As "Walking Dead" showrunner Scott Gimple scolded us all last week, answers about what may or may not have happened to our beloved Glenn are forthcoming -- but we're going to have to wait awhile. The exasperated executive producer instead encouraged viewers to look at this season of the show as a movie or a book, with different reels/chapters that need to be viewed together to make a cohesive whole. So this week, we were served a Morgan-centric chapter that filled in some of our wayward traveler's back story, but did little to propel the plot of our main chain of events. It's an episode that fans are bound to either love or hate; I found myself somewhere in the middle.
"Here's Not Here" focuses on Morgan's fateful meeting with a man named Eastman, played to perfection by character actor The Drew Carey Show," "The Americans," "American Horror Story" -- the list goes on and on). Eastman is the one to bring Morgan (mostly) back to reality after Morgan's encounter with Rick in season three's "Clear"; this week's action picks up not long after the events of that episode, paving the way for Morgan to make his way to Rick once more, this time with a little bit of his sanity restored.
That sanity is relative, of course, since Morgan's zenned-out ways this season have been a bit frustrating, especially when he failed to kill several of the Wolves who invaded Alexandria in "JSS," letting them slip out the gate, gun in tow. I thought he had finally come to his senses at the end of that installment, killing the greasy-haired Wolf who he first met in the season five finale; instead, we learn this week that that Wolf is not only alive, but that Morgan has squirreled him away in an abandoned Alexandria home, and is hoping to put him through obedience school. Unsurprisingly, the Wolf isn't too keen on learning any new tricks.
Morgan wasn't, either, when he first meets Eastman, a man living alone in a cabin in the woods who's surviving thanks to his green thumb and a goat named Tabitha. Eastman easily subdues Morgan when the latter man sneaks up on the cabin, thanks to his mastery of the martial art of Aikido, which urges "redirecting, evading, and actually caring about the welfare of your opponent" (and also, incidentally, calls for some pretty kickass work with a staff). Eastman places Morgan under temporary house arrest while trying to talk him down from his madness (or at least get him to leave without attempting to kill Eastman again), and eventually, Morgan relents and reaches for Eastman's copy of "The Art of Peace," immersing himself in the philosophy that everything does, indeed, get a return. (There's a circle on the front of the book to really drive that point home, though that was more the cover designer's doing than the show thrusting a metaphor in our faces. Well, maybe a little bit of both.)
It's true that I clamored to know more about Morgan back when his permanent return to the show was teased last season. I'm just not convinced that that backstory justified a 90-minute episode, especially following the anguishing events of last week. Sure, "Here's Not Here" provided a palette cleanser of sorts, a way for fans to breathe and grieve and process what we may or may not have seen in "Thank You" (the jury's still out, though I'm starting to accept that my eyes may have indeed deceived me; more on this below). And it was helpful to finally find out just how Morgan made his transformation from bats--t crazy to bo-wielding badass. It just seemed like a roundabout way to get there, especially in the beginning, when Morgan made more than a few false starts in his journey from screaming "Kill me!" at Eastman to actually accepting the man's help (and falafel).
Morgan is clearly unhinged in the episode's earlier flashbacks, and the camerawork makes that apparent, appearing blurry around the edges during some of Morgan's more brutal moments. He murders two men in cold blood out in the woods, stabbing one through the throat and choking the other one as the young man pleads for mercy. Morgan smiles at this and continues snuffing his life out; later, he explains to Eastman that his job in this new existence is simple: he clears, whether it's walkers or people -- anything that gets near him must be eliminated. "That's the biggest load of horses--t I've ever heard," Eastman replies, and I can't help but agree. Morgan has gone mad, and there doesn't seem to be a point anymore to his decision-making; it's not kill or be killed, it's just kill and keep killing, until there's no more killing left to do. Then, it's time to paint some rocks with nonsense words and phrases. As you do.
Eastman, a former forensic psychiatrist, diagnoses Morgan with PTSD, and explains that he, too, suffered trauma, but has risen above his memories of the awful fate that befell his family thanks to his continuing devotion to Aikido. He learned the martial art before the apocalypse, he tells Morgan, in part to relieve the stress of his job, interviewing hundreds of convicted criminals to evaluate whether or not they were fit for release. During an encounter with a man named Crighton Dallas Wilton ("Name like that, sounds like he should own an oil company, wear a big hat," Eastman says wryly), the psychopath snapped, attempting to beat Eastman to death to prevent him from delivering the report that Wilton was unfit for the outside world. Thanks to Aikido, Eastman subdued the criminal and survived; unfortunately, he made a powerful enemy, as Wilton later escapes from prison and murders his wife and two children, simply because he wanted to ruin Eastman's life.
