Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Live Bait,” marks the return of the Governor, the former leader of Woodbury, who led a failed attack against the prison after one of Rick’s people, Michonne, killed the zombie that had once been his daughter. The Governor was last seen skulking outside the prison gates at the end of “Internment,” the previous episode, which is significant because we know he ends up clean-shaven and, ostensibly, alone. That means the opening sequence in “Live Bait” must be a bluff, since he’s camped out with the two soldiers from Woodbury he didn’t murder after the botched assault on the prison.
“Internment,” as I demonstrated last week, was about being alone in a crowd, but “Live Bait” is a little more literal with its isolation: the Governor’s abandoned by his two remaining men three minutes into the episode, and director Michael Uppendahl it at pains to remind you of just how lonely being alone is, first with an off-balance long shot of the Governor’s solitary tent:
We expect an unbalanced shot of the Governor, because he’s an unbalanced man. He murdered his soldiers for failing him, instead of upbraiding them and regrouping for another attack. The use of the long shot makes him look smaller — diminished — as if he can control nothing. He’s “the governor” of his own tent, but nothing more. When he returns to Woodbury, the now-abandoned town he once ruled, the camera seems to be telling us that he’s more in control:
Unlike the previous shot, this one is centered, and although we don’t see him setting the fire behind him, the composition strongly suggests that he’s the one who set that fire. He dominates the frame in a manner that communicates a sense of control, suggesting that the fire is his way of dealing with unpleasant memories, especially of his own failure — and confirmation of this dynamic occurs later in the episode, when he burns the photograph of the wife and child he couldn’t save. This shot suggests that the Governor’s got his shit together, that he’s more in control than he was in the first. However:
He’s not. We’re back to the off-kilter composition and utter isolation of that first shot. That he’s bearded and shambling means we know that this isn’t the version of the Governor who we’ll see outside the prison gates at the end of “Internment.” Something will happen in the interim, and that something is the Chalmers family, who he meets in an abandoned apartment.
As he slowly becomes a member of their family, Uppendahl’s direction takes an interesting turn. For example, when Lilly Chalmer cleans the wound he acquired securing oxygen tanks for her dying father, the level of framing shifts down about three feet…
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