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'The Walking Dead' - 'Live Bait': And I Ask For No Redemption In This Cold And Barren Place

By TK | TV Reviews | November 18, 2013 | Comments ()


the-walking-dead-live-bait-the-governor.jpg

‘Live Bait,’ the sixth episode of Season Four of The Walking Dead, was a bit of a curveball. We all knew that the Governor was going to come back into the lives of our protagonists, and at the end of last week’s episode, we caught our first glimpse of him. And like many others, I was less than thrilled — the Governor’s storyline in Season Three started out well, but ultimately fell into cartoonish mustache-twirling, reducing a potentially deep, interesting villain to a megalomaniacal psychotic. This season started out with great promise, and his appearance caused some trepidation, for fear that we were going to relapse into the inconsistent storytelling of last season.

As a result, there’s good news and bad news, and that’s why this episode was so curious. Instead of focusing on the prison, we had an entire episode dedicated to Philip, aka The Governor (aka Brian). Before we can find out his purpose at the prison, we must instead discover the road he took to find himself there. And the good news is that they appear to be — at least thus far — abandoning the villainous aspects of the character, and instead putting him on the path for a more redemptive arc. This is an excellent decision on the part of the show runners, for it allows for a much greater exploration of the character, rather than a vengeful lunatic determined on destruction.

The bad news for ‘Live Bait’, unfortunately, is that the episode itself was rather boring, derivative, and rife with cliché. I appreciate the story that they’re trying to tell, but they took too many lazy shortcuts to get there. One can absolutely buy into the possibility that a man like him could be redeemed, could see how his actions brought nothing but tragedy and folly. But the way they chose to depict it was weakly built on a foundation of the most basic of storytelling tropes that it veered into utterly, blandly predictable.

We find Phillip brought low, as low as possible. Unkempt, unclean, lost and dazed, wandering through the world as if he’s the last one on it. He has lost his thirst for slaughter, lost his friends, lost his sense of purpose. There was always the idea that the line between Phillip and Rick Grimes was a thin one, and but a simple push is all it took for each to go in their respective directions. And thus, it’s equally plausible that one could, in the aftermath of seeing everything he built, everything created out of his own madness and genius destroyed, stagger back to sanity. And that’s what happens — laboriously so, unfortunately.

When I said the episode was boring, I didn’t mean that because it was slow. I actually relish the slow-burning episodes, and David Morrissey is a compelling enough actor that to use him as the focus is a viable idea. And those opening moments, of him staggering lost, listless, almost lifeless through the ruins of society — those worked. This was in no small part due to the solid set design that conveyed that sense of hopelessness, as well as excellent use of Ben Nichols’s “Last Pale Light In The West”:(off of his solo album by the same name, based, interestingly, on Cormac McCarthy’s gruesome bloodbath of a novel, Blood Meridian). Instead, it was boring because while it was a new path for the Governor, there was nothing new about the story itself. A man with a dark past finds a new family, one that reminds him of the one he lost so long ago. There’s a wise old man, a precocious youngster who helps bring him out of his shell, a distrustful leader, and a woman who he yearns for. It’s color-by-numbers stuff, and I’d hoped for better from Scott Gimple and company.

Even when he strayed from their apartment, the episode felt like little more than watching a series of fetch quests from the world’s least interesting video game. Find the backgammon set to help bring the little girl out of her shell. Explore the abandoned retirement home to find oxygen for the old man. Listen to his words of wisdom. Watch them all slowly help repair his shattered heart. Make love to the beautiful woman who helped heal his wounds, both literal and figurative. Protect the little one from the things that bite.

This was an episode full of fine performances across the board and a distinctly interesting new arc for one once thought irredeemable. Yet it was brought to its knees by the drably clichéd writing and it’s almost surprising predictability. Yes, the final moment, where the Governor and the little girl are discovered by Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) — one of the better additions to last season — brings with it some intrigue. And moving forward, the future becomes even more unpredictable, one of the best things about this show. Yet the way they chose to get us there, and the tools that they used to tiresomely construct this new arc, all made for a disappointing episode, even if it opens the door to more interesting ones to come.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Mr. Nice Guy

    I'm just wondering if anyone else has suspected the little girl of feeding the walkers. She calls them by their names and beckons them like puppies(Here, Wayne. Come on boy.) I haven't heard anyone else mention this.

