one night while the others are sleeping. Come on, guys, I get that you feel a connection but the other girls are literally right next to you.
When the truck runs out of fuel, they head out on foot. Tara hurts her ankle in the middle of telling us a fun camping story that also reveals that she’s a lesbian. Have there been any other openly gay or lesbian characters on the show so far? I can’t think of any, but let me know if I’ve left someone out.
As everyone figured, the whole family road trip on foot hits a snag in the form of a big group of walkers. Lily takes the injured Tara under her wing to help her run away, but Megan freezes. After a heart-stopping minute of inaction, she finally runs to the Governor, who scoops her up with relief.
They get separated from Tara and Lily as they run from the walkers. We never get to see what happens to the two sisters this episode, since the Governor and Megan end up in a deep pit with a handful of walkers. He dispatches them in a wonderfully gory manner (hello, bare hands through the throat). This time Megan doesn’t withdraw from him in fear; she lets him hug her even with his bloody hands. As he’s promising to protect her, cross his heart, who but Martinez should look in on them in the pit.
I can’t wait to see how his old right hand man is going to treat the Governor now that their paths have crossed again. Is Martinez on his own? Or has he found another community? This is a blatant setup episode, but I love the chance to explore the Governor’s complicated character away from Woodbury and the prison. My guess is that something awful happens to his new group and he ends up at the prison alone, but I’m hoping he’s just bringing Megan, Tara and Lily somewhere he thinks is safe.