And I ask for no redemption
In this cold and barren place
Still I see the faint reflection
And so by it, I got my way
“Last Pale Light in the West” – Ben Nichols

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Now that the virus threat at the prison is seemingly contained (for now) and the walker-overrun-threat placated (for now), the show takes an unexpected but welcome left turn to spend an entire episode with our favorite Suicide King (or is he now just a One-Eyed Jack?), the Governor Phillip Blake.

This type of rewind and fill-in-the-blanks episode centering around one character was very unexpected, and my initial reaction was: “crap…is this entire episode going to be about the Gov?” But by the time the episode was over, it had become my easy favorite so far in season 4, albeit in a totally different and more subdued, character-driven way than the slam-bang white knuckle ride of a previous episode, “Internment”.

Taking a quick peek of some chatter on social media (which I try to avoid before immersing myself into re-cappage) reinforced my hunch that this would be a very polarizing episode for many fans, similar to season 3’s “Clear”. However unlike “Clear”, which I found to be grating and over-acted (sorry Mayor Jim!), I thought “Live Bait” was well-written and VERY well acted. I understand many fans would want to keep the story with the group and in the prison (and with Daryl! SQUEEEEE!), but personally I was getting a bit worn-out on the whole prison/virus storyline and found this episode a nice break.

Of course 2 very important things help made a detour like this one a success:

  1. The strength of the Governor’s character.
  2. The strength of David Morrissey’s acting. 

Both are obviously top-notch…

I wasn’t particularly sold on David Morrissey early on when he was announced for the role and after I google’d, IMDB’d and youtube’d him. I just didn’t see the menace of what I was being assured was going to be a ruthless master-villain in the vein of Darth Vader meets Lord Darkness. And I still wasn’t buying what he was selling when he debuted his smirking, smooth-talking self in episode 03 of season 03. But somewhere along the way, I began to buy into the Gov’s brand of crazy and by the end of season 3 I was totally sold on the thought that a normal-looking guy-next-to-you-in-line-at-Piggly-Wiggly like him could harbor the darkest monsters of all.

At this point, I do believe it’s safe to say that the Governor is the most interesting and complex character on the show. OK, I hear you Michonne fans unsheathing your samurai swords in disagreement, and I think you would have an argument that she is 1b to the Gov’s 1a. And speaking of Michonne, how cool would it be to see a back-story arc for her in a similar type of episode? Yes, please! We know Rick’s story pretty well and most of the others we know enough about to be satisfied. I mean, I know Glenn delivered pizzas before the apocalypse and that’s plenty for me. I don’t need to see an episode of Hershel Greene, Vet M.D. I do think these type of mini-story-lines will be the exception and not the norm going forward on the show, reserved for only the best and most interesting characters, and that’s the way it probably should be.

Just before the start of “Live Bait”, I re-watched the previous episode “Internment” and noticed that the ominous deep, tearing bass tones that played at the end during the Gov’s reappearance, are the same ones that wreaked havoc with my nerves during season 3’s master episode/thriller movie tribute “Prey”. Cool way to give the Gov a theme, Bear McCreary…nice work as always.

The way this episode began – abruptly stepping back to the end of season 3 and the Gov’s post-prison-raid-freak-out – immediately reminded me of “Breaking Bad” (RIP). Which is a goooood thing; anytime the up-and-down inconsistent Walking Dead can borrow from its fellow AMC master drama is a benefit. In fact, I wonder what it would take to get Vince Gilligan to visit the West Georgia Correctional Facility now that his time in the New Mexico meth business has come to a close? The mind boggles…

I think many of us wondered exactly what happened after the Gov went cuck-coo on his crew and commenced what had to have been the most uncomfortable car ride ever with Martinez. And we found out: Martinez dumped him as soon as he possibly could, slipping off in the night like the bar hopper who thought he’d left the honky-tonk with a 9, only to discover after sobriety kicked in that she was really a 3.

This leads to the Gov’s stumbling walk of deep introspection, similar in spirit to Forrest Gump’s cross-country running montage (and with a slightly less-cool beard). But first the Gov needed to pay one last visit to Woodbury to reconcile a few things. And by “reconcile” of course I really mean go all Mrs O’Leary’s cow on it and burn it to the ground. This, coupled with the mournful song playing in the background (“Last Pale Light in the West”), create an instantly memorable and iconic image of the Gov destroying everything he’d built as he moves on…

"Smokey the Bear can kiss my..."

