The mystery behind what the Governor has been up to since last season is revealed
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Walking Dead
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Before watching this episode, I had several lines waiting in the wings such as “The Governor is back and badder than ever!” or “The Governator has returned!” and even a permutation of the tag line “This time, the monsters are real!” from Scooby Doo on Zombie Island I was still revising. But no need — the Governor hasn’t returned as a revenge-seeking mad man. Instead, he’s become Brian…just Brian.

“Live Bait” starts off where we last saw the Governor: Having massacred his people, he drives away with his two remaining henchmen, Martinez and Shumpert. The trio set up camp where the Governor broods at the campfire, unmoving and unbothered by an approaching Walker. Martinez shoots the Walker before it can grab the Governor, but the Governor is still not bothered. The time of the Governor is over. Martinez and Shumpert leave him to his fate and let him stand alone. By the time the Governor awakes the next morning, his now former henchmen are long gone, leaving behind one truck and some supplies. They may be murderers and marauders, but they at least have the common decency to not completely leave the Governor in the lurch.

The Governor returns to Woodbury to rebuild. Ha! Just kidding — he destroys the town, systematically burning buildings and bulldozing the fortified barriers. With Walkers overrunning the ruins of Woodbury, the Governor completes his utter destruction of the town he worked so hard to build.

Months later, he is wandering on the road with a terrible beard and mullet. With no one left to govern, the Governor ambles on, walking with the same joie de vivre as the Walkers of the undead variety. Ben Nichols’ “The Last Pale Light in the West” serves as the latest theme song of the week, expressing the Governor’s bleak state of being.

The Governor wanders into another ruined town, dodging a Walker attack whose pratfall off of the sidewalk is funnier than it should be. But the Governor is pretty much done. He’s lost his will to live. He collapses onto the gut-strewn pavement, waiting to die. Just then, he sees someone in a nearby building, perhaps the one person who could reignite his will to live. Is it his daughter Penny, miraculously brought back to life despite dying…twice? Is it a hallucination à la Ghost Lori? The Governor takes one more shot at life and investigates the possible apparition. (This scene in particular was cleverly shot, reflecting the uncertainty of the Governor’s sanity. One moment, the girl at the window is present. The Governor takes a step closer to the building, and the next moment, she’s gone. Is she real or merely a delusion? Dun dun dun!)

NEXT: The Governor meets the most trusting people in the Zombiepocalypse

We quickly discover the little girl is real but is most definitely not Penny. (Sorry, Gov. It may be a zombie show but there aren’t also witches with the power of resurrection.) The little girl, Megan, is part of the most naive family still alive during the Zombiepocalype. How they survived the year or so that has passed without being overrun by Walkers or marauders — like Martinez , Shumpert, or the Governor! — boggles my mind. The Gorbelli clan (I know they’re not actually the Gorbellis but we don’t know their actual last names, so run with it) is comprised of Megan, her mother Lilly, Lilly’s younger sister Tara, and Lily and Tara’s father Don.

The Governor cautiously approaches the Gorbellis, who are stationed in an apartment within the building. With virtually no trouble at all, they welcome him in, seizing only his gun which he offers up himself. Once inside, Tara and Lilly explain that they have been waiting at home for the National Guard to come. (Yeah, about that…) Tara is the only one to threaten the Governor outright, but she is all talk and false bravado, lowering her guard almost immediately after he assures that he is no threat to them. She even offers his weapon back to him — and calls him “Bro” — but Lilly is at least smart enough to wait until he is about to leave to give him back his weapon.

Yet Lilly is just as trusting as her younger sister. She asks him if he’s going to stay in the apartment complex as if she’s the head of the Co-op Board and not someone who has encountered a scary stranger who popped up, armed, at her doorstep. The Governor makes it clear he’ll only be there for the night, yet the Gorbellis are desperate to interact with someone outside of the family.

When they ask him for a name, he adopts the name “Brian Heriot” as his own, appropriated from a desperate sign he saw out on the road. The name “Brian” is a nod to the Walking Dead novels, in which it’s revealed that the Governor’s real name is Brian whereas Philip is actually the name of his deceased brother.

After he settles into his own space, Lilly offers “Brian” SpaghettiOs — or Sketti Rings because copyright. Governor Brian takes the plate, only to dump the Os outside his window. Unlike season 3 Rick, he has no problem with canned pet food, thank you very much. (Personally, I’d prefer SpaghettiOs over Fancy Feast, but hey I guess he prefers the protein!)

When Governor Brian returns the now-empty plate, he is pulled back into the Gorbelli apartment, where they offer him their life story and necessary exposition. When the Zombiepocalypse started — or as Tara states, when the s— hit the fan — Gorbelli food truck driver Grandpa Don rallied his daughters, nurse Lilly and “cop” Tara, as well as his granddaughter to stick it out until the “attacks” stopped. With a fully stocked food truck, oxygen tanks from the hospital, and ammo from the police station, they remained in their apartment since then. Although they’ve stayed safe, being holed up in one location means they are seriously lacking one-on-one Walker skills. They don’t know how to truly kill a Walker. They don’t know that when anyone dies, they re-awaken as a Walker. And they don’t know that the National Guard is not coming to the rescue.

In an unintended yet horribly manipulative guilt trip, Grandpa Don asks Governor Brian to retrieve a “real nice backgammon set” in his old friend Bill Jenkins’ apartment on the third floor (which happens to contain an unknown number of Walkers). He says he hopes it will get his granddaughter to talk again, although Brian wouldn’t know anything about having children since he doesn’t have any. Oof, as if the Governor doesn’t have enough family issues. Nonetheless, Governor Brian complies and retrieves the backgammon set, finally earning some of the trust the Gorbellis instantly gave him.

