[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 4, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
The Governor made a short appearance at the end of last week's The Walking Dead, and from what anyone could tell, he was either ready to stage another all-out assault on the prison, or he was just walking by, remembering the good times and the bad that he and his good buddy Rick Grimes had before Philip lost it and opened fire on his own people. That is to say, the tease of the Governor's return was such that few would have expected the 'Live Bait' to be the kind of deviating episode that it was.
In that regard, the episode felt similar (in concept, anyway) to season 3's 'Walk With Me,' as it gave everyone a break from the survivors and the claustrophobic confines of the prison, to grant the series look at what Philip had been up to since things didn't quite go his way in 'Welcome to the Tombs.' And as much as the show struggled with its depiction of the Governor at certain (sometimes key) moments last season, this trip through the last few months of Philip's life were interesting in the sense that we were presented with a man who was broken, had hit rock bottom and through some wild twist of fate had been given an opportunity to slowly climb his way out.
There's a great deal of coincidence going on in 'Live Bait' that gives Philip's journey an almost fantastical quality about it. But after a quick montage that shows him burning Woodbury to the ground and then taking to the road on foot – apparently not getting very far – Philip finds himself in the company of a small family who've somehow managed to avoid the worst of the zombie outbreak by tucking themselves away in an apartment building and surviving off junk food. These four people, Melody (Audrey Marie Anderson), her daughter Megan (Meyrick Murphy), sister Tara (Alanna Masterson) and their father are a microcosm unto themselves; aware only that something is horribly wrong with the world outside, but inexperienced enough not to know how to truly survive in it.
A newly apprehensive and laconic Philip winds up spending more time with the family than he initially intended, and as he grows more accustomed to them, they afford the Governor a chance to reclaim all that he'd lost. Melody and her daughter become and obvious surrogate for the wife and child Philip had lost to the zombies - but as a whole, the family is practically turned into surrogate Woodburians as well. Some of it, like the chess game between Philip and Megan, is painfully overdone and obvious, but still, they need his help, appreciate his abilities and knowledge, and, eventually, come to rely on his leadership.
As far as episodes go, 'Live Bait' wound up feeling like a breath of fresh air from the storyline at the prison – which had begun to get a little stagnant after weeks spent riding out a deadly flu virus culminated in one of the bleakest episodes ever. But more than that, this little jaunt with the Governor demonstrated how much livelier the show can feel when it puts characters (any character, apparently) out on the open road. We saw it early in the series when the survivors were perpetually on the move, last season with 'Clear,' and earlier this season when Daryl and the Most Intense People in the World took a short road trip in search of medical supplies.
If anything, this demonstrates that The Walking Dead works best when its characters are mobile and engaged. The surprising thing is that it doesn't necessarily seem to matter which character is being engaged.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'Dead Weight' @9pm on AMC. Check out a sneak peek below: