Oh, The Walking Dead fans — once again, Season 6 hits it hard. And the 90-minute “Here’s Not Here” is all about Morgan and his madness and his zen.
Season 3 revealed a crazed Morgan living in a booby-trapped arsenal, alone with nothing but his twisted thoughts scrawled randomly on the walls of his personal prison. When Rick showed up, a seed of morality may have been planted somewhere deep, but Morgan refused to leave because he still needed to “clear” … to kill the demons outside and within.
At the end of Season 5, we see him again, but he’s different. He’ll take down a walker, but refuses to kill the Wolves hell-bent on taking everything he has … including his life. He’s a peaceful Morgan who has traded firearms for a staff. I found myself wondering if he came across The Tao of Pooh on his journey. Had it been me in his situation, I would have killed both Wolves, taken their crap and gone on my merry way. I’m not a savage – seriously (well, maybe a little). But in an apocalypse, it’s kill or be killed, my friends. Dumping knocked-out, murderous foes into an abandoned car and hitting the horn (to attract walkers or alert the rest of the pack?) proves a poor decision.
So, just what did transform lunacy to lucidity?
In episode 2, I believed (almost) Morgan was ready to heed Carol when he brained the long-haired Wolf. When the screen went black, I hoped he’d finally delivered a coup de grâce instead of a slight concussion. Nope! Here’s why.
Prior to opening credits, “NOW” appears on the screen – then Morgan’s face. He’s talking to the Wolf I had SO wished was deceased. Morgan mentions their fireside chat from the end of last season: “You said that you wanted everything I have – every last bit. Well, here it is … every … last … bit.”
He tells the Wolf (now captive in the same place Morgan was held upon arriving in Alexandria), all about “THEN.” It’s one hell of a story.
Captivity and freedom hold great significance in this episode, and like it or not, part of the reason we watch TWD is because it offers more than zombies, psychopaths, cannibals and barbarians. His story takes us back to Season 3. We see him through a cage in the foreground, animal-like and wild. A kerosene lamp lies on the floor, and the first licks of flame have formed around it. “HERE’S NOT HERE” is amongst the mad scribbling on the walls, and he’s shouting, “You know that you were supposed to!” Supposed to what? Shoot his walker wife before she got to their son? (A tad insensitive … I kinda feel bad about typing that.)
Following the opening credits, Morgan, looking like part of a hillbilly SWAT team, treks through the woods. I question the helmet, as walkers don’t have the same discerning palate for brains as the zombies of yore, and I’m fairly certain his flannel shirt isn’t made of Kevlar, but he is crazy pants (“cleverly” punctuated with blurred cinematography). After setting up camp, he does something that really sucks.
He hears heavy footfalls in the brush. It’s clear the owners of the feet are running (walkers don’t). Morgan knows they’re humans — he sees them, but before asking questions, he stakes one in the throat and strangles the other, who repeatedly apologizes as he dies. Later, Morgan reveals that he most likely murdered a father and son. I try to forgive him because he’s nuts (and a character in a television series), though I just can’t seem to get that whole bit out of my craw.
But things are about to change for Morgan. It all starts with a peaceful clearing (which is a mighty fine place to mutter crazily to oneself) and the bleating of a goat. What? Dinner?
Morgan follows it to a quaint settlement complete with solar panels. As he lunges for the goat, a voice calmly says, “Please step away from the goat. She’s not yours.” Morgan catches a glimpse of a man behind a bush and opens fire – then we hear the voice again asking Morgan to put down the gun so they can talk over dinner. Of course Morgan doesn’t, so the voice, now slightly irritated, gives him one last chance to lose the gun and step off. Morgan’s insolence is “redirected” by an apology and two blows from a staff. Before all goes dark, Morgan sees Eastman (John Carroll Lynch, American Horror Story).
Morgan awakes in a cell. A plate of food sits beside him. A child’s drawing hangs on a wall beyond the bars. Again, he is a caged animal. He’s angry and confused. When Eastman asks his name, Morgan shouts, “Kill me!” Eastman replies, “That’s a stupid name. You should change it.” Morgan’s over-dramatic intensity bottoms out to ridiculousness.
Disregarding the insane behavior, Eastman tosses a small book into the cell. It’s titled The Art of Peace. Continuing to go about his business, he occasionally talks at Morgan, who always replies with, “Kill me!” Eastman retires, unruffled. Who is this guy?
The next day, Morgan watches Eastman kill a walker, drag it off into the woods, practice some type of martial art, and tend to Tabitha (the goat). It’s all very sublime — so routine and normal. Just a guy tending his homestead.
