For fans who wanted to know if that cast member who was apparently killed on last week’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead was really gone, I apologize in advance for tonight’s recap since you won’t find that information here. The same goes for those of you who are curious about the state of Alexandria after the attack by the Wolves, or the current whereabouts of Rick & Company after the Walker Parade went off the beaten path. What I can promise you from our recap of the 90-minute episode “Here’s Not Here” is a detailed look at the psychology of Morgan (Lennie James) and his tenuous friendship with the peace-loving hermit, Eastman (John Carroll Lynch).
Before we get into tonight’s extended episode, I’d like to invite you to revisit the Season 3, Episode 12 hour title “Clear.” It features James’ second time playing Morgan, who first crossed paths with Rick in the series pilot but hadn’t been seen since. In “Clear”, Rick, Carl, and Michonne head back to Rick’s hometown to pick up what he thinks will be easy supplies, but they find the whole community booby-trapped. The person behind turning the town into a death trap for both Walkers and potential looters alike? Morgan Jones.
Though Rick and Morgan previously left each other’s company as friends, both of these men have seen horrors in their time apart so it’s understandable when Morgan attacks Rick. Once things calm down a bit, Rick learns that Morgan has gone crazy after watching his undead wife kill his son Duane; Morgan’s been spending his time in isolation except for sorties to clear nearby buildings of Walkers. The last Rick and the gang sees of Morgan is the piles of Walker corpses he’s burned. This is also the last the audience sees of Morgan until his more recent journey to reunite with Rick, which takes him along the railroad toward Terminus, into a dust-up with some Wolves, and ultimately to Alexandria.
If you’ve ever wondered what became of Morgan between the time he left King County and his arrival at Alexandria, tonight’s episode is for you. It picks up back in Morgan’s home where we find him in an even more deranged state of mind than he was when Rick, Carl, and Michonne left him. He’s ranting and raving, yelling at ghosts who are not there and yet will not leave him alone. Eventually he packs up his things and moves out of town and into the woods, furthering his transformation into a wild thing, a being that doesn’t think first but reacts purely on instinct. His nonsensical ramblings mark his path through the countryside for who knows how far as he attempts to “clear” one area after another of Walkers, wanderers, and any other living thing that crosses his path.
He carries on in this fashion – braining Walkers wherever he finds them, burning their bodies, and marking an area “Clear” before moving on – until he kills two men who are tracking him. One gets a primitive spear through the throat while the other Morgan kills with his bare hands. At this point, Morgan is relentless, unforgiving, and unflinching.
And then he steps into a magical, sunlit clearing … and hears a goat.
There’s something so strange about seeing a domesticated animal in this horrific world, especially one that’s as out of place in the middle of the woods as a goat. It cues Morgan into a couple of things: Obviously there’s someone who’s been caring for this goat, and obviously he or she is still alive because otherwise Walkers or bandits would have killed it or stolen it by now. After a brief exchange of words, bullets, and a bo staff knock to the head, Morgan lands himself in the company of the mysterious Eastman.
Here’s where I have to pause and say that because of The Walking Dead’s success and record-breaking viewing audience numbers every season, they have the luxury of being able to break off and do somewhat riskier episodes on occasion. In Season 5 we had the Beth-centric episode “Slabtown” which featured only Emily Kinney and Melissa McBride from the cast of series regulars, with the latter only appearing for a few scenes. While that episode helped to explain a character’s absence, “Here’s Not Here” explains so much more. It both literally and metaphorically traces Morgan’s journey from a broken savage to a reformed pacifist, all thanks to Eastman. It may not be the most exciting episode of The Walking Dead to ever grace the small screen, but it could easily be the most existential.
Essentially what we watched for the bulk of this episode was not so much a battle of wills but a debate between philosophies. Morgan, though he’s obviously deranged and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is of the “kill first and ask questions later” school of survival; Eastman, a former forensic psychiatrist with his own share of blood on his hands, believes that all life is precious. He also spends his days in the apocalypse struggling to make a tasty goat cheese.
Yes, Eastman is obviously the mysterious “cheese-maker” we heard Morgan mention in a previous episode, but Carroll Lynch brings so much more to the role than just a bo staff-wielding, cheese-making hermit. He’s a jailer, but not really, as it’s revealed that only Morgan’s own assumptions have kept him locked in the cabin’s built-in jail cell the whole time. He’s a pacifist when it comes to conflict resolution, but that doesn’t mean he’s unable to defend himself or put Morgan (or others) on their ass should the need arise. He’s a fallible human who has gone to the same dark places as Morgan – and can’t you blame him, since a psychopath went to extreme lengths to kill his wife and children – but has somehow gone through that darkness and emerged out the other side into this new and terrible world as a shepherd of sorts.
But while Eastman had to give into his own darkness before embracing “The Art of Peace” and aikido (and goat-herding), Morgan is still trapped in that same dark room of awful memories, a living nightmare. I found it interesting that his choice in weapons reflected his mental state throughout the episode: Though Morgan had what appeared to be an assault rifle, he used it as a blunt instrument either by necessity or by design; he then resorted to using sharpened sticks as both a means of defense and offense, which were useful but not exactly refined; then, after becoming a student of Eastman, he’s given his own bo staff as a gift, a simple yet elegant weapon that’s certainly capable of killing, but is intended more for misdirection, defense, and non-lethal combat. As we’ve seen in the current timeline, Morgan’s been able to use it quite competently.
