The fallout from “Thank You” will have to wait for a few weeks while The Walking Dead follow their tried-and-tested formula of breaking apart the present storyline and exploring other paths. Here, the path winds all the way back to the Morgan we saw in Season 3’s stand-out episode “Clear” and fleshes the character out by tracking his journey from then to now.
The Walking Dead is a thoughtful show; it’s always been one, and it always will be one. Beneath the gratuitous gore and the fact that it’s one of the biggest network series of the 21st century, this ratings juggernaut has a penchant for exploring psychology and philosophy in a zombie apocalypse, setting it far apart from most other comparable shows. “Here’s Not Here” may well be the most thoughtful and thought-provoking episode to date, a beautifully crafted exploration of isolation, inner-peace, mercy, and redemption as Morgan re-learns how to be human after the loss of Duane, his son, and Jenny, his wife.
In “Clear”, Morgan was begging Rick to kill him out of mercy and we start with him in pretty much the same state, shouting to himself while his base burns down. Before that, the episode is prefaced as Morgan recounting his story to the one Wolf he knocked out at the end of “JSS”, who he – after all that speculation – didn’t kill and has tied up, rather halfheartedly, in an unused room.
Following the events of “Clear”, Morgan is a shell of a man that kills almost everything he sees, including humans. This is what he means by “Clearing” – clearing everything around him. It’s a stark opposite to the man we know him as in the current storyline and gives us a base to compare his current philosophy with.
After killing two seemingly innocent survivors, Morgan happens upon an untouched cabin that is home to Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) and his pet goat, Tabitha. After a swift thrashing at the hands of Eastman, Morgan is locked up in a small cell in the cabin’s lounge room, and from there the episode really dives in deep, carefully drawing out a character drama that unfolds mostly through dialogue between Eastman and Morgan.
Both Lennie James and guest star Lynch are tender in their performances, brilliantly nuanced to show Morgan’s opposing state of mind slowly unravel in the face of Eastman’s unconditional positive regard and “art of peace”, which he embodies in the zen-like martial art of Aikido.
As it turns out, Eastman is a forensic psychologist who has dealt with some pretty terrible human beings in the past, one of whom (a man named Crighton Dallas Wilton) murdered his wife and child pre-apocalypse simply because Eastman could see through his facade. Lynch is perfect as he recounts the unnerving story to Morgan further into the episode, instantly recalling “JSS” and the unspeakable brutality The Wolves inflict upon The Alexandrians.
“I have come to believe that all life is precious”, Eastman tells Morgan, not dancing around the fact that he is trying to bring Morgan back from his obvious PTSD and show him a new way, one that will bring him peace and give him something to motivate him. It’s a very interesting ideal, especially seeing as we’ve witnessed some downright evil on this show. Watching Morgan slowly open up to this path is both heartwarming and keeps the episode afloat despite the lack of tension, which is only sorely missed because of the timing of this episode following last week’s epic cliffhanger(s).
In tracking Morgan’s road to redemption, “Here’s not Here” deals with heady subjects like PTSD and isolation, the importance of human relationships and a sense of purpose. Eastman also has a carefully crafted routine involving burying zombies and attempting to learn the art of cheese-making – tackling the “Just Survive Somehow” phrase we were introduced to earlier this season, except Eastman’s way of surviving is more psychological than physical. In around an hour of television we are endeared to this new way of thinking about the TWD universe, which in turn increases the scope and importance of the show’s ending; it’s no longer about who makes it to the end, but how they get there and what they do along the way.
Smartly, TWD doesn’t overstep the game here and Morgan and Eastman aren’t portrayed as flawless individuals with a flawless, righteous outlook on life. Eastman has seemingly never had to deal with larges hordes of both walkers and terrible people, but rather he has had more intimate moments getting closer and closer to evil one-on-one through his work as a forensic psychologist. Rick and Carol aren’t downtrodden in the process of opening up to the ways of Aikido and unconditional mercy; their more aggressive approach still makes perfect sense in their context and what they have been through – perhaps even more so now that we have gotten to see the other side, and the conditions which have fostered that other side.
Morgan is still learning to perfect the ‘new way’ that was taught to him, and subtle moments in the episode reiterate that. Morgan ultimately gets Eastman killed – and it’s tragic thanks to how great Lynch’s performance was – because he hesitates. Ironically, it’s because he killed someone prior to meeting Eastman. Similarly, Eastman also shows that it’s a still a struggle to practice this idea of unconditional mercy – evident from the brief look of absolute rage on his face when Morgan breaks his child’s drawing.
It takes skill to have an episode retroactively make you appreciate moments from earlier on in the season, particularly during “JSS” where Morgan’s merciful actions were a source of frustration juxtaposed against Carol’s more effective approach. Having him go on this inner journey with Eastman, and most importantly that journey not being linear, sheds a big spotlight on his character as the story leads back to that room with the creepy Wolf and completely contextualises the interaction in a way that wasn’t possible without Morgan’s story.
Morgan locking that door at the end, seemingly to protect other people from Alexandria, shows promise that maybe he will let in some form of adaptability and slightly tweak Eastman’s philosophy to something that’s more practical given the context. One can only hope anyway, because as the show has depicted time and time again, mercy does come back around, and if it doesn’t get you it will get people you care about and possibly ruin everything.
The depth of “Here’s not Here” reminds us of how strong the writing has become for The Walking Dead, despite the regular dips into formula which are necessary to appease the larger fan base. It may have disrupted the break-neck pace that has been Season 6 so far, but it also gives us one of the shows strongest “slow” episodes to date.
Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Strong performances from Lennie James and John Carrol Lynch
- Vivid stories about Eastman’s past are effective and help form him as a fully fleshed out character (possibly the most well developed – given the time frame – guest star on TV in a long time)
- Themes of isolation, PTSD, and peace explored
- Re-building Morgan’s character and retroactively making us appreciate his view.
- The end scene with The Wolf; Morgan taking responsibility for others.
- Tabitha’s death feels like a missed opportunity; they could have used that goat to explore things further with Morgan.
- Unbelievable that Eastman’s cabin hadn’t been swarmed by now.
- At least we know that Rick gets out of the RV safely; that was him yelling “open the gates” at the very end.
- Next week seems to be focusing on Alexandria and how the residents will deal post-attack. This could be an interesting time for the writers to develop characters like Jessie, Deanna, and Spencer. But: GLENN!?!?!?
Episode MVP: Eastman
The Walking Dead screens on FX every Monday at 1:30pm and 8:30pm AEST