It's a chilling tale with seemingly endless layers of horror, as Eastman reveals that he then plotted to take his own revenge, snatching Wilton from the side of the road while out with a prison work crew, and bringing the convict back to the cell in his cabin to watch the man starve to death. Morgan marvels at this plan, and asks if Eastman actually went through with it. "I have come to believe that all life is precious," Eastman replies. "That's why we're having oatmeal burgers."
We later learn that this is a lie by omission, and that Eastman did indeed carry out that plot, though he deeply regretted it. "What I did to him, it didn't give me any peace," he tells Morgan. "I found my peace when I decided to never kill again."
Contrast that attitude with the one the Wolf sports, and you can see where Morgan's morality will be tested as this season unfolds. The episode is framed with Morgan telling the Wolf about his time with Eastman, to explain that he, too, was once a broken and reckless killing machine, but he believes the Wolf can learn to change, just like he did. The Wolf disagrees. He came to Alexandria in search of medical supplies to treat a serious wound; whether he lives or dies, he tells Morgan, his pack will not be tamed.
"I am going to have to kill you, Morgan," the Wolf says, his sickly sweet voice dripping with danger. "I'm going to have to kill every person here, every one of them, the children, too. Just like your friend Eastman's children. Those are the rules. That's my code."
Morgan's own code is simple: "Everything gets a return." Will we see Morgan snap once more, and snap this Wolf's neck? I'm hoping yes, but fearing no. Either way, the rest of the Wolves are circling -- and they'll get a return, too, one way or another.
- Gimple wrote both "Clear" and "Here's Not Here," and his fingerprints are all over this episode. He must really love writing for Morgan to devote two entire bottle episodes to the character. Again, I question the logic of that choice this time around, but according to the showrunner, everything will make sense in time. I'll attempt to trust him, but I'm a bit skeptical, because...
- ...it seems pretty clear now that Glenn's "death" was a fakeout. Based on that "Talking Dead" statement and a re-watch of last week's episode, I'm convinced that the prevailing theory is correct: Nicholas's body fell on top of Glenn, and is the one getting eaten after they fall. I still don't think it makes much sense, since zombies are gonna zombie no matter how many people are piled on top of each other. But everyone loves Glenn, his "death" seemed pretty stupid (even for his overly-trusting character), and Gimple's own insistence that people be patient and wait for answers before jumping to conclusions indicates that we haven't seen the last of our favorite former pizza delivery guy. It's a completely cruel and unnecessary cop-out, but I'm fairly certain it's the scenario we're stuck with. Everything (even "dead" characters) gets a return, I guess?
- I knew Eastman wasn't long for this world, but I really, really enjoyed his character. He wasted no time in calling Morgan on his s--t ("What's your name?" "Kill me." "That's a stupid name. It's dangerous. You should change it."), served as sensei during a "Karate Kid"-esque training montage, told sweet stories about his daughter, and yes, it turns out, actually was a cheesemaker, just like Morgan claimed. He was still perfecting his recipe when Morgan arrived (one humorous scene featured him spitting out a bad batch, yelping, "God, that's terrible!"), but managed to succeed as the days passed. "Grassy notes are a little AstroTurf, but there's potential here," he declares. " ... I was afraid that damn goat was going to make me a vegan." His death reminded me of Tyreese's, in that it happened to someone who should have known better, and shouldn't have been bitten in the first place. But thus is the circle of life on "The Walking Dead": Stupid deaths for great characters.
- Speaking of which: RIP Tabitha :(
- Written in Eastman's "The Art of Peace" book is this quote: "Aikido means not to kill. Although nearly all creeds have a commandment against taking life, most of them justify killing for one reason or another. In Aikido, however, we try to completely avoid killing, even the most evil person." Probably should have realized that the underlining foreshadowed that Eastman did, indeed, end up killing Wilton.
- Despite the horrible nature of the story, I did have to laugh at Eastman's line, "I knew that Crighton knew that I knew exactly what he was." That circularity reminded me immediately of the "Friends" episode, "The One Where Everybody Finds Out."
- Eastman tries to make Morgan believe in the future, telling him, "You're gonna hold a baby again." That winds up being true when Morgan cradles Judith in the season premiere, but that's a super random statement to make, right?
- When we saw Morgan back in the season five midseason finale, he had reached Father Gabriel's church shortly after our original survivors had left. There, he pulls out some strange totems, including a Goo Goo Cluster candy bar, a rabbit's foot, and a bullet. All three make an appearance in this episode, as we learn their significance and how Morgan acquired them. The candy was a favorite of Eastman's; the rabbit's foot belonged to Eastman's daughter, and Eastman passed it on to Morgan before he died; and the bullet came as a thank you from a young couple whose lives Morgan spared near the end of the episode.
- "Everything is about people. Everything in this life that's worth a damn." -- Eastman's final words of wisdom to Morgan, which spurred him on his quest to ultimately reunite with Rick. It seems Morgan may wind up regretting that journey.
Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC