This past Monday, I was so excited to discuss the latest episode of Walking Dead. I loved every minute of it, and was delightfully surprised by the show runners decisions throughout the episode. My fiancée doesn’t watch the show (he’s still going through Breaking Bad withdrawal) and I knew that some of my clients were avid fans.
So when I got into work, I polled my first group of the day – my teenage group. They hated it. Some choice phrases used to describe the episode are as follows - “OMG last night suuuuucked!” “Seriously? That episode was dumb annoying.” (Apparently ‘dumb’ is now slang for ‘really’. I dumb need to get with the times. Am I using that right? I don’t think I’m using it right….)
I was shocked. But only for a second. Once I thought about it for a minute, I could definitely see how the show had set viewers up for a ‘Governor Vs. Prison-ites Cage Match to the Death’, and then disappointed when it didn’t deliver.
In a nutshell, ‘Live Bait’ is a study in the Governor as man, not monster. The episode begins with a flashback of the Governor directly where viewers left him. After he slaughtered his people, he becomes numb and unfeeling, a shell of a man. He leaves with his two henchmen, but wakes up the next morning to find that they have abandoned him.
Here, one of the most captivating montages in WD history begins. Taking an 18-wheeler, the Governor plows through the gates to his once idyllic Woodbury and literally burns it to the ground. With no purpose, he begins to walk the earth from end to end like a deranged Forrest Gump. He wanders the abandoned streets, without purpose, appearing to hope for death, when he spies a little girl in a window. He decides that death on the street can wait, and investigates. Within the building he finds a family – two sisters, Lilly and Tara, their father, and Lilly’s daughter Megan, who looks strikingly like Penny, the Governor’s once zombified daughter.
At first, our anti-hero is slow to warm to the family. Not wanting to let them in, he rejects an offer of Spaghetti-Os, which is considered a five star meal in the zomb-pocalypse. However, despite his rejection of their Southern hospitality, the family begins asking him for favors. Grandpa requests that he go find a backgammon board in another apartment, and then Lilly asks that he go to a nursing home and procure tanks of oxygen for Grandpa. The Governor does these things without much complaint, and following his trip to the nursing home he gets the opportunity to have a one-on-one chat with the precocious Megan. Here, the Governor appears to be genuine and exposes himself to be an open, raw nerve. He hoarsely laughs at Megan’s jokes, almost appearing to test what it’s like to feel again. This exchange appears to give him a reason to live, and in the very next scene he is transformed. We see him clean-shaven and playing a spirited game of chess with his new daughter figure.
Grandpa dies, then reanimates. The Governor saves Tara from being bitten as he smashes Grandpa’s zombie skull in with an oxygen tank, buries him, and then goes to leave. Lilly runs after him and asks to come with him. The Governor agrees, and takes his new useless lady posse on the road. Of course the truck they are in breaks down, and they have to hoof it. (Side note - In an interesting bit of conversation between Lilly and Tara, that could have easily been overlooked, we find out that Tara is gay.) Very quickly into their walkabout, the group runs into a gaggle of walkers. They break into a run, and the Governor ends up carrying Megan. As he runs through the woods, he falls into a walker trap and has to fend off several walkers bare-handed in order to protect his new charge. After the coast is clear, Megan reaches up and hugs him, making him promise that he’ll protect her. Just as he starts to promise her the moon, the Governor looks up and sees Martinez hovering over them. End scene.
Like I said, I enjoyed this episode. I would go so far as to say that I am happy that we didn’t get a chance to see The Governor Vs. The Prison. As I am a fan of the unexpected (see – my undying love for LOST and Breaking Bad) I felt that this episode was true to humanity. This entire season is far more realistic in scope than previous seasons, as it is focusing on human tendencies, both good and bad, as well as problems within the scope of normal human existence, such as loss, illness and betrayal. Yeah, sure there are still walkers/biters/monsters/whatchamacalits to deal with, but that just makes the stakes all the higher.
Despite all the horrible things we’ve seen him do, the Governor isn’t a monster. No man is a true monster. We all live somewhere in a gray area. Some are a darker shade of gray than others. Some WAY darker than others, but the episode illustrated that there is even a glimmer of hope inside the nasty, evil Governor. Now, do I expect him to turn the other cheek for more than one episode? In all likelihood, he probably won’t. Yet – a part of me thinks that it would be incredibly captivating to see him do something unexpected at the prison. I hope that the explanation for the Governor’s presence outside of the prison isn’t as simple as an all out attack. Perhaps he’s there to ask for asylum for Megan, his new Penny proxy? Maybe to wave the white flag with a redemptive offer of supplies or information? Or maybe he’s there for any single other motive other than complete annihilation of our gang.
But, again, given the reaction of my clients, probably not.
It was daring of the writers and show runners to take a breather from the smirking-Governor-outside-the-prison cliffhanger, especially with such a highly rated show as The Walking Dead. While I hope for more twists in the plot, I know that the majority of America is hoping for that showdown.
For me, the most interesting showdowns are the internal, not the external. This season we have seen many thought-provoking examples of internal struggle versus external. Bob Stookey wrestling with the bottle of booze in '30 Days Without An Accident', Hershel struggling to decide whether to enter Cell Block A to tend to the sick and dying in 'Isolation', and in this episode, the Governor debating whether to reach out for human contact or die alone. This is where the heart of The Walking Dead beats. In the WD universe, the fundamentals of the world have changed, but human nature has remained the same. For better and for worse.