Sunday, November 17, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "Live Bait"

Non Spoiler Review:
Following last week's surprise reveal of the Governor watching the prison, Live Bait joins him immediately following the massacre of his citizens and his subsequent abandonment by his henchman. Alone and disconsolate, the Governor wanders aimlessly until meeting another group of survivors that reminds him of his past.

Live Bait succeeded in the impossible—humanizing the Governor again. It was also quite a slow burn of an episode, as well, coming on a string of them, but I found I wasn't bored at all. In contrast, there was a high level of tension given it's the Governor we're dealing with, and how he would respond to encountering other people. 

Live Bait refuses to go into expected territory, ending on a surprising note and playing against what most of the audience would have anticipated. The Governor's storyline will continue to get fleshed out next week, but there's the potential for interesting developments.

Spoilers Now!
Following the massacre of the Woodbury militia, the Governor and his two men make camp for the night. As he sits in a fugue in front of his fire he watches a zombie make its way towards him, trying to reach him through the flames until Martinez shoots it. Come morning he emerges from his tent to find they've abandoned him. He gets a rig working and returns to Woodbury, which he burns to the ground. 

Wandering for a couple of months he finally collapses on a street when he sees a girl in a window and goes inside to investigate. He finds two women with the little girl, armed with a gun and bat. He hands his weapon to them and explains the man in charge of his town lost it and he barely got out alive. He offers his name as Brian (from a message he saw scrawled on a barn). Tara, a former cop, and her sister Lily have been waiting for the National Guard. They also have their disabled father (suffering from lung cancer and requiring oxygen) and Lily's daughter Megan, who doesn't talk. They were lucky in having a food truck parked outside their building when the outbreak happened. They ask if he plans on staying, and he says just for the night. Tara warns him not to mess with her family or she'll put him down. Lily comes to visit him after, bringing him food. He takes it, but later dumps it out. 

The Governor brings the plate back and they invite him in. He helps them take their father to his bed. There are walkers moving around in apartments upstairs and the old man says Tara has tried repeatedly to kill them. He asks him to go to a friend's suite to retrieve a backgammon set, something that might make Megan talk again. The Governor does so, and finds the neighbour (who had lost both legs) now turned to a walker and trapped in the bathtub. He kills it and takes the gun in his hand. 

The Governor brings the game back to them, and in his room looks at the family photo he carries. In the morning Lily comes in with a few things for the road. She also gives him his gun back but he tells her to keep it as they need another one. He has the one he found upstairs, and explains that they have to kill the walkers in the brain. Tara's just been shooting them in the body. She reveal her father has stage four lung cancer and nearing the end, with just two days of oxygen left. She asks if he'll go to an old folks home to get any tanks he can find. 

The Governor walks to the place and finds it filled with the former residents. He discovers a dozen oxygen tanks and quickly heads out with them, but his activity has alerted the walkers and he can only escape with two. He brings them back but won't talk about what happened.

Lily insists on tending to his cuts. She admits Megan thought he was her dad when she saw him as he abandoned them a few years before the apocalypse. Megan stays with him while Lily goes for ointment and asks what happened to his eye. He confesses he's a pirate, and when they laugh he explains what really happened was he tried to help someone. 

The Governor stays awhile. Cleaned up and with a hair-cut, he proceeds to teach Megan chess as the girls tend to their dying father. When he passes, they finally bring in Megan to see him. The Governor urges them to go but she wants a minute. The old man's eyes open and he grabs Tara, and the Governor proceeds to bash his head in with the oxygen tank as the others scream for him to stop. The Governor digs a grave and Lily comes out to help bury her father. When they return Megan runs away from him but Tara admits he saved her life, and her father would have been grateful.

He leaves them alone, and when he returns home he burns the photo of his family. He packs up and tells Lily good-bye, but she wants him to take them with him to find some place better. He reluctantly concedes and they leave in the food truck. On the road, Tara admits she's not really a cop, though she was in the academy, and apologizes for lying. When they make camp Lily and the Governor wake up in the night and have sex.

The truck breaks down and they set off on foot to find a car. The Governor spies a herd of walkers ahead. Megan remains frozen but finally runs to him and they head into the woods. The Governor and Megan fall into a pit with a few walkers trapped inside. He violently kills them with his bare hands and promises Megan he won't let anything happen to her. That's when Martinez appears and looks down incredulously on them.

The Verdict:
Live Bait sets up a humbled Governor with a new group of survivors as a contrast to the prison. It's too early to make such grand predictions (after all, we only saw the Governor at the end of Internment). But the series managed to humanize the man in ways I couldn't have thought possible after last season, and raises the question if redemption is possible for anyone in the post-apocalypse. 

I felt plenty of apprehension watching him interact with everyone, and certainly relieved that Tara, Lily and Megan lived to see the end of this episode. Given how so many new characters are offed as soon as they break out of the gate, I hope they stay around as they've received more development in one episode than all the Woodbury characters. 

There's a comparison to be drawn between Carol and the Governor's abandonment of the past, which has become a running theme this season. Only once he lets go of his dead family can he move on and embrace a potential new one. Interesting to see if somehow Carol and the Governor cross paths how they might get along now. But the past isn't far behind with Martinez showing up with all the Governor's secrets. Will the latter kill him or can they agree to make peace now that he appears to be stable?

I'm still satisfied with the low key pacing of this season, mixed with a few skirmishes here and there, as I'm sure the mid-season finale promises a big event. However, it's irritating that we wait yet another episode to get to Daryl's reaction to Carol's absence. It feels like poor pacing to do that, especially if the Governor's story next week doesn't bring him closer to current events at the prison. 

Would I accept a redeemed Governor? It would certainly be an exciting storyline to pursue that would fly in contrast to the graphic novel and ripe for drama with all the characters at the prison coming to terms with the whole idea of it. I doubt that's going to happen, but at least the writers have succeeded in raising that hope. So if (and when) the Governor falls back into his old ways it will be just that more tragic.

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