In last few episodes of this season viewers watched Carol lose hers and Herschel maintain his. In “Live Bait,” viewers watched the Governor regain it. This was not an easy feat, but the writers made it happen.
The episode begins exactly where viewers last saw the Governor: shooting down his people and driving off in a pickup truck with his two henchmen. Fans knew he would return. That kind of evil does not go away. It comes back with a fury. Well, the writers of the show beg to differ.
The Governor does not drive off to a new location to hatch evil plans to destroy Rick. He is not putting together an elaborate torture device for Michonne. Instead, he is shown staring into a campfire. A Walker is seen coming up to him. He does not defend himself. He just stares into the fire. He does not even look up when one of his men shoots the Walker before it attacks. He is useless to the two men who followed him. Thus, they leave.
They abandon him with a truck, which he uses to crash into the gates of Woodbury. The town that he built is overrun by Walkers. The refuge he gave to so many is gone, so he sets it all on fire. He stands in the center of town and watches the flames eat up the houses. Then, he just simply walks away. The experience of time is speeded up by his weight loss and beard. He moves from town to town, getting weaker and weaker. Finally, he falls from exhaustion on the side of a road, disheveled and drained of life.
His face is haggard and it appears he has given up. He glances at a window before shutting his eyes. He catches a glimpse a little girl in one of the windows of an apartment building. He picks himself up and staggers his way to her. He finds the child, Megan, her mother, an aunt, and her grandfather who is dying of lung cancer.
The women greet him with a gun to his face. He hands over his gun to them without a fight. He appears to lack the courage to look them in the eyes as the aunt threatens to shoot him if he dares to do anything wrong. He quietly accepts her terms. They ask him his name and he answers Brian Heriot, a blatant lie. It was a name spray painted on a metal barn he stopped to read during his travels. Immediately, the audience has an “Aha moment.” There is our Governor. He is going to take advantage of these vulnerable people.
He agrees to get the child a board game from one of the tenants in the building, most likely a ploy to win their trust. He finds the tenant who is a Walker. He puts him down and finds a gun on him. He takes the gun. He must be planning to use it on the family, but he gives it to Lily. In fact, he does not want his old gun back when she tries to give it back to him. He even goes out and risks his life to get an oxygen tank for the grandfather. Who is this man?
Is the audience really to believe he is the man he presents himself to Megan? He indulges her, letting her ask question that stir up painful memories. She asks about his eye that he lost to Michonne’s sword. His answer, “I was a pirate.” She firmly responds, “No Way!” This sends him laughing, something he has not done in a long time. He tells her he lost his eye trying to protect someone he loved. Is this rewriting history? No, it is the truth. Also, it is writer, Scott Gimple’s attempt at reinventing the Governor’s character.
The power hungry tyrant is gone. In his place is a father describing how he lost his daughter, Penny. Although he never mentions her by name, he is clearly referring to her.
Previous episodes and scenes take on a different dimension. The scene in which the Governor combs Penny’s hair, even though she is a Walker, just disturbed audiences. Now, it’s a scene of a father filled with tremendous sorrow, incapable of accepting his daughter’s death. One of the cruelest experiences for the living in the world of Walkers is that Walkers seem to be still alive. It mocks those who lose loved ones, daring them to let go of them.
Gimple retells the Governor’s story and sheds new light on the man. The audience has to rethink his past. Did his life as the Governor stem from the loss of his family? Did he have Milton research Walkers in hopes that there was still something to be salvaged of their humanity? Was he hoping that Milton could bring Penny back?
It’s not a coincidence that Woodbury fell soon after Michonne put Penny down. The Governor valued nothing after that, except revenge. Gimple strips him of his need for revenge. He was a man ready to die, but Gimple is giving him another chance at life. He offers him salvation in doing what he dreamed of doing—saving a little girl. H
er name is Megan. He put down four walkers with his bare hands to save her and he took an oath to keep her safe.