Whose Episode Is It?
Morgan time! We finally learn how the crazy guy we last saw in Season 3 became “The Walking Dead’s” resident martial arts pacifist.
But First, The Glenn-Sized Elephant In The Room
So, is Glenn dead or what? I figured Glenn was truly done for last episode, but a number of people have made a fairly convincing argument for his survival. Convincing not because of the circumstances of his being alive, but convincing in that yeah, it’s possible the show would jerk its audience around by threatening to kill a fan favorite, particularly after the creators have been tiresomely cagey about Glenn’s status in interviews.
The entire situation is not doing the show any favors, as Alan Sepinwall effectively summed up last week. But any resolution will have to wait until a future episode, since the only regular to appear in this week’s installment is Lennie James. The only bone thrown to the “Is Glenn dead?” question is that Steven Yeun is not listed in this week’s credits, so we all get to be strung along for at least another week.
Man Is The True Monster
But none of that really matters, because this week’s episode is great regardless of Glenn’s status. We open with Morgan talking to the Wolf he defeated two weeks ago, who was also the guy he fought in the Season 5 finale. He’s going to tell him (and us) how he came to his non-violent philosophy.
And we flash back to Morgan, post Season 3’s “Clear” episode, outside of his booby-trapped town, but still basically crazy. He kills walkers, sure, but he also kills two regular humans that were sneaking up behind him. It’s not clear if they actually meant him harm, but he stabs one in the neck and strangles the other. So, yeah, Morgan’s pretty far gone. He believes that the only method of survival is killing everything that comes within his range, because he thinks that’s the only way to survive.
Fortunately, his homicidal wanderings bring him to the remote cabin of a man named Eastman, played by ace character actor John Carroll Lynch. Morgan, of course, tries to kill the man, but Eastman is able to best him with his stick-based martial arts, and locks him in a cell in his cabin, looking to rehabilitate him. In an extremely convenient revelation, it turns out that before the outbreak Eastman was a forensic psychologist, so he seems like just the man to turn Morgan’s life around.
Of course, Eastman has his own demons. He eventually reveals to Morgan that he once crossed a sort of cartoonish Thomas Harris-esque sociopath, who so resented Eastman getting him locked up, he broke out of prison and murdered Eastman’s wife and children. Eastman found him, locked him in his cabin cell, and watched him starve to death. Horrific, yes, but the important thing is what came after. As Eastman tells it, “What I did to him didn’t give me any peace. I found my peace when I decided to never kill again.”
A Shred of Humanity
So yes, Eastman was just like Morgan, or Rick or any of the other Ricketeers who take a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach, but he found that way hollow and dehumanizing, and he found a new path. And bit by bit, he brings Morgan back to humanity, training him in the ways of aikido, a martial art that focuses on minimizing the harm done to the opponent, all while Eastman tries to perfect his recipe for goat cheese. (This explains Morgan’s odd line two episodes ago where he said he learned his stick-fighting “from a cheese maker.”)
Of course, once everything seems to be going well, Eastman gets himself bitten saving Morgan from a walker (the young man Morgan strangled at the top of the episode, who apparently hung around the area for maximum dramatic impact), but before he goes, he tells Morgan he should seek out others. “Everything in this life is about people. Everything in this life that’s worth a damn.” And so Morgan heads out, and sees the first sign for Terminus.
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. There is doubtless a large segment of the audience that tunes in to “The Walking Dead” exclusively for violent thrills, but the show could be so much richer if it truly explored whether or not humans can survive in this environment without sacrificing their souls. With this episode, now there’s hope that that might happen.
Achievement In Grossness
Pretty light on gore this week, although there is one walker missing most of the skin off its back, and Eastman’s poor goat Tabitha is messily devoured. Sorry, goat lovers.