At last, we get some of Eastman’s back story. Prior to the end of civilization, he was a forensic psychiatrist who evaluated violent offenders before their release from prison. Wow! Morgan couldn’t have landed in a better place! Jail cell or not, he’s got food, shelter and someone who comprehends crazy. Eastman asks Morgan what he did (or does).
“I clear,” says Morgan.
Morgan explains that that means he kills anything — walker, human, whatever gets near him. It’s pretty much his driving force. Eastman dismisses this as “the biggest load of horses-t” he’s ever heard. His nonchalance reminds me of my mother’s every time I got pissy in my youth. Eventually, I quit pitching fits because I felt like an idiot. It’s a fine tactic.
Left alone, Morgan attempts a jail break with a broken zipper, but stops when Eastman returns. For the first time, he and Morgan have an almost normal conversation. Naturally, Eastman’s been analyzing Morgan. He understands Morgan better than Morgan understands himself. The conversation begins when Eastman addresses Morgan’s trauma. Morgan restates that he has killed many, whether they were a threat or not. He laments the two he killed before his arrival. When Eastman asks if he’s saved anyone, Morgan, at first silent, says saving people is pointless. (Um, Wolf!)
When Eastman brings up Morgan’s wedding ring and his family, the conversation gets deep. With a better understanding of Morgan’s loss, Eastman says, “Your body’s here, but your mind is still there.” He uses a door as a metaphor to clarify: Morgan is in a place where he sees a door, but stepping through it always leads him back to witnessing the loss of his family. He won’t heal if he keeps stepping through the same door expecting a different result. I concur!
Eastman assures Morgan that eventually he will find the right door. He offers his friendship — and Morgan explodes. He can’t accept the thought of investing in another human being, and threatens to kill Eastman the first chance he gets. Morgan has to clear.
Despite the threat, Eastman continues. He says that human beings aren’t meant to kill. We feel. We are connected. And after evaluating over 800 criminals, he only met one who was indisputably evil. The others had done unspeakable things, but all were capable of healing. He then informs Morgan that the door to his cell isn’t locked. It never was. Eastman gives Morgan the option to stay or go, but says he will not allow Morgan to kill him.
For a moment, Morgan softens, but then the world around him blurs and he goes for Eastman. When Morgan is finally overpowered, we see that the child’s drawing is ruined and for the first time since his introduction, Eastman looks incredibly angry — borderline hateful. Think, the Governor when someone suggested a snarling Penny might be, you know … dead.
Morgan sees it, too. “Kill me!”. (Man, I feel for Morgan, but that’s getting old.) Eastman reminds him he has two choices. Morgan retreats to his cell, slamming the door. Eastman opens it, but Morgan kicks it shut. Once again, he is a caged animal. This is his choice.
As he repairs the child’s – his daughter’s – drawing, Eastman references Aikido, the martial art he practices. He explains he was once so overcome by work that his daughter found him crying in the garage. To soothe him, she gave him a rabbit’s foot she’d won at school. Holding up that rabbit’s foot, Eastman revisits how he found the flyer for Aikido. He joined … things got better … the rabbit’s foot worked. When Morgan asks about Eastman’s family, he ignores the question. Instead, he reveals that the two of them are going on a trip. Morgan questions where, and Eastman — looking very far away — replies, “I have no idea.”
When Eastman heads to bed, Morgan opens the cell door and becomes free … for a moment.
In the morning, Eastman invites Morgan to gather supplies for the “trip.” Morgan doesn’t respond, so Eastman leaves alone. Before going, though, he asks Morgan to keep Tabitha safe. Once alone, Morgan finally picks up the untouched book. When he opens the cover, he understands. He reads the handwritten words. Aikido means not killing — not even the most evil person. The art of peace. Outside, he hears walkers and Tabitha in distress. He hesitates, but leaves his cell to honor his friend’s request.
Eventually, Morgan lets Eastman in. Eastman, who has turned Morgan’s spear into a staff, teaches him the art of Aikido. Morgan comes to understand that caring for his opponent means caring about himself … that all life is precious … that living again will require redirection of his thoughts, even if the past tells him otherwise. He chooses to stay and does not return to the cell. But he does question the cell — why is it there?
It is Eastman’s turn to let Morgan in. The cell exists because of Crighton Dallas Wilton. While working for the state, Eastman came to know Wilton, who was excellent at pretending to be human. When he came up for parole, a final interview revealed that Wilton was not who he appeared. Eastman saw through Wilton’s facade, and Wilton knew it. He attacked Eastman, determined to kill him. Aikido saved Eastman — and his chance to ensure that Wilton would never go free. But Wilton freed himself and murdered Eastman’s entire family. Afterward, he immediately turned himself in, stating that the only reason he had broken out was to destroy Eastman’s life.