“Smokey the Bear can kiss my…”

And as someone who’s thrice-visited the real-life Woodbury…twice with Walking The Walking Dead tours and once to buy a suit of armor (yes I own a suit of armor, don’t judge)…it was tough to watch it burn knowing there will likely be no future storylines there. Pouring out some sweet tea on the curb for my homies in Senoia, GA…

Apparently the Gov shambled for a pretty good amount of time, sporting quite the Chia-face by the time he finally collapsed in the street next to the Gorbelli delivery truck. Hey, they even recognize No-Shave November in the zombie apocalypse! AMC knows that with the enormous popularity of Duck Dynasty, beards are HOT right now and I don’t mean in just the itchy/scratchy/summer-in-GA kind of way. The Gov’s whiskers were more Unabomber than ZZ Top, but it was hard to see his eye patch and not immediately think of Snake Plissken.

Gov Snake: I don't give a **** about your war... or your Governor or Billy Jenkin’s backgammon set.

I don’t give a **** about your war… or your Governor…or Billy Jenkins’ backgammon set.

Ah, I can hear it how:

“I swear to God, Snake, I thought you were dead.”
“Yeah. You and everybody else.”

But just as Gov Snake appeared to be fading into that not-so-good night, he spies a figure in the window…crap, was that Penny? Well, no it wasn’t…but it was an actual little girl, who we later learn is named Megan. She and her family: her mom Lilly, her aunt Tara and her grandpa…er, let’s just call him Wheezy. I don’t know if it ever mentioned their last names, so I’m going to call them the Gorbelli’s. And like any good Italian family, the Gorbelli’s are VERY chatty. And I mean, like talking WAY too much to this scraggly mess of a stranger who looks like he…well, has slaughtered a bunch of people in cold blood, including his own townsfolks (you know: because he totally has!)

(And in a nice reference to fellow Georgia resident Honey Boo-Boo, they serve him Sketti-O’s…brilliant!)

No matter how much the Gov bristles like a porcupine and clearly wants to be left alone, the gals, especially Lilly, seem intent on drawing him out of his shell. Although she physically resembles Maggie, Lilly’s ability to accurately read and judge men makes her a little more like Andrea. It’s while the Gov is finally reluctantly speaking of his past (conveniently leaving out a few dozen murders in which he took part) that he reveals himself to be…Brian Heriot? Not Phillip Blake? Well, maybe his burning of Woodbury wasn’t just symbolic and the Gov sees this as a great opportunity to start over as someone less…what’s the word I’m looking for here? Ah yes: HOMICIDAL! So in a nod to the comic, he “borrows” someone else’s name, who if the graffiti-covered wall is any indication, probably won’t be using it anymore.

The Gov begins running errands for the Gorbelli gang, first procuring a backgammon set from Billy Jenkins up in 303, who as it turns out had fallen in the tub and the best LifeCall monitor in the world won’t be able to help him get back up. (Late 80’s pop culture reference!) Also, the Gov accepted the mission of raiding a local nursing home for oxygen tanks that Granpa Wheezy needs. While walkers with walkers seem like easy pickin’s, the Gov struggled a bit with dispatching them, especially the one in the wheelchair who resembled Katherine Helmond of Soap/Who’s The Boss?/Brazil fame.
The whole mission seemed like a very odd and dangerous thing to ask a stranger to do, but that Lilly Gorbelli is a saucy one.

Along the way, the Gov begins to bond with Megan, the young girl about Penny’s age. Hmmm…she’s without a dad, the Gov has lost his Penny…wow, pretty obvious, right? Just more of TWD’s 2-by-4-over-the-head brand of story-telling, in the same vein as Carol & Lizzy/”no Mom, oops I mean ma’am” and Michonne/“here hold this baby even though it’s clearly bothering you to do so and you must have a deep secret regarding babies”…

Finally the Gov lets go of his Snake Plissken look and has a meeting with a razor and comb. And is it just me, or did his comb-over/dye-job/toupee/whatever-that-mess-is look much less artificial when he was channeling Tom Hanks in Castaway than it did after he reverted back to his newscaster/realtor look? And how have I never noticed how much he looks (and sounds!) like Liam Neeson when he is clean-shaven?

