It was clear from the final scene of last week’s episode of The Walking Dead that this week’s would be focused on the show’s preeminent villain, the Governor (David Morrissey). However, I’m not sure anyone was prepared for just how much it would focus on him. He might be the show’s main bad guy, but last night he was also the show’s hero.
Titled “Live Bait,” the episode found the Governor abandoned by his remaining supporters from Woodbury and forced to set out on his own. Time goes by, and he slowly loses the will to live. One day, he sees a little girl in a window. Presumably reminded of his own daughter, he goes to find her. When he does, he also meets her two older sisters and her grandfather, huddled together and eking out a meager (although not too desperate) existence together. He tells them he only plans to stay in the building for a night, but things change when one of the sisters, Lily, asks that he help them by venturing to a nearby retirement home and retrieving an oxygen tank for their father. He brings back two, narrowly escaping a pack of walkers (of course) and endearing himself to the family.
Time passes, and he grows closer to Meagan, the little girl, only to scare her away when Grandpa dies and he has to bash his brains in shortly after he turns. Lily and her tough sister Tara are shaken, but grateful. Meagan, on the other hand, can’t look at him without being afraid. With nothing left for them at the apartment, they set out on the road, where Lily and the Governor get it on, before their car breaks down and they are attacked (double of course) by roving walkers. As they are running away, Meagan and The Governor fall into a ditch, where the Governor fights off the surrounding zombies, saving Meagan’s life and winning back her trust. The episode ends with Martinez, one of the Governor’s people from the beginning of the episode, poking his head into the hole, much to he and the Governor’s mutual surprise.
While we’d already been briefed on the Governor’s backstory (i.e. how he loved his little girl so much he even tried to keep the zombie version of her alive), “Live Bait” still provided some captivating insight. On a show that frequently has trouble balancing its large ensemble with the requisite action, this kind of character development was a nice change of pace. Of course, many of the specific details weren’t too surprising; we already knew from last season that the Governor’s daughter was what he held dearest in the world, so to see him bond with another little girl of about the same age is really just par for the course. We also knew from last season that he does pretty well with the ladies, so his tender moments with Lily also came as no surprise.
But perhaps what was surprising is that the show gave some much-needed humanity to a character who had previously been painted as a brutal psychopath. That’s not to say that other characters on the The Walking Dead haven’t shown multiple sides before. Many members of the ensemble have been forced to change from one thing into another due to their circumstances. For instance, Carol started out as a meek wife and mother, and turned into a strong-willed survivalist. Daryl started out as a hick out only for himself, and turned into a beloved hero among those close to him. Rick started out as a natural-born leader, then turned into a despot, then started losing his mind before becoming a peaceful farmer, and then deciding (as these last few episodes would indicate) to take up a leadership role again. Even bad-to-the-bone Merle began to reform his selfish ways before going out as a full-on martyr at the end of season three.
But for all these shifting paradigms, many of the characters still feel somewhat one-dimensional. While so many of them have been shown to be more than one thing, I’m not sure any of them have ever been shown as being more than one thing at once. And that’s why last night’s episode was so refreshing. The idea that the Governor could be a murdering lunatic and a compassionate caregiver all rolled into one has been hinted at before, but not explored in depth until last night. And if the preview for next week’s episode is any indication, the contradictions at the heart of who the Governor is will be tested even further. With clips showing escalating action, it seems likely he will struggle to protect his new loved ones while trying to reconcile with his old subjects. Since this is The Walking Dead, I can’t imagine the outcome will be very happy.
It’s also worth noting that next week’s episode is entitled “Dead Weight,” following this week’s “Live Bait.” It seems that current showrunner Glen Mazzara may be fond of grouping episodes together by title. Don’t believe me? Consider that the series of episodes surrounding the outbreak were called “Infected,” “Isolation,” “Indifference,” and “Internment.” This would suggest (along with the previews) that next week’s episode will also revolve solely around the Governor. Whether this is or isn’t the case, I just hope that the extra attention being shown to the character isn’t an indication that his time may soon be up. The Walking Dead may have finally produced a character I really like. It would be a shame to lose him now.