Thus, the cell was built for Wilton; Eastman planned to lock him in and watch him starve to death. When Morgan asks if he did it, Eastman only replies, “I have come to believe that all life is precious.” Now it is Morgan’s turn to analyze Eastman: “You’re good at it – redirecting.” Morgan knows Wilton was that one evil person … and he also knows the answer to his question.
As they continue to plan for the trip, Morgan remembers he has supplies at his old camp. The two set out, and when they arrive, Eastman observes Morgan’s words scrawled on boulders and trees. When his companion asks who he lost, Morgan tells him. Sensing distress, Eastman attempts to redirect, telling Morgan to practice Aikido. Morgan refuses: “Not here!” Eastman insists. As always, enter a damned walker. Each episode proves it more than the next … an apocalypse doesn’t have much good to offer. We’re only four episodes into the season; what will be lost in the next twelve?
As the walker approaches, Eastman tells Morgan to take care of it, but once again, everything becomes a blur and he freezes. Attempting to save Morgan, Eastman is bitten — a painful reminder of why Morgan stopped caring in the first place.
Enraged, Morgan refuses to leave with Eastman. Eastman reminds Morgan, “You’re not here. You made it out.” Morgan, regressing, begins to fight, and when he loses again, he cries out, “Kill me!” (yawn). As Eastman loads the defunct walker into his cart, Morgan yells, “I said, not here!”
Eastman walks away: “That’s the thing. Here’s not here.”
What does that mean?
Morgan, alone again, sharpens stakes. It’s as if his entire experience with Eastman was only a dream. The way this season is going, I wonder for a moment. While stalking a walker, he encounters a young couple. He approaches as a threat. Shaking, the girl places a can of soup and a bullet (ironic) on the ground as an offering of peace. Morgan allows them to leave … he remembers. He races back to Eastman’s cottage.
Once there, he sees that Tabitha has fallen victim to a walker. Reflecting on the tortoise and some horses from seasons passed, I get weepy and hug my dog. Remember, Kim. Remember. It’s television. No animals were harmed in the making of any episodes!
Anyway, he loads her into a cart and proceeds to the “cemetery” Eastman has created. All life is precious, and even the walkers were precious at one time – if you can wrap your brain around that one. He finds Eastman looking at driver’s licenses and carving names onto makeshift crosses. Even in the moments before his own demise, he is selfless. He notices Tabitha and says, “she figured out the door was open too.” Morgan reminds him, “I didn’t figure it out. You had to tell me.” He then sees Crighton Dallas Wilton’s name on one cross.
Eastman acknowledges it: It took 47 days for Wilton to die of starvation, and afterward, Eastman still felt no peace. Peace only came from swearing to never kill again. Eastman returned to Atlanta to turn himself in, only to discover that the world had ended. Morgan insists it has not. Now I get it! Now it all makes perfect sense: The world will only end when we all give up.
They go into the cottage. I am seriously bummed that Eastman is going down. So many jerks, but now it’s all about killing off nice guys … and goats. Before he passes, Eastman tells the story of his daughter’s artwork. She had drawn on the wall at home and instead of being angry, Eastman framed it. To him, it’s a priceless piece of drywall, well worth a thirty-mile walk through the dead to retrieve it. Before his story ends, he offers the cottage to Morgan — it’s well stocked and will sustain Morgan for whatever is forever. But he hopes Morgan won’t stay. We know he doesn’t.
As the episode closes, we go back to the now — Morgan and the Wolf. Morgan has changed, but the Wolf is still a Wolf, even after a 90-minute lesson in morality. He shows Morgan an injury which may be fatal (I really hope it is), but he vows that if he does live, he will make damn sure that every single Alexandrian dies — children included — just like Eastman’s. Those are his rules, his code.
Morgan stands with his staff, hesitating for just one moment (kill that bastard!) and then leaves. Though he thinks it over for a second, he locks the gate (good plan). There’s a lot more than one Wilton in the world.
So … are you relieved to know how Morgan got here from there? Confused? Enlightened? What — or who — will be lost next week? Rick’s hand? Maggie’s will to live? Eugene’s hope for a game room? Every last one of Denise’s patients? My mind, if that Wolf doesn’t end up dead somehow? Speak! Hit the comments people!
Now, I’m off to Tweet Carol about what Morgan’s hoarding in his former house.
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