Anyway, he has a nice scene teaching Megan how to play chess, including her drawing an eyepatch on the King…ooh, that gives me a good idea, more on that later…and him dispensing some classic Governor advice that it’s perfectly acceptable to kill as many pawns as necessary to get the king.
“Even if it means machine-gunning down your own pawns after a botched prison raid?”
“GET IN THE HOUSE, MEGAN!”

This leads to Grandpa Wheezy taking his last er, wheeze…and the Governor, er, Brian Heriot for some reason choosing NOT to warn the rest of the Gorbelli clan that Gramps was going to turn into a slobbering ravenous zombie upon passing away. Hey, I get that it would not have led to such a dramatic kill scene, but some fore-warning might have been nice, Governor Phillip Brian whatever your name is now, seeing as how it caused you to brutally bash Wheezy’s head in with the same oxygen tank that was giving him life, and splatter the gals with the diseased brains of their dearly departed. Nope, nothing traumatic about that…

So, our new little group sets out on the road, with Gov Phillip Brian playing the Chevy Chase role behind the wheel of the Family Truckster (wouldn’t it have been great if “Holiday Road” had been playing?) And which leads to a rather awkward scene where the Gov and Lilly make out…in the same bunk with the other 2 girls. Wow, who outside of a frat house or a trailer park in Arkansas gets jiggy in the same bed with sleeping family members? But hey, that’s all part of the Gov’s mad player game! Forget Rick and/or Daryl as heart-throbs, the Gov just passed Shane for number of post-apocalyptic booty calls on the show!

A little bit of car trouble later and the gang runs into a herd of walkers/biters…and while getting away on foot, the Gov & MeganPenny fall into a pit of walkers. Well, the Gov was taking his channeling of Liam Neeson quite seriously as he went all “Taken” on the hapless walkers. This scene contained some of the most brutal walker take-downs ever seen on the show, as the Gov became the Govinator basically with his own 2 hands and a couple bones. The jaw-off kill will go in the hall of fame with Michonne’s wire-around-a-pole decapitation and Daryl’s head-in-a-hatchback scenes from season 3.

IT'S BRIAN NOT PHILLP AND YOU SHOULD FLOSS MORE!

IT’S BRIAN NOT PHILLP AND YOU SHOULD FLOSS MORE!

 

Turns out Martinez & crew show up as the ones who built the pit and…well, what happens now?

This is leading up to some interesting scenarios as the show moves back to that moment at the end of “Internment”:

  1. Is the Governor now a “good guy” because he’s rediscovered his humanity thanks to the rollicking Gorbelli family? It seems like there would be some hard feelings between Team Prison and Team Gov that would be awfully hard to get past, especially for Michonne, Maggie/Glenn, Daryl, etc. 
  2. Does the re-connection of Martinez cause the old sociopathic Phillip Blake to rear his smirking head from inside apparent good guy Brian Heriot?
  3. Will it be revealed that the Gov was the guy guilty of feeding rats to walkers outside the prison gates and/or spreading the virus? 
  4. Will Phillp/Brian continue to develop as a deep and nuanced character ala Walter White of Breaking Bad: a complex guy with some good traits and basically good intentions, corrupted by the hint of power and unable to let go of personal vendettas that ultimately lead to his un-doing and override any redeeming values he may have?

I’m not sure but either way, I’m looking forward to finding out more about this character, no matter what he chooses to call himself…

Tune in later,
-jcs

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avatar J. Christopher Smith (10 Posts)

Chris is a lifelong fan of anything dark + macabre, beginning with the old classic black-and-white horror movies (that he had to sneak and stay up and watch) as well as campy TV fare such as The Addams Family, The Munsters, and The Night Stalker. That led at an early age to the writings of Stephen King and Peter Straub, then onward to the works of artists such as Edgar Allen Poe, Edward Gorey, Thomas Harris, Carl Hiaasen, Chuck Palahniuk, and of course, Dr Seuss. Chris was born + raised in Middle Tennessee, received his further education at Western Kentucky University, and currently lives among the moss-covered oaks of historic coastal Southeastern Georgia. In past lives he's been a long-haired bass player in college rock bands and an over-worked restaurant manager, but currently crunches numbers and curb-stomps spreadsheets for a Fortune 500 company. Chris enjoys spending time at his spooky marsh-front manor (dubbed the Monster Plantation or Monsta P) with his lovely wife Melanie, their dogs, and a monkey butler named Amos Moses.


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