And yet, in Morgan’s struggle to adjust his outlook to Eastman’s way of teaching, elements of his earlier experiences continue to make things difficult for him. When Eastman brings him back to Morgan’s own campsite, Morgan is quite literally faced with a Walker from his recent past, the man he killed with his bare hands but failed to put down for good. Stunned by this revelation of his own bloody past coming back to haunt him, Morgan freezes; Eastman steps to save him but receives a bite that ultimately proves fatal. Even then, Morgan wants to be left alone – or better yet, wants Eastman to kill him – despite everything the pacifist tried to teach him.
With Eastman now injured and alone, he’s unable to defend his goat Tabitha from a Walker that attacks her when she gets out of her pen. Morgan, now realizing the error of his ways, returns to Eastman’s cabin only to find Tabitha dead – a sacrificial lamb, if you will – and Eastman near death as he toils in his makeshift graveyard. You see, while Morgan has been piling the nameless, faceless dead in unmarked, charred piles of corpses across the countryside, Eastman has been dispatching the Walkers with grace and burying them with dignity, marked by hand-carved signs bearing the names he finds on the IDs in their wallets. The psychopath Crighton Dallas Wilton rests here, as do numerous Jane Does and many other Walkers, now including Eastman himself.
While the loss of Eastman is tragic, the idea that his teachings may have ultimately been misguided is even moreso. Eastman leaves Morgan with a parting bit of wisdom, that life’s only worth living if it’s done with other people in a community. This pearl sounds great until we see Morgan on the path to Terminus, coming across a sign that still bears the message that “All Who Arrive, Survive” rather than Rick’s censored version that revealed the true nature of the supposed sanctuary. If that wasn’t an obvious enough commentary on the shortcomings of Eastman’s philosophy, it’s then revealed that Morgan has been talking to the yellow-toothed Wolf he knocked out at the end of an earlier episode.
The Wolf has heard Morgan’s story and the reasoning behind his code to never take a life. He has heard this and smiles his rotten smile in response. Where Morgan is standing in for order and civility, this Wolf embodies chaos and anarchy; it’s not quite clear whether that’s by his own choice, but he certainly seems to enjoy his lifestyle. So Morgan is faced with a decision that has no benefit for him: If he lets the Wolf live and cares for him and his infected wound, he risks the man breaking free and killing either Morgan himself or those he cares about. If he kills the Wolf outright, he breaks his code, defiles Eastman’s memory, and risks descending back into the madness that took him (Carol and Rick seem to be totally fine with this option for themselves though).
There’s a telling moment when Morgan has to choose whether to lock up the Wolf or leave the door open like Eastman did. Eastman allowed Morgan’s own assumptions to keep him imprisoned in a cage with an unlocked door; Morgan, who attempted to escape through other means in the beginning, doesn’t seem to be able to trust the Wolf that far. Probably with good reason. In all of his teachings, Eastman also warned that just because true evil is rare among humans, it still exists. As Morgan chooses to lock the door, it’s clear that this Wolf may very well be a representation of that evil. This may be a test for Morgan’s code, but it’s likely to be only the first of many as he comes to butt heads with Rick & Company.
For casual viewers of The Walking Dead, this might not rank among their favorite episodes. For me, and I hope for fans of the depth of the series that goes beyond Robert Kirkman’s excellent comic books, this is one of the more memorable episodes in the entire run of the show. After what has been an excellent start to this season, “Here’s Not Here” was a great way to provide character background in an unforced way that enriches not only Morgan, but all those who interact with him. It also likely frustrated folks who wanted to find out Glenn’s fate, but “Here’s Not Here” was a worthwhile departure nonetheless. And while it might not change the way doomsday preppers strategize for surviving the apocalypse, it might just change the way you look at The Walking Dead.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Who had the better performance: Lennie James or John Carroll Lynch?
Hat tip to our own TV Editor Allison Keene who scoured the internet to find John Carroll Lynch’s name for me!
Morgan: “I have to clear!”
Now we know where Morgan gets a few of his tokens, specifically the GooGoo Clusters from Eastman, a single bullet from the folks he spared in the woods, and lucky rabbit’s foot, which came by way of Eastman’s daughter. (Not so lucky for the rabbit though.)
With all of Eastman’s talk about how precious life was and the fact that there’s probably not a whole lot of living goats wandering around out there, you’d have thought he’d be a little more torn up about Tabitha’s death. Then again, he probably knew he was about to die himself, so I can’t be too hard on the guy.
Eastman: “You stay or you go. Those are your choices. I will not allow you to kill me. I will not allow that.” Morgan later uses a similar phrase when conversing with the Wolves at his campfire.
The other thing that bugged me from tonight’s episode was Morgan’s “Rage-o-Vision.” It looked like an effect of taking too may skill-enhancing drugs in Fallout or something from Doom.
Morgan: “Kill me!”
At the episode’s end, who do you think is shouting, “Open the gate!”? For a moment, it sounded like Rick, but I’m guessing it’s just a random Alexandrian?