Although it likes to pretend it’s a work of genuine moral seriousness, “The Walking Dead” often struggles to make a compelling case for anything but survival of the fittest. Time and again, people who advocate for compassion over pragmatic brutality are shown to be weak or cowardly, ending up as zombie chow and sometimes taking a member of the show’s core group down them. That’s what happened last week, when Glenn was apparently pulled to his doom by the dead body of Nicholas, whom he made the fatal mistake of giving a second chance, and in a larger sense, it’s what Rick and his group have opened themselves up to by taking the Alexandrians under their collective wing, gambling that their fenced-in enclave is a hope for a brighter future and not a giant target.
“Here’s Not Here” is bound to be one of the most polarizing episodes in “The Walking Dead’s” history, in that it pointedly avoids answering the burning question of whether or not Glenn is dead in favor of a curiously timed Morgan flashback: Not since “South Park” wrong-footed viewers hoping to learn the identity of Cartman’s mother with Terrence and Phillip’s “Not Without My Anus” has a show so flagrantly frustrated its audience’s desire for answers. But it’s also one of the best episodes in “The Walking Dead’s” history, and the (incredibly) rare one that casts nonviolence as an act not of weakness but strength.
“Here’s Not Here” takes places almost entirely in the past, barring a cryptic opening shot and a coda which frames the story as one Morgan tells to a captive member of the Wolves, hoping to turn him from his group’s bloodthirsty ways. (Spoiler alert: No sale.) In plot terms, it explains how Morgan went from the grieving, volatile man Rick left behind in season 3 to the staff-wielding, non-killing warrior who joined the cast three seasons later. His conversion, we learn, took place at the hands of a man named Eastman (John Carroll Lynch), a former forensic psychiatrist who, like Morgan, lost his wife and children by violent means, but has nonetheless made peace with it. Morgan makes clear that his only interest is killing or being killed, and he nearly strangles Eastman at one point, but Eastman sticks to his code and imparts it to Morgan: Harm no one if you can avoid it, and never, no matter the circumstances, take a life — not even a goat’s.
This being “The Walking Dead,” Eastman does eventually end up getting bit, and “Here Not Here’s” framing device makes it plain that nonviolence is a creed more easily held in isolation; there’s a fitting irony to the fact that Eastman dies while making preparations to set out in search of other survivors, when we know how thoroughly the people he met would have tested his faith. And as as philosophies go, Eastman’s principle of redirecting violence rather than meeting it head on — loosely adapted from the martial art of aikido and Morihei Ueshiba’s text, “The Art of Peace” — isn’t an especially profound one. (I could also have done without the character dispensing Japanese wisdom having “East” in his name, which is on par with “The Walking Dead’s” usual level of subtlety.)
But the episode’s extended running time — 64 minutes without commercials — and unusually intense focus provide Eastman a chance to air his philosophy at length, rather than just being one more soft-bellied sap Rick could shut down with his hard-nosed realism. It’s so rare for “The Walking Dead” to give us the simple pleasure of watching two actors square off against each other, let alone two as good as Lynch and Lennie James, that “Here’s Not Here” stands out even more. Given that Lynch and James have 90-plus percent of the dialogue, it’s easily the best-acted episode in “The Walking Dead’s” history.
Eastman’s principle of redirection doesn’t work out too well for him in the end: He’s only able to stop a walker from taking a bite out of Morgan by sacrificing himself instead. And Rick’s plan to shunt the walker herd away from Alexandria rather than facing it head-on seems similarly doomed. But as nihilistic as its worldview can be, “The Walking Dead” periodically gives lip service to the idea that it’s important to give people a chance to give people a chance become something more than they were, even if most of them inevitably fail. Early in the season, one of the Alexandrians asked one of Rick’s survivors, “How do you live, if that’s the world?” It’s a question “The Walking Dead” is always toying with and then setting aside once the walkers are at the door again. It takes a one-off like “Here’s Not Here” to fully engage with the idea that survival and living are not the same thing.
Reviews of “The Walking Dead,” Season 6, Episode 4: “Here’s Not Here”
Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic
“The Walking Dead” has had its share of characters hesitant to kill, but “Here’s Not Here” was the show’s most fully articulated case for avoiding murder at all costs. I also think it dodged criticisms of naivete by showing how Morgan’s and Eastman’s anti-killing ideals didn’t form in a vacuum, but in a crucible. The episode smartly eliminated the possibility that Eastman just didn’t have the stomach for murder — forcing the man who massacred your family to starve to death over 47 days is about as unflinching as you can get. While “Here’s Not Here” showed the unfeasibility of refusing to kill in the zombie apocalypse, it also made me sympathetic as to why someone might choose that path.
