In what is almost certainly the olive-branch episode of Season 6, The Walking Dead takes a big step back from the horrifying end of last week’s episode for some backstory on where in the ruined world Morgan found his soul. Here’s Not Here is a lovely episode, beautifully shot and acted, and I was grateful for it. But given where we’ve been, it’s hard not to sense that the show’s creators are using this episode to make the case that we still have people to root for among the survivor crew.
We encounter Morgan again as he was not long after the death of his son: a force of grief and anger so great that he’s effortlessly brutal, but almost mute. Wandering in a meadow after killing a father and son, Morgan sees a pet goat outside a cabin that is clearly occupied. He tries to take the goat for himself, and a voice from inside warns him not to. He moves toward the voice, gun raised, and gets a second warning. He turns a corner, and gets the old aikido stick-in-the-face.
Meet Eastman, the man of peace in the cabin in the woods. For some reason, that cabin has a cell inside it, and Morgan wakes to find himself in it. Eastman, a vegetarian, makes his own cheese with the milk from Tabitha, the goat. When the occasional walker threatens Tabitha, Eastman dispatches it quickly, drags it offscreen, and returns to his quiet domestic life. Morgan watches all this, muttering and cursing quietly, as the days pass. On one of those days, Eastman tosses him a book about aikido: The Art Of Peace.
His host finally asks what Morgan does for a living. “I clear,” he growls. Morgan is referring to his vision (I guess at this point it’s a pursuit?) of a perfectly empty world, a huge scale model of the howling void of grief inside his head. To “clear,” to Morgan, means simply to kill. Eastman disagrees.
We’re not built to kill. We don’t have claws or fangs or armor. Vets that come back with PTSD, that didn’t happen because we’re comfortable with killing. We’re not. We can’t be. We feel. We’re connected. – Eastman
Before the zombie apocalypse, Eastman was a forensic psychiatrist, paid by the criminal justice system in Atlanta to examine and evaluate the worst criminals it found. He diagnoses Morgan’s trauma from recent losses with the casual skill of someone who’s been at this for a long time. Morgan, threatened by all of this insight, plans to escape the cell or kill his host – until the day he tries both, when Eastman tells him the truth.
Go. Clear. Stay. The door’s open. It’s been open all along. – Eastman
Morgan does the only thing he has the capacity to do. He goes back into the cell and closes the door.
He doesn’t come out again until Eastman is off looking for provisions, and has told Morgan to “keep an eye on” Tabitha. Morgan loses himself in killing a walker to defend her, but then he remembers where he is. He drags the walker to where he saw Eastman take the others – and discovers the graveyard.
Yes, Eastman actually buries every last walker he has to kill. He occasionally has to kill, to defend himself and the goat that helps him make his cheese. But he would prefer to never kill anything now – since he did actually use that cell once before, to hold the man who had killed his family and watch him starve to death, for 47 days – so he knows what it means to kill.
I was gone. I was where you were … What I did to him, it didn’t give me any peace. I found peace when I decided never to kill again. – Eastman
Morgan learns this, and aikido itself, from Eastman – but when he encounters a young man he’d killed in zombie form, he stumbles, and Eastman gets bit. Morgan cares for his new friend till the end, Eastman’s talismans pass from his hands into Morgan’s, and we see Morgan find the train train tracks leading to Terminus. And here we go again, kind of.
Because this is a story Morgan is telling to one of the scavengers he has saved from the Wolves’ assault on Alexandria. This young man with the nouveau-Manson-douchebag hair sits there through the whole redemption story, but he’s an arrogant little dude, so it doesn’t really sink in.
I am going to have to kill you, Morgan. I’m going to have to kill every person here. Every one of them. Children too. Just like your friend Eastman’s children. Those are the rules. That’s my code. – Hipster Wolf Number Two
I seriously cannot wait to hear that kid’s crappy mixtape.
Final Episode Thoughts:
- I think my favorite moment of the whole episode is the bad-cheese aria. Eastman is searching for the right way to make cheese when we meet him, and it doesn’t always go well. “That is just … ohh, that’s TERRIBLE,” he sings, filling the cabin with what is almost a Dance of Awful Cheese.
- The amazing John Carroll Lynch plays Eastman. It’s another great character turn from a guy who’s made a career of great character turns. (This is what you should do if you want to actually work in Hollywood, kids.)
- I do think this was an apology episode. A we’re-sorry-for what-we-did-to-Glenn-please-fans-forgive-us episode. A would-it-help-if-we-showed-you-some-Morgan episode. An episode with flowers and sunbeams and cute little goats is definitely an episode after the episode when you did something that crossed the line, and you know it.
- In case anyone is wondering, I am still mad about Glenn. Apology not accepted, TWD.
- Also in case anyone is wondering, I do not believe any of the Glenn-is-still-alive theories.
- Among Eastman’s many fine lines, these were my favorites: It’s about redirecting. Actually caring about the welfare of your opponent. What you’ve done, you’ve done. In a culture that talks about “change” a lot, the change implicit in these lines is perhaps the hardest to achieve, and the most important.