SPOILER ALERT: This recap for the "Live Bait" episode of "The Walking Dead" contains storyline and character spoilers.
All season long, the cast and producers of "The Walking Dead" have been telling viewers there will be big, shocking moments they won't see coming. The return of the Governor in last week's "Internment" was a surprise because of its timing, and the fact that it came as other dramatic events had just unfolded, but his reappearance in general was not shocking.
The trip down memory lane in Sunday's "Live Bait," showing us what the Governor (David Morrissey in an Emmy-worthy performance) has been up to since his misadventures in the Season 3 finale? Big, shocking, and, like the "WD" folks promised, not what any of us could have seen coming.
The Governor, it appears, is a changed man. Understandably stricken by the many brutal, heartless actions and abuse of trust and power he's carried out since "the turn," we meet him just after he, Martinez, and Shumpert killed Tyreese's old pal Allen and other Woodbury citizens. The trio takes off together, but the Governor soon strikes out on his own. He returns to Woodbury and sets the town ablaze, then we see him as a broken man, scruffy, bearded, barely shuffling through the streets for two months, and not making much effort to avoid the walkers.
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Then he looks up into an apartment building and sees a little girl. She looks a lot like his Penny, and he goes inside, where the building appears to be abandoned. Until an apartment door opens ...
The Governor's New Family
The apartment's residents are older sister Lilly, younger sister Tara, Lilly's daughter Megan (the girl in the window), and Tara and Lilly's dad, who's hooked up to an oxygen tank. They're leery of the Governor – who tells them his name is Brian Heriot, a name he saw on the side of a barn during his wanderings – but he volunteers to hand over his gun and barely speaks above a whisper, so they give him food and point him to an empty apartment where he can spend the night.
In quick succession, he really wins them over, fulfilling grandpa's request that he retrieve a chess set for Megan, and Lilly's request that he hit a walker-overrun nursing home to snag a couple of oxygen tanks for her stage-four lung cancer-suffering dad. He even bonds with Megan, who's so frightened by the state of the world that she barely speaks. He teaches her to play chess, and she draws an eye patch on the king piece in honor of her new friend. When gramps dies — and the Governor has to re-kill him before he reanimates — Lilly, Tara, and Megan hit the road with Brian.
"Live Bait" ... What Does It Mean?
The Governor would appear to be a changed man, a kinder, gentler, remorseful guy seeking refuge for himself and, more importantly, his new instafamily. He's headed back towards his old stomping grounds — that pit of walkers he and Megan fall into is the same pit he once used to trap biters for his more nefarious purposes, right? He gets frisky with Lilly on the road, and with their truck broken down, he and the two women and Megan are on the run. He's reunited with Martinez, and that's where we leave him in "Live Bait," though we know he makes his way to the prison. Is he scoping the joint out to plot his revenge? Or, more shockingly, is he scoping it out because he's going to try to join up with Rick and the community that's developed at the prison?
The Governor and Megan fall into the pit:
Would they allow him in, with these new cohorts of his? You assume no, but remember, when last we left the prison crew, Daryl and Tyreese were about to find out what Carol did, and what Rick did in response to that. There may be a civil war going on inside the prison, leaving an opening for the Governor to gain entry. But what would he do with that admission? Try to make amends? Or carry out even more evil doings? Are Lilly, Tara, and Megan the titular "live bait" to help him gain access to the prison, and Rick, and Michonne?
* No spoiler forthcoming, but viewers who've read the "Walking Dead" Governor novels, "Rise of the Governor" and "The Road to Woodbury" will recognize that "Live Bait" is a mash-up of some characters, character names, and storylines from those books. The third (of four) Governor novel, "The Fall of The Governor," was released in October, and the final book will be released in March.
* "Sketti Rings"? We all know those were SpaghettiOs on that plate the Governor was given. Would Campbell's not allow the "WD" writers to call them what they are? Uh oh, SpaghettiOs.
* Wethinks "Live Bait" qualifies as a bottle episode, the term applied to a TV ep that's limited to a few (or less) sets and regular cast members (think "The Chinese Restaurant" from "Seinfeld" and "Fly" from "Breaking Bad."), sometimes to save money for a bigger episode elsewhere in the season. The Governor was the only regular cast member, and most of the key action took place in the apartment building. Also, Andy Lincoln told us before the season began to expect (expensive) explosives in the midseason finale, "the biggest thing we've attempted, I think, so far in our show," so … yeah.
The cast and crew break down "Live Bait":
* The only details about his "Governor" life Brian shared with his new friends is that he lived in a town where the "man in charge" just "lost it." Speaking of "Seinfeld," there's a whole lot of yada, yada, yada he left out there.
* That song, the Governor's ballad: "The Last Pale Light in the West" by Ben Nichols, yet another perfectly picked tune by "The Walking Dead" music crew. "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" … again, perfectly matched to the Governor's journey in "Live Bait."
* And one more shout-out, to the show's casting directors, who found another great kid actress in Meyrick Murphy, who's playing Megan. Her scene with "Brian," when she asks him about his eye injury, and he tells her he's a pirate? Honestly, she made the Governor almost huggable.
* Oh how Lilly is going to look back on these words she uttered to the Governor: "Nobody ever mentioned just how boring the end of the world was going to be." Maybe it has been in her little apartment building, but now that she's hit the road with her new lov-ah ...
Now, share your feelings with the group, "Dead"-heads ... is the Governor a changed man? Or is it all an act so he can plot the ultimate act of revenge against Rick and Michonne?
Watch a preview of next week's episode:
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.