We can all agree that Season 5 of The Walking Dead has been really, really ridiculously good looking. However, I can’t help but begin to think that the show may beginning to like the smell of its own rotting farts just a bit too much. There is definitely the sense of a lack of effort in “Self Help,” and it is a reminder that this show will need to continue to bring its A game (much like last week’s “Slabtown”), and focus more on character development, exciting plot twists and bringing the spirit of the comic books to the small screen.
The formula of Season 5 has been to draw from some of the comics richest scenes, and apply them in quite conspicuous situations. So far, that formula has worked wonders. It has become standard for a show to start a season months in advance, avoiding the responsibility of filling in the blanks of what happened between seasons, but The Walking Dead has been impressive thus far by staying balls to the wall throughout each episode. “Self-Help” is about as far as you can get from that.
I’m surprised at how lame this week’s installment was, simply because of the gravity that the bad news at the end of the episode carried. The whole episode was full of foreshadowing for something big to happen, and we were entirely disappointed to find out that it could have been set-up so much more dynamically. Instead, what we get is a bunch of uncharacteristic actions taken by probably the least entertaining story of the ones TWD could have chosen from. From the get-go, “Self Help” is littered with lazy writing holes. We compiled a list of over ten instances we went, “Now why the hell would ___ do that?” A horror series can only immerse its viewers if they can give credence that an environment like that can exist and if the people within it act hypothetically believable. And I’m sorry, but choosing to chow down on toilet water when they knew there was a fire truck with water in it across the street, or wasting said water on shredding zombies. Although, that was pretty damn cool.
Where we do get some quality in “Self Help” is the fleshing out of Abraham’s backstory. I love the short flashbacks, and the polarizing topic of “did Abraham go too far?” easily sparks up a debate. Abraham’s late wife, Ellen, simply wasn’t about that life, or ready to face the harsh realities of survival. The sad end of his family’s tale ties in perfectly to Eugene’s big fat lie. There’s a lot to be said about a man willing to bust the crap out of his mangled hands just to kill some walkers – without wearing gloves. Why is Abraham in such a rush to get to DC, even while ignoring impossible odds against him? It’s a far stretch, but maybe that hand isn’t gonna be around much longer, ala [some guy in] the comic books.
Director Ernest Dickerson has directed some of the series’ greatest episodes in Season 2, including: the introduction of the Greene family, Shane’s junkyard showdown with Rick, and the Season 2 barn-burner finale – so why is this episode so painfully uninteresting? A lot of it had to do with tone; there were far too many Shaun of the Dead-type moments where the show made fun of itself instead of putting us in a suspenseful mood. Eugene is a completely laughable character, and the fact that two-thirds of voters on TalkingDead (and a herd of those on social media, too) were so shocked that this idiot could hold the answer to humanity’s end was just as laughable as his Tennessee Tophat.
Hush Comics gives “Self Help” a D+ for its zombie crawl pacing and a general lack of logic used by the characters in what should be a life or death environment. Even though we laughed our fair share at Eugene’s hilarity, there was simply no substantial development other than the obvious one to make us excited about the episode as a whole. Despite the harsh review, this episode doesn’t ruin the series, the season, or even my evening. It still opens up philosophical discussion and it still entertains. There are still tiny details for eagle-eyed fans to spot (for example, Eugene’s choice of literature, HG Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come), and mouthful of comic book lines brought to life. I’m glad the cat is finally out of the bag on this one, and we can move forward.
We open with chess pieces. The Governor is playing the strategy game with Megan again. They are in a new camp with a new group of survivors led by Martinez. Megan studies the board. Phillip Blake, still acting out the part of Brian Heriot, calls Megan “Pumpkin”. We cut away to where “Live Bait” left off with Martinez pulling Brian and Megan out of the zombie pit. Martinez allows The Governor back to the camp with his brood, under several conditions, “One, I’m in charge. Two, no dead weight. That goes for everyone.” The scene cuts back to the game. The Governor tells Megan that letting her win wouldn’t be winning – his daddy used to say so. He also says that his daddy used to beat him in everything, including fisticuffs. Because of his tone, we are led to believe that Philip was an abused child.