  • stryker1121

    Ha, I was thinking bad RPG myself with the Gov running errands to and fro. But I got to disagree with the premise that a redemptive arc for the Governor is a good thing. Much rather have a simple, straight ahead arc of Gov stripped of his humanity and going full-bore revenge against Rick and friends.

  • John G.

    Is there any chance that the spinoff will take place outside of the US? Anyone read any hints about that yet? I'd love to do the next story in the UK, so it can reference one of my all time favorite movies, 28 days later.

  • stu

    The only thing I got out of this lousy episode was that they had sex in the back of a lorry while the other two were sleeping next to them like 2 inches away. WHAT?!

  • John G.

    it's the zombie apocalypse, what are you gonna do, fuck outside? My complaint with any sex in this show is that no one looks like they've bathed in ages. Yuck!

  • Edwina the Magnificent

    Maybe climb on top of the truck? Definitely not safe to be outside, distracted and in the altogether (like SOME little horny toads *cough*Shane*cough*Lori*hackwheeze*). And yikes, bathing might be an issue, but the whole world probably reeks of worse-than-BO, they're probably desensitized.

  • Wigamer

    Has anyone else read the companion books that Kirkman is putting out? This episode lifts from Rise of the Governor, but kind of in reverse. Interesting the way the comic, the novels, and the show are intersecting, but I like the novel's depiction of the governor's back story better.

  • Three_nineteen

    The montage at the beginning actually made me laugh. It was so cheesy the song should have been Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again". The writing was terrible and the plot was predictable - I called everything but the little girl not dying. I thought she was toast. Of course, I hear we are getting another episode of Governor backstory, so maybe she'll eat it in that one.

  • John G.

    I have to say I was totally with you on first viewing, but on the second that cheesy song over the cliche'd montage somehow infected me, and I really bought in.

  • Wigamer

    I sort of dug the craptastic cheesiness of the montage. Except the yak-hair beard.

  • Even Stevens

    Backgammon, chess, and geriatric zombies tell you all you need to know about this episode

  • Didn't anyone else feel bad for the geriatric zombies?

    Just the thought of some infirm woman, ignored, left to die in her wheelchair, and coming back as a Walker depressed the hell out of me.

  • Afferbeck

    Stuck in the wheelchair, walker approaches. 'Are you my son?' Gets bit in the face.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I was questioning why the Governor didn't kill them on his way in.

  • Gonna come back later to repopulate his Walker Fight Nite in New Woodbury...

  • John G.

    They might not have been "left to die". The zombie outbreak happens, one person dies, turns, and bites the others.

  • Conceivably, sure. There was just something about them all being in a nursing home that made it sad for me.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I didn't find the episode as boring as you did, TK, but I think that's because I was anticipating another Gubernatorial Psycho Dance Party at just about every turn. In retrospect it was far too neat and clean of a situation for him to find a replacement family like that. And like some of the others have said, we took a slide back into impractical decision-making and stupiditization of characters. Like - the apartment building kept them safe for what, a year and a half? And they leave? Without taking an extra car, looking for fuel, searching the other units for extra weapons/food/other supplies?

    And hobo Governor reminds me of milky-beard Ron Burgundy crossed with fugitive Walter White. Strange as it sounds it almost seems appropriate.

  • Wigamer

    I wondered if they weren't leaning a little heavily on making him seem sympathetic, a la Walt. He did create a torture chamber, after all.

  • pthalio

    A torture chamber containing a Speculum no less

  • Edwina the Magnificent

    Massive shudders over that visual. I'm so glad they didn't get to go down that road in the show (I'm still recovering somewhat from what he does to Michonne in the book, though her revenge was much sweeter).

  • thatstrangewoman

    On sort of a tangent (since it relates to Talking Dead and not the "actual" show storylines) Chris Hardwick's last two minutes on the aftershow made me cry buckets.

  • I heard about his father passing on Twitter. I was honestly shocked that he even did the show last night.

  • John G.

    speaking of cliches, there was that trope in this ep where someone tries to tend to a tough person's cuts and they say "this is gonna sting" and the tough person looks like they're going to just take it, but they react to the sting anyway.

    That's in the running for the most used sequence in media, I think.

  • In this insanely chaotic world I don't think I ever really needed closure or justice with The Governor. He was just a part of the madness and that he just sort of disappeared from their lives felt fitting to me. I have no idea where they are going with this and I'm totally in the tank for the show so I give it a really long leash and I'm sure there will be at the very least parts of this story that I really enjoy.

