Byeond featuring some of the best action and gore of the season, last week’s episode of The Walking Dead was most memorable for the final few seconds, which revealed the return of the Governor. In “Live Bait,” the narrative ditches Rick and his crew, and travels back in time to focus on the Governor's adventures (ha) between seasons three and four. It's this change in perspective that makes "Live Bait" the most memorable of the season.

The ep opens with Governor circa the season three finale, a directionless transient who's lost his will to live. Sporting all the signs of the finest in post-apocalyptic style—grisly beard, mullet—the Governor has clearly modeled his despondency after Snake Plisskin. But things look up once he stumbles upon a family that bonds with, including the two sisters, Lily and Tara; Megan, Lily’s daughter; and Don, Lily and Tara’s sickly father. This new family dynamic is the focus of most of the episode, and it features some of the most complex character interactions in Walking Dead history.

It’s, um, unnerving to watch such an evil man hanging out with a family. At any moment it feels like the Governor might fly off the handle and massacre the family. But that moment never comes. Instead, he actually demonstrates care for this new family, and even risks his own life to search for a spare oxygen tank for Don in a zombie-infested nursing home, which, incidentally, is as creepy as a normal nursing home.

There isn’t much plot to talk about here; this episode is more about small character moments that weave together into an intriguing tapestry. Touches like the Governor’s interactions with Megan and Lily allow the character to grow beyond being just a two-dimensional psychopath, making it hard to root against him. Even when the Governor has to kill Don, who has turned into a walker, he does it solely to protect the other women in the family. He also does it with style:

Unlike many of the “heroes” of the main cast, the Governor has a complex personality and a fascinating arc. He starts the episode off as a hopeless bum waiting for death, and by the end he has a purpose again: to help this family survive. Of course, this all works because of David Morrissey's syrupy charm; he plays the character like a cross between Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name and Robert Mitchum as Henry Powell in Night of the Hunter. Brilliant stuff. 

By the end of “Live Bait,” though, the old Governor does return when he and Megan are trapped in a pit full of walkers after he and the women are forced to flee from a pack of zombies on foot. He kills three of them with his bare hands in brutal fashion in order to protect Megan, but just as he looks to escape the pit, he comes face-to-face with one of his old lieutenants from Woodbury.

Will the Governor still be a dedicated family man now that he's got his droogs back? That will likely be answered in the coming weeks, but longtime fans of the show shouldn’t expect this domesticated Governor to stick around for the long haul. Either way, while Rick, Michonne, and Daryl may get top billing, it's the Governor who is The Walking Dead's character to watch.. 

GIFs via Uproxx

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