We are introduced to a new crew of zombie killing roughnecks, Mitch, Pete, and Alisha. Alisha is played by actress Juliana Harkavy of Graceland. Mitch is played by actor Kirk Acevedo, best known for his work on HBO’s OZ as Miguel Alvarez. Pete is played by Enver Gjokaj, known for his role as Victor on Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse series. It was exciting to see TV junkie fan favorites in this episode. I tend to give a series more credibility with known actors, especially if they come from The Wire! (Dear Tyresse and Bob, please come back into our lives.) Our new group is scouting the woods with “Brian” in the opening scenes. Sidenote: there’s some history in the book The Rise of the Governor that explains this more thoroughly, but we think that he changes his name because Brian only has one I…. get it?? One EYE! The exchange between Martinez and Philip is tense. Martinez immediately catches on to The Governor’s identity theft scam and plays along. We cut back to The Governor and Megan. The frame widens and just behind Brian is an army tank. Fans of the comic appreciate its significance. It remains to be seen whether or not that tank will be used to its full capacity.
This week’s episode of The Walking Dead is titled “Dead Weight.” We find Philip and Lilly clearly in a relationship. Their interaction reminds us of his relationship with Andrea. He deceived both of them. We are made to feel sorry for these women. If only they knew! Brian’s new family of Tara, Megan, and Lilly is dependent on Martinez concealing Brian’s true identity, the diabolical sociopath known as The Governor.
Martinez, Mitch, Pete and Brian go on patrol in the woods, and Mitch clearly doesn’t respect The Governor. He throws a jab at him. “Hey one eye, what you doing?” Brian is focused. We come upon a beheaded body strapped to a tree. The word LIAR is written on a sign and nailed to its torso. Back at camp Tara and Alicia have a flirtatious exchange. Grrh. The group finds another body, this time the word RAPIST is nailed to its cadaver. These bodies have led Martinez, Brian, Pete and Mitch to a cabin. MURDERER is nailed to the last body on the porch. They enter the cabin cautiously. They investigate and are attacked by biters. Brian shows his prowess by saving Pete’s life and reasserting his dominance. The scene is horrid. The severed heads of the bound corpses are rolling about on the cabin floor. We are given no explanation as to why, and it adds to the loss of humanity in this ghoulish nightmare.
Martinez is clearly in charge. He tells The Governor that he wouldn’t have saved him from the pit if he had been alone. Martinez has lost complete respect for him. He isn’t The Governor’s subordinate anymore. Martinez has made a place for himself now. The four men spend the night in the cabin. Mitch finds beer and The Governor gives an disapproving look. One of the funniest lines of the season comes at this point, “I can never tell if he’s winkin’ or blinkin’.” Said in a Southern accent by the gruff Mitch makes for some of the best comedic timing and delivery in the show. In a tender moment, Mitch reveals that he was an ice cream truck driver turned army tank operator. Pete was at Fort Benning before the turn. Hooah.
We return back to the camp with the girls. The Governor doesn’t like the conversation between Martinez and Lilly. He is visibly upset when Martinez hints to their past community at Woodbury. Martinez and The Governor clearly are in a pissing match. They are both the alphas. At some point they will have to lock horns.
Martinez invites The Governor to his camper. Drunken, he shoots golf balls from the roof of his RV into the zombie pits. He reveals that Shumpert is dead and it was Martinez who ended up having to put the bullet in him. Martinez hits the ball into the great beyond, and tells The Governor to grab him another. My how the tables have turned! In my head, all I could think was “Who’s the bitch nooow?” Martinez suggests that they share the crown, and that’s when the fun begins! The Governor clubs him with a 5 iron. It was a swing Elin Nordegren would appreciate. The Governor kicks him over the side of the camper. Once down, he drags Martinez, like dead weight towards the biter pits as The Governor blubbers, “I don’t want it,” The biters pull Martinez into the pit. Martinez is a sacrifice, and the image is almost Christ-like. His arms are spread, as if some macabre stage dive at a concert. The hungry mass pulls him in.