    That said, there would have been something to stumbling across The Governor as just another random shuffling monster at some point in the series - not even a violent confrontation, just passing him in a crowd of walkers or something - that would have beautifully illustrated the absolute and brutal randomness of the apocalypse.

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    I like this so very much that I wish I could up vote it more.

  • Calvinthebold

    TK, I didn't find the episode boring at all. I suppose I agree that the family he ran into conveniently had all the pat elements you listed, but I don't count that as lazy storytelling. This is not necessarily the first people he has encountered. Maybe it would just take too long to show more of his descent, and more false starts to his redemptive arc. In any event, I thought the acting was solid, as well as the script.
    My only problem was in one pretty illogical decision. Once the truck broke down, leave the women and kid there and go look for a car. They would be basically safe in a big steel box while he could move faster, and they wouldn't have to give up so much jerky. That's what I'd do, even if it took a few days of walking on his own (he's been on his own plenty)
    Also, they should have left the apartment with the truck, plus one of the women driving a car in a 2-vehicle convoy. In a world without Triple-A, that's just common sense.

  • I found this ep more interesting than you did, TK, although I can't quibble with your description of the plot. I think the paint-by-numbers plot ("there are two fuckable women but one's a lesbo so that's OK," holy shit was this written by a ninth-grader?) was redeemed in part by good acting, particularly on the part of Morrisey.
    When I saw that the ep was going to be a flashback on the Governor, I got all set to pout for an hour; but that's not what happened.
    Oh, and once again I see that your review was up rabbit-quick. Are you psychic or something?

  • John G.

    Yeah, the lesbian cliche was a bit annoying, as well as the fact that she spoke her inner monologue outloud.

  • I feel like this is a very well thought out well written review. But it also feel it is nitpicky.

    Regardless of anyone's personal lack of affinity for The Governor, his disappearance was the biggest hanging chad from Season 3. To not address his departure would have raised significant questions and made it seem like the writers were not performing their due diligence.

    So, under the assumption that he HAS to come back in some form, the writers are given credit for not leading The Governor on a full-out assault of the prison for his return, but criticized for establishing his return to humanity in a cliched way.

    I won't argue that him finding comfort with a small family and bonding with a girl similar in age to the daughter he lost isn't cliche. But cliches are sometimes effective for a reason.

    How else do you propose the writers demonstrate how The Governor becomes a whole person again? How do you walk him back from what he did in the Season 3 finale? Because the alternative is to take a hard right turn into FURTHER mustache-twirling villainy - which most of the critics have already express disdain for.

    Maybe not a lot happened in this week's episode, but that doesn't mean it was poorly executed. It added much-needed shading to The Governor and made him slightly sympathetic - things you need for a villain to be believable.

    After all, every villain is convinced they are the hero of their own story.

  • Edwina the Magnificent

    During the opening voice over, I thought the female voice was Carol's......maybe I'm just yearning for her to return.....or aurally dyslexic. In any case, I thought this was a great episode.

  • Even Stevens

    I thought it was Carol as well, and I don't think we should rule her out. Did she ever meet the Governor? I can't remember

  • Edwina the Magnificent

    I don't think so? She certainly heard a lot about him at least.

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    I'm thinking that guys with eye-patches are still rare enough that Carol would catch on if she ever encountered him…Surely that would've been discussed during preparation for the siege at the prison from last season...

  • SorayaS

    Oh I was so sure Carol would come driving along that road! Falling into his own bear pit and being found by his former lackeys is better than I could have imagined!

  • Edwina the Magnificent

    Aaaah, karma, that sly bitch.

  • Pat

    Crazy theory: this new family that the Governor found himself with must have somehow worked themselves into the prison. One of them must be the person feeding the walkers by the fence.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    given how he introduces himself and some of the voiceover in the opening, i thought maybe they might delve into one of the companion pieces to the comic series, which is essentially his origin story.

    he was a straight up moustache-twirling psychopath in the comic as well. the only real difference between that and the TV show is that he was consistently a one-note psychopath, whereas the TV show tried to add nuance. the companion piece served to try and add dimension to him, showing how a person could become that way.

    my only issue with this episode is that it seems like a weird spot to have flashback with super-pressing issues at the prison now that everyone is back together.

