Oli Davis reviews The Walking Dead Season Six, Episode 4…
Here’s Not Here.
Directed by Stephen Williams.
Written by Scott M. Gimple.
Is now really the time for an extended, 90-minute Morgan flashback story? The last few episodes have been marvellously ratcheting up the tension, cutting between the approaching zombie horde and Wolves-led invasion of Alexandria. What happened to Rick’s camper van being overrun with Walkers? Is Glen alive? How did Carol’s cake taste? This would’ve been perfect for the season’s second-half opener. Not now.
That said, Lennie James. For a whole episode. From pointy stick to blunt stick. It’s tough to complain.
He begins two years ago as Crazed Morgan, wildly lunging at zombies that aren’t there and painfully yelling ‘KILL ME’ over and over again to his eventual captor. By the end of the episode, we have his season 6 incarnation – Zen Morgan – not even willing to hurt a Wolf. And it’s all thanks to that aforementioned captor.
Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) was a state psychiatrist. He’s the kind of guy that practices Aikido (the Japanese martial art philosophy that gives Morgan super-stick powers) and wears ‘Save Terrapins’ t-shirts. He’s a non-murdering vegetarian in the post-Apocalyptic zombie world. He presumably hasn’t had much trouble out here in his isolated cabin. He had enough of that in the pre-Apocalypse world, anyway.
“Of the 895 people I assessed for the State, only one of them was truly evil,” Eastman off-handedly explains to Crazed Morgan at the start. And later on comes his terrific backstory: Once upon a time, Eastman gave the ‘evil one’ Crighton Dallas Wilton a damning psychiatric evaluation. Wilton promises he’ll ruin Eastman’s life. A one night he escapes and murders his wife, son and daughter.
In response, Eastman fails his Aikido teachings. He kidnaps Wilton from community service, takes him to the cabin in the woods Morgan now finds himself, and locks him in a custom-built cell in the living room. There, Eastman watches him starve to death. It took 47 days. Eastman didn’t just look into the abyss. He jumped in two-footed and had a torture party. The subsequent hangover convinced him to never kill again; that ‘all life is precious’.
When Morgan first stumbles upon Eastman’s shack, he is in that same abyss. He is Eastman’s exact opposite, killing zombies and humans alike, scrawling ‘CLEAR’ on each cleansed area with all the gusto of Enid writing JSS in tortoise guts. The camera visually mirrors Morgan’s state by blurring the edges of the lens. When the alternative is to confront the loss of your wife and child, tunnel vision is an understandable reaction. That’s the Morgan that stumbles across the cabin. Eastman ‘locks’ him in a cell (the one in which Wilton starved), feeds him vegetarian food and diagnoses PTSD.
Half an hour in, you forget The Walking Dead is a zombie show. It’s Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It’s Bon Iver going into the woods to record For Emma, Forever Ago. It’s the eternal story of a person’s journey into the forest to find themselves. It’s the story of a man regaining his self.
And then you start to understand…this is why Morgan didn’t hurt the Wolves. Not because of a frustrating sense of humanity, but because he sees what he once was in them; that they’re trapped in the abyss just as bad. He sees what can be saved.
It’s an astounding feat of storytelling rhetoric, considering how pragmatic Rick and Carol have made us. Throughout the course of six seasons, we’ve been conditioned to think like them. Protect your people. If someone is a threat, kill them. But now there’s another way; Morgan’s way, where all life is precious.
Where that moral code runs into problems, however, is when you become responsible for others. Declaring ‘I’ll never kill’ is one thing; saying ‘I’ll never kill to protect my loved ones, my family, my wife, my children’ is something else entirely. Governing oneself vs governing a society – that’s the conflict Morgan is heading towards, a collision course with his opposing philosophy personified: Rick Grimes.
Has Rick become Shane, and Morgan become Rick? Season 6 might just be Season 2 with the roles reversed.
Alternative Theory: Eastman ain’t real
Was Eastman a figment of Morgan’s imagination? Had Morgan’s mind gone into survival mode, only to find the best way out of the abyss was to create a fictional zen, vegetarian, martial arts master? Nobody living interacted with them. Look at how many graves are in Eastman’s back yard. About 20? Nowhere near enough for two and a half years worth of Zombie Apocalypse. Anyone living there must’ve passed on years ago. And then consider how closely Eastman’s story mirrors Morgan’s own. A dead wife, a dead son, a journey into the abyss and out again. It’s almost too convenient to happen by chance.
The only stumbling block is explaining how Morgan became so competent at Aikido. But then who’s to say he’s not just a crazy man with a stick that has mastered self-defence through zombie trial and error? There’s certainly enough stick fodder out there. If Eastman isn’t real, the reading of Morgan’s character is dramatically transformed. Rather than the zen, measured man who respects all life, he’d just be on the opposite end of the spectrum to the crazed killer – just as fundamental and insane, only more morally defendable.
Zombie Kill of the Week
Flaming zombie put down, as a walker stumbles through Morgan’s campfire towards him. It’s the closest Walking Dead will get to a Pink Floyd album cover.