The Governor is upset about murdering Martinez. Lilly tries to comfort him, not knowing what he has done. He is conflicted. Pete now wants to control the camp, but is met with discord by the other camp members. Why on Earth would he want that shit job? One thing that we can rely on in this world is that with enough time, heroes and loose ends meet their maker. Most of the camp look like extras from Duck Dynasty anyway. Pete seeks Brian for help. They find another camp while on patrol. The three of them, Brian, Pete and Mitch, contemplate robbing the camp. Mitch wants to, but Pete still has morals and shit, and is not prepared to make the hard decisions. The Governor watches and plots. They return back to camp.
The Governor wants to leave . He feels like it isn’t safe. He doesn’t think the interim regime will last. He convinces the girls to leave. Alicia tags along because she and Tara have started a serious relationship, like a day ago. They leave camp in the night and don’t get far. The road is blocked by biters in quick sand. Stuck in the mud, gruesome and alone, The Governor stands in the car’s high-beams looking back at the RV of scared women with the biters behind him stuck waist-deep all vying to eat him; the scene is like a comic book panel or one of those lame “Choose Your Own Adventure” Goosebumps books. They have no choice but to turn back.
Back at camp, The Governor wastes no time and kills Pete by literally stabbing him in the back. How poetic. Brian puts on his leather jacket and embraces his true self. He has his Mojo back! Except that he forgot to pop his collar. Oh, well. He immediately goes to Mitch, gun drawn. He offers a smoke and an opportunity. The nerve! He kills the guy’s brother and then cons him into believing that it was necessary because Pete was weak. The Governor talks about his own brother, a weakling, his first mention in the series. Easter Eggs, galore!!! The Governor tells Mitch a story about stealing his dad’s cigarettes. He and his brother smoked the Lucky Strikes, a clear shout out to Mad Men and Don Draper; plus we see what seems to be a Fleetwood Bounder RV in this episode, a subtle nod to Breaking Bad and Walter White. Awww, look at AMC sticking together. He tells Mitch, that he won’t need to worry about doing the right thing or wrong thing, because they will do The Only Thing. This implies that morality is Dead Weight in our world and has no place. The two coldly craft a story about Pete’s death. The Governor intentionally doesn’t crack Pete’s skull to keep him “alive” as a biter. He dumps his chained body into a nearby lake. As Pete is reanimated, we see The Governor, standing above his submerged body. He is staring into the water as Pete the Biter tries to reach out of the water for him, much like he did with his heads in the fish tank. Fans of the books know that Phillip did this to keep strong – to erase any fear or doubt. Pete serves the same purpose; he will undoubtedly be visiting him often. Pete has now literally become Dead Weight.
The Governor is running the show with a leather jacket and a swag in his step. He gives orders and people willingly follow. He once again proves his badassery after a Walker wanders into camp and attacks Megan. While the others are unaware of what to do, he blows its head off, with his shirt open, blowing in the wind. It was a defining moment for the camp. He proved that he is the right man in charge. He won’t hesitate when threatened and they can trust him. He is back. With a new confidence The Governor drives his truck out to the prison. He watches Rick and Carl, once again plotting. He walks the perimeter and sees Michonne with Herschel. He raises his gun and…
Hush Comics gives “Dead Weight” a B for its awesome yet predictable portrayal of The Governor’s fall back into crazy. The next episode is the mid season finale entitled “Too Far Gone,” a title shared with the trade paperback of The Walking Dead Volume 13 in the comic series! The comics are far evolved from this point in the storyline that the show parallels, so we’ll see if there’s any connection to it on the mid-season finale. It’s been a wild ride so far. Come back next week for our recap and review!