    that said, i also really like this portrayal of him compared to before. if he is set up in a redemptive arc, i think it will actually fail and i'd actually rather he not. i'm down with an honest attempt and a tragic downfall, but yeah, i don't know that one can really let go of psycho in the very end.

    i'm still on board with this season overall, even if this was a slower or oddly placed episode. this season's writers have set a high enough bar that even the season's weakest moments are streets ahead the rest of the series. i'd rather it have a consistent tone more than i worry about cliches of storytelling, which i think it has this season.

    also, the fist bump almost made me fall out of my chair

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    You used the term "streets ahead", so I can only assume that you are Chevy Chase using a nom de plume. Which is just awesome.

    But I am in total agreement with your comment/point of view here. I appreciated the episode, even though I thought it was weaker. We've been quite spoiled with an excellent season thus far.

  • mairimba

    Yes. It was a bit cliched, but I enjoyed that they didn't take us back to the prison in this episode. And that they showed us a different side of the Governor. Probably how he was before shit crap hit the fan.

  • Three_nineteen

    They showed us the Rick side of The Governor. Since Rick is my least favorite character, having two Ricks on the show does not make me happy.

  • John G.

    I enjoyed the break from the prison too. I don't mind at all meeting new characters and watching how they adjust. I don't think it's a misstep at all.

  • That you took so little and found this much...

    Dedicating the whole episode to the Governor was this season's first misstep, and hopefully the last. At least our man found himself a replacement daughter. The Southern Comfort commercial was my favorite part.

  • The only better commercial placement on TV these days is the Louisiana Dept. of Tourism's ads every week during American Horror Story. Hee.

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    I absolutely agree with your perspective on this episode, and your review is excellent (once again).

    I have a feeling that next week's episode will also be mostly Governorcentric, and I'm hoping the slow burn pays off in a big way that will hopefully resolve his storyline.

    I was disappointed with how incapable that family was at putting down the zombies (yeah, I used the word, Romero! What are you gonna do about it?); they kept shooting centre mass and it didn't work, yet they kept doing the same thing? Not one head shot and a quick result of "Oh! There we go. It's truly dead now."

    And then the twisted ankle at the very end of the episode? *screams in frustration*

    Anyhow…I'm tired of the Gov. I found him fascinating at first, but now I'm just looking for resolution so we can keep moving forward.

  • The Other Julie

    Seriously! Who twists their ankle and falls just by simply turning around on flat surface to look at something? And why oh why did you never shoot a walker in the head if you tried so many times??? UGH.

    I also felt like - and I know he's been beat down but he's on the upswing - the struggle in the nursing home was well within the Gov's capabilities and yet he failed immensely. We've seen what he can do and he could definitely handle a small horde of geriatric walkers... who by the way, don't seem to have fed in months or more so should have been even weaker than depicted.

  • I think the fact that he was so discombobulated in the nursing home was evidence of the fact that he didn't want to kill any walkers he didn't absolutely have to. He had sort of shut that part of himself down and was trying to avoid them rather than confront and dispose of them. His relationship with the girl snapped him back to reality and woke him up from his semi-catatonic state and once he killed the grandfather out of necessity it all came back culminating in his ultraviolence in the pit which I think officially brought him 100% back.

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    YES^^^ THIS!!!
    I posted that on a TWD Facebook group we have! I was freaking out about everything you say here. I try to tone down my epic shrieking for Pajiba and go for snark rather than full-on psycho. :D

  • troublesometots

    The women were too stupid to have lived so long. And yes, the healthy young woman who twists her ankle on a flat road free of debris needs to stop. It's bad enough that you're too stupid to live but now you're incapable of walking in an unobstructed straight line?

    I was engaged in the Governer's redemptive arc but the implausibility of the helpless house fraus kept bringing me out of it.

  • Laura

    I noticed something similar the week before when the guy jumped out of the vet college window and almost went over the side. Looked totally unrealistic, as did the woman who twisted her ankle.

  • Naye

    I was very frustrated at how stupid and cliche the family was. The women were so...obvious I guess. They put their guard down almost immediately for the handsome stranger (save for the sister's posturing, but she never fooled anybody, then she blabbed about their food source.) It was a terribly boring episode, that expected me to care about somebody I never cared about. Uninteresting was the very word.

    Looks like next week we will find out what happened to that camp Carl and Hershel discovered.

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