Jeremy Egner, New York Times
Inner peace is great, but preserving it in such a way that jeopardizes the people who both sustain and depend on you is ultimately an act of selfishness. If you let me go, Morgan’s captive told him after his story, “I’m going to have to kill you, Morgan — I’m going to have to kill everyone,” children included. “Those are the rules,” he said. “That’s my code.” So chew on that, Morgan-san. That’s the problem with codes: They work in isolation but get trickier when they bump up against one another. For all the objective nobility of Morgan’s decision about how to exist in the world, it doesn’t really answer the question about what he owes everyone else, and how best to satisfy those obligations. That’s a riddle that he and nearly everyone else on this show, whether it’s Rick’s ruling with an iron fist or Glenn’s encouraging others at his own peril, have yet to solve.
Todd VanDerWerff, Vox
“Here’s Not Here” is “The Walking Dead’s” best episode in ages and ages — definitely the best one since season five’s all-Carol-and-Daryl hour “Consumed” and quite possibly the best since season three’s “Clear.” Honestly, this might be the best episode of the show ever. The more episodic, time-hopping structure that “The Walking Dead” has embraced since the midpoint of season four hasn’t been as consistent as I would maybe like, but that’s allowed the series to come up with new ways of telling stories and new ways to shuffle its deck. In particular, look at how beautifully “Here’s Not Here” contrasts with this season’s first three episodes, which have been loud, violent, and occasionally exhausting. That zombie cattle drive of the premiere has now stretched out over episode after episode, and it’s starting to feel like this entire half-season of television will be about a roughly eight-hour period, with room for flashbacks and the like. By putting the calm, contemplative “Here’s Not Here” at the center of this eight-episode sequence,”The Walking Dead” buys itself room to go even louder in the future.
Noel Murray, Rolling Stone
So this may be the worst possible time for “TWD” to trot out another of its occasional muted, moody, stand-alone episodes; there are too many questions and theories floating around among the fandom, and too many plot-threads flapping in the breeze. And while this week’s installment — titled “Here’s Not Here” — works magnificently as a piece of television drama, it’s also painful and heartbreaking in ways that quite frankly feel like overkill after last week’s pile-up of tragedies. It suffers a bit from everything going on off-screen.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
It was a very good episode, albeit one that stacked the deck too much in favor of Eastman’s argument. And we can talk about that in a bit. But the other way to discuss the episode is in the larger context of the season, and particularly in the wake of an episode that seemingly killed off Glenn — followed by a big PR bungle, whether he lives or dies — and ended with Rick moments away from being besieged by a forest-ful of zombies. To conclude “Thank You” that way and then come back next week with a 90-minute Morgan solo spotlight is either another terrible miscalculation, or else a level of sadism that usually exists within the show’s universe more than in ours.
Zack Handlen, A.V. Club
It’s all heartbreaking, and will almost certainly end badly for everyone. There’s even an argument to be made that Morgan’s present-day actions are criminally misguided. But “Here’s Not Here” does a great job of showing why Morgan behaves the way he does. He may still be the weak man he despised in “Clear;” he may also represent a way forward for everyone, a way beyond Rick’s jittery ruthlessness and Deanna’s incompetent vulnerability. The fact that both of these things can be true is what makes him so compelling—a flawed, broken man struggling to save the world, one monster at a time.
Kevin Fitzpatrick, ScreenCrush
“The Walking Dead” has historically struggled with exploration of complex philosophy, and Morgan’s conversion from “Clear” to Aikido master doesn’t go in-depth enough for a practical application in the modern context, at least yet. We saw very clearly that Morgan’s decision to spare the two Wolves last season preceded an attack on Alexandria that took dozens of lives, and his second refusal to kill the blonde brigand directly put Rick in jeopardy minutes later. Those who suspected Morgan yet again spared the shaggier or the two proved correct, though even after hearing his captor’s parable of redemption, the lone Wolf insists he’ll kill again. Eastman may have seen his error in killing even the most evil of men, but at what point does killing become unquestionably pragmatic, for the greater good?
Matt Fowler, IGN
I loved the way the reveals came in this one. How everything was answered over time. The cell in the cabin. How Eastman lost his family. The fact that he actually did kill Crighton. It was all expertly played. And I lovednot being there for Eastman’s suicide. We saw his grave marker as Morgan left the compound and that was enough. I did up a Top 10 Waking Dead Episodes piece before this season started and if I were to ever update the list, “Here’s Not Here” would most certainly be near, or at, the top. Morgan’s become one of the show’s centerpieces this year, and for a good reason. He only appeared briefly in the five seasons before this, but each time he was present, the episode was markedly stronger and more engaging.
Jeff Stone, Indiewire
Honestly, a great deal of “Here’s Not Here” walks extremely familiar territory. The patient but flawed teacher, the hot-headed or damaged pupil — this is not fresh stuff. But Lennie James is one of the strongest actors in the “Walking Dead” ensemble, and it’s a genuine pleasure to see him play this material against a talent of Lynch’s caliber. And the story of a man finding redemption and a better path that might help others as he was helped is a welcome tonal shift from this show’s usual oppressive gloom, particularly after last week. Since Morgan’s philosophy has been so strongly established, it’s possible that he’s not just more grist for the “Rick is right about everything” mill, and there might be a serious debate in future episodes about what is truly necessary for survival.