Last week we got to see a side of Herschel that Chuck Norris would be proud of. This week’s The Walking Dead continues with the individual character study and it does not disappoint. Welcome back, Governor! We open on the tail end of Phillip Blake’s bat-shit crazy assassination of his army. He is tormented. He is defeated and alone. We see him burn Woodbury. He wanders the badlands like a Grateful Dead fan. He looks like a cross between McGuber and Forest Gump on his cross-country jog. David Morrissey plays the nomadic drifter to perfection, although the 80’s Kurt Russell look doesn’t quite fit him. It is clearly No Shave November. As he walks, we hear a conversation as a voiceover. He is talking to a woman, and the voice sounds eerily like Carol, but we find out later that it may not be. He tells the voice, “I barely got out alive.” All of this plays out over, The Last Pale Light in the West, by Ben Nichols.
He is in a daze; he appears to not be aware of his surroundings. He comically sidesteps a walker, and it falls to ground. He had the grace of a Summer League Rucker player and continues on his sleepwalker roam until he sees a little girl in the window of a building.
This week’s episode is titled, “Live Bait.”
The Governor walks into the ransacked building and is greeted by a Smith and Wesson and a baseball bat. Completely alert and threatening are two women standing in a doorway, one with a gun aimed at his head, the other in a Jackie Robinson stance. There is a silent exchange; he hands over his bag and weapon. He is allowed to enter their home. We are introduced to Tara, Megan, Lilly and their father. For the true Fanboys these names will have meaning from The Rise of the Governor novel by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga. Finally, we have comic book, novel and TV crossover all wrapped up into one neat little rotting flesh package. The immediate reaction in the room as we watched was one of shock. The Rise of The Governor is essential to The Walking Dead folklore and we recommend that you pick it up or download it from iBooks. There are three books in the Governor story arc and they are crucial for understanding Wizard Magazine’s villain of the year 2010. Even more compelling is the fact that he tells them that his name is Brian Heriot, a name that was on a barn he passed while on the road. The use of the name Brian is very significant in the novel and could be seen as forewarning for future events. He is allowed to stay by promising by “pounding it up,” with Tara. We are sure the Obamas would be proud.
The girl’s dad is elderly and on oxygen. Miraculously, his tank is still full. Before the turn he drove for the Gorbelli food company and his truck is parked in the front of the building. This has been their primary food source.
They feed The Governor Spaghettios, and he throws them out in disgust. I guess Herschel’s Spaghetti Tuesday gets one less vote.
After a talk with the father about a game of Backgammon he goes upstairs to retrieve the game, he finds an immobile zombie in a tub, he puts #BathSaltZombie down and takes a gun that was by its side.
Lilly explains to Phillip that her father has Stage 4 lung cancer and he needs oxygen to live. He is nearly out and is dire need. She asks Phillip if he could go on the equivalent of a Taco Bell run and grab some tanks at the near-by retirement home.
He accepts. This benevolent Governor is puzzling. Why is he doing this for these strangers? What will this ultimately benefit? Doesn’t he have a Michonne to torture and a Rick to kill?
The clinic is filled with zombies in wheelchairs, id-bracelets, and hospital gowns. Ironically they don’t look much different from what you would expect in a hospice. Once again he avoids them like some grotesque game of tag. Terrell Davis had nothing on this guy! Go Broncos!!!
He dodges and closes doors behind him; he has obviously found a way to manage avoiding them with little effort. He is fearless, but his heroics seem misplaced. Why isn’t he killing zombies? After stirring up the Bingo room he can’t get all of the oxygen tanks out and brings back what he can carry.
He returns to the apartment with two full tanks and goes to his room. Lilly takes care of him and it is clear that they are forming a relationship.