NEXT: The Governor gains a new family. Yay for him?

The next morning, Lilly, who makes enough goo-goo eyes at Governor Brian to suggest he’s not going anywhere any time soon, offers him some provisions before he sets back out on the road. They have a bit of meet-cute rapport (as much as you can during the Zombiepocalypse) before Lilly asks him to retrieve more oxygen tanks at a nearby nursing home for her ailing father.

Governor Brian embarks on the nursing home mission because how bad can elderly Walkers be? Sure, the place is probably filled with undead creatures hell-bent on eating your brainz, but they’re also infirm old people Walkers! Case in point — the first Walker he comes across is still confined to her wheelchair. This scene develops in a stark contrast to the way the Governor confronted a pack of Walkers in last season’s “Prey.” Andrea managed to slip away from the Governor’s pursuit when she directed a group of Walkers towards him inside an abandoned factory. Then, he confronted them head on, shooting as many as he could with angry fervor. This time, he kills just enough of them to hurriedly escape with two oxygen tanks in tow.

Thanking Governor Brian for his help, Lilly offers to clean his wounds. She relishes the opportunity to do something, even if it’s just cleaning his minor cuts. She states, “No one mentioned how boring the end of the world was going to be.” True. However, no one mentioned how boring the end of the Governor was going to be, either. She goes on to confess (she’s a sharer!) that Megan thought he was her father when she first saw him from the window — just as the Governor may have thought Megan was his daughter.

What comes next is a touching scene between Governor Brian and Megan, which David Morrissey and Meyrick Murphy manage to pull off with their easy, natural interaction. However, the scenario that Lilly would leave Megan alone with the Governor long enough for them to even have that interaction is overshadowed with a sense of dread. What parent would ever leave his or her child alone with a stranger — especially during the Zombiepocalypse?! I don’t care that he just retrieved oxygen tanks for your cancer-stricken father. I don’t care that he retrieved an old backgammon set for your father and daughter and gave you his gun. He’s a stranger. It’s not okay, period.

And yet the scene serves as the final beat solidifying the Governor’s new phase in life — Brian Heriot, world-weary protector and father figure of the Gorbelli food truck family.

NEXT: “You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game.”

Time has passed, perhaps several weeks, and Governor Brian is officially a part of the family. Rocking new clean clothes, a haircut, and no more awful beard, Governor Brian is looking more like his old self. He distracts Megan with a game of chess as Tara and Lilly tend to Don, who is on his death bed. Learning about the pawn chess pieces, Megan asks if you lose if your “soldiers” die. Governor Brian explains, “You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game.” Does this encapsulate the Governor’s former mentality — or does he still think of himself in terms of a “king” still fighting to win the game of post-apocalyptic life? (Side note: I would definitely play The Game of Life: Zombie Apocalypse Edition.)

He goes onto explain that the king is the “guy you want to capture.” Megan colors in an eye patch for the white king piece to look like the Governor. He’s not the first AMC Network character to be compared to a white king chess piece — but we all know how that ended for that guy.

Grandpa Don passes away before the Governor can tell Tara and Lilly what happens when someone dies in the Zombiepocalypse. (How could that not have been addressed during his extended stay with them?) Before Walker Grandpa Don can attack Tara, the Governor is forced to smash Walker Grandpa’s skull with an oxygen tank. In doing so, he also smashes his bond with Megan, who is traumatized in seeing his burst of violence.

The Governor burns his family photo — his last connection to his former self — and sets off to leave the Gorbellis. Lilly insists that they tag along, for he is a part of their unit now, whether he likes it or not. For the purpose of continuing the Governor’s narrative, I understand he needs to leave the apartment complex, but to me it does not make logical sense that they would abandon their established home. Why not fortify and expand? Is there actually something better out there than their current situation? So far on this series, there really hasn’t been. The most stable communities have been Woodbury and the expanded Prison community. That’s an ill omen for what else may lie outside the boundaries of the apartment.

Nevertheless, Governor Brian, Tara, Lilly, and Megan take the food truck out onto the open road, heading wherever they can with no set plan. (Good plan! No, no it’s not.) One night in the truck, Governor Brian and Lilly make out even though Tara and Megan are asleep next to them. I admit, despite the awful, awful things the Governor has done, he’s still kinda sexy. The awkward situation of fondling and kissing with your family several inches away is bad enough. I also can’t get over how much Lilly looks like Maggie, which in turn reminds me of how terribly he treated her. So, no, I didn’t find that scene particularly steamy, yet I’m not sure we were supposed to — he’s the Governor after all.

The Gorbelli truck of food and heavy petting doesn’t last long, and now, the group continues their trek on foot. Things quickly go from bad to worse as Tara sprains her ankle after a bird’s caw startles her. (I wish I could I say I haven’t sprained my ankle in a lamer fashion but that would be a lie.) Just then, a Walker herd approaches them, attracted to their shouts and loud conversations. Lilly helps Tara limp-run away as Megan jumps into the Governor’s arms before he dashes into the woods. Making their way into a clearing, the Governor and Megan fall into a pit filled with Walkers. He saves her from the Walkers, but not before Martinez appears above him. It seems like Brian Heriot won’t last long before the Governor returns to deal with his past.

Walker of the Week: Bill Jenkins and his botched suicide made me really upset, more than the inevitable death of Grandpa Don. Dammit The Walking Dead! Your quiet, tragic vignettes of death and the human condition get me every time!

Questions to consider:

How will Martinez react to Governor Brian and his new family?

How does the Governor end up outside of the Prison?

Will the Governor and his group encounter the flu virus, the mega herd, and/or the mysterious group heard on the radio?

Is the Governor a changed man or is he a ticking time bomb waiting to explode?

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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