Morgan has proven to be one of the most enigmatic characters The Walking Dead has given us. Not only because of the way in which his story has been told — piecemeal since the show’s first season, with us checking in with him only briefly along the way — but because of his current philosophy of pacifism. “Here’s Not Here” at long last fills in the biggest gap in his back story, explaining how he came to recover from the broken shell of a man he was in the wake of his son’s death. More importantly, however, it shows how the once crazed survivalist became a disciple of Aikido and a man of peace at a time when humanity faces its greatest war.
Beaten and broken, Morgan has decided to “clear” his world, killing anyone or anything that comes anywhere near him, for both physical and psychological safety. But after taking an interest in a goat he hears while walking through the woods, he’s subdued by the creature’s owner, Eastman, a former forensics psychiatrist from Atlanta, whose time was spent viewing the darkest parts of the human soul. Eastman lost his wife and daughter shortly before the apocalypse began, to a sociopath named Creighton – who was once under his care, and who escaped only out of revenge. As we eventually learn, Eastman abandoned his adherence to the principals of Aikido and killed Creighton, and then swore he’d never kill another. He’d planned to turn himself in when the virus happened. His experience having made him uniquely qualified to survive anything, he takes Morgan under his wing and shares the same martial art that’s saved his life.
“Here’s Not Here” is essentially a two-hander featuring Lennie James and guest star John Carroll Lynch, no stranger to horror from his roles in Carnivale, Zodiac, Shutter Island, and American Horror Story. Though I can’t claim to have seen every production in which the two men have starred, I think it’s safe to say that this episode is a strong contender for the best TV work that either man has ever done, as well as yet another outstanding entry in what is rapidly shaping up to be The Walking Dead‘s strongest season yet. It’s no exaggeration to say the full gamut of human emotion is played out in miniature across the the two actors’ faces. From the despair and self-pity that engulfs Morgan as he wanders aimlessly through the wilderness, to the faint release of tension on his face as he performs his first selfless act since he lost his family, saving Eastman’s goat, Tabitha, from hungry walkers.
Some might find Eastman to be too good to be true, especially when he sacrifices himself, saving Morgan’s life when he freezes upon seeing a walker he’d once killed. But Lynch’s performance totally sells the character of a man who is as fully at peace as we can imagine a person becoming under these circumstances.
Thus far, this season of The Walking Dead is the kind that presents no end of frustration to critics and reviewers. Crap is so much easier to critique than quality, and the quality of this show has never been higher. So we find outselves ransacking our vocabulary for fresh superlatives with which to praise it, and falling shorter each week. I’d be angry with myself if I wasn’t so overjoyed by this consistently rewarding work of art.
— Kudos to The Walking Dead for surprising us with another terrific character study — in a ninety minute episode no less — when some of us were expecting another shocking zombie epic for Halloween.
— Yes, I too am still dying to find out what was really going on with Glenn after last week’s episode. Fingers crossed some light is shed next week.
— Those blurred edges of the screen might be an obvious device with which to convey Morgan’s fractured mindset, but there’s no denying their effectiveness.
— I imagine enrollment in Aikido classes across the world will skyrocket after this episode airs.
— This week’s episode, like others this season, plays with time, and is bookended by present-day scenes of Morgan with the Wolf he apprehended when the marauders attacked Alexandria two episodes ago. Unlike Eastman, Morgan does not leave his prisoner’s cell door open. It’s a bittersweet sign that there are limits to his adopted philosophy.
— “I have come to believe that all life is precious. That’s why we’re eating oatmeal burgers.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).
Image Credit: AMC