The blonde haired, blued eyed girl seems to be the metaphor for innocence, or salvation in our world. It’s either that or an omen for really bad shit to happen. Megan is a cute little girl who resembles Penny, Sophia and especially Teddy Bear Walker from the very first episode of The Walking Dead Series. She thought the governor was her dad; that’s why she watched him from the building, which ultimately led him to this group of women. Megan’s real father left for a couple of beers and a Powerball ticket before the turn, and we’re guessing he didn’t win.
The Governor has alone time with Megan in the bathroom, but not that kind. She asks what happened to his eye, and he speaks freely to her, more so than any of the others. He says that he was trying to help people and got hurt as a result.
They Pinky Swear to keep the secret about his eye and she “crossed her heart and hoped to die,” but left out the “stick a needle in her eye” part because she probably didn’t want to seem insensitive.
He tells her that he is a pirate with a smile on his face. He laughs, almost in a jovial way and shows the first bit of emotion since the episode began. This tender moment shows us another side of Phillip Blake. He is the governor no more, at least not now.
He is working backwards. He teaches Megan to play chess, now clean-shaven; it seems as if Megan has brought him back to life. As he is explaining the basics it is apparent that he is talking about the events at Woodbury.
“You can lose a lot of soldiers and still win the game,” It’s the king; it’s the guy you want to capture. Megan takes a marker and puts an eye patch on the white king piece. “We start with the pawns.”
So who do you think is creepier with kids, Carol or Phillip? Phillip is bonding. He gives a jealous look to Lilly when she comes to get Megan as their dad is dying. This brief moment is strange enough to fill our thoughts will all kinds of devious acts that The Governor could be plotting.
As their dad dies and turns, in his reanimated state he grabs for Tara and Phillip smashes his face into the bed with his own oxygen tank. Splat!
Did anyone else notice that Lilly is like a less hot Maggie?
The next scene we find Phillip burying dad in the back. Megan is now fearful of the Governor and hides behind the couch when he comes back inside. Tara pounds him up for saving her life, but he is not concerned with her. Alone he burns the picture of his old family, they are now dead to him, he has found a new family, or has given up on the idea. He threatens to leave them, but they stay together, taking to the road in the Gorbelli truck like a National Lampoon’s Vacation sequel set in hell.
Tara apologies to Phillip for lying to him about her occupation before the turn. She asks if Phillip is lying to her, and he says no. His con-game is working; he has earned their trust and can manipulate the situation to suit his needs.
Megan is still afraid of Phillip. This is clearly upsetting him; he has to make things right with his pseudo-daughter.
They travel through the day and stop to rest. In the back of the truck Lilly allows him to cuddle with her. They kiss, oddly, and seemingly make love. Yuk!
The next morning the truck breaks down and they end up walking. There is a small herd of walkers around the bend in the road, they swarm in hunger as Tara falls and injures her leg. Megan freezes and Phillip calls out to her, she runs to him, and he carries her away from the herd. We made note that he called to her instead of just picking her up because we feel like he wanted her loyalty. This is the long con.
While running they fall into one of his walker traps (Remember those huge pits he was using to build a zombie army?). He immediately springs into action with the walkers in the pit and pulls a walker’s throat out in a completely badass move. Fatality!
He grabs a femur and uses that to pry the jaw off another walker. This primal survival tactic seemed to be for Megan’s benefit. Remember, he got really good at avoiding the dead without using force. As he fights Spartacus style in the pit we hear gun fire in the distance. Martinez shows up with his machine gun at the end of the episode and now things should get really interesting. Upon Martinez arrival, he will have to maintain his Brian Heriot persona with Tara and Lilly. He will ultimately have to kill anyone who threatens his identity bluff or continue the deception indefinitely.
Hush Comics gives “Live Bait” a B+. This episode pulled us deeper into The Walking Dead mythology but left us with more questions. There were epic kills and border-line restraining order behavior with minors. My vote for Governor goes to Brian Heriot.
Stay tuned next week when we recap Dead Weight, and don’t forget to visit our website! This week we have a special message from comic book legend Todd McFarlane!