The Walking Dead’s 6.4 “Here is Not Here” (penned by showrunner Scott Gimple) is the kind of episode that forces you to sit back and wait for it to happen. It was a slow unraveling of a complex character study that helped illuminate one of the more mysterious survivors. However, after the first three episodes of the sixth season – including the huge cliffhanger about Glenn – it was tough to have the patience to let it all wash over you.
Not that the episode wasn’t well done – on the contrary – it provided a satisfying amount of backstory on Morgan, and more than adequately answered the questions of how he went from a madman in Season 3 to the pacifist we see in Season 6 who refuses to kill those psychopathic Wolves. But for me, the problem lies in the fact that I’m just not invested enough in Morgan to want to stop everything and get all that information about him (but perhaps other fans are). He’s an interesting character, but with other more pressing matters at hand, it was difficult to watch his story be explored in such painstaking fashion when other characters I care more about have not been given the same meticulous examination (especially when parts of this episode also felt very contrived). But perhaps Morgan’s behavior will end up having a huge effect on all our survivors, and so in order to fully understand the future we needed to take a 90 minute detour into the past.
The episode begins with Morgan at Alexandria’s prison cell, talking to the Wolf we thought he may have killed in “JSS.” He wants to tell the Wolf his story, so we flashback to Then (borrowed once again from Supernatural) where we see Morgan wildly ranting in the place that Rick, Carl and Michonne encountered him in “Clear.” When a dropped lantern burns down his safe haven, Morgan takes refuge in the woods, hunting walkers and killing any humans he comes across as he creates a camp for himself.
When Morgan happens upon a goat and tries to steal it, a survivor named Eastman stops him, knocking him out and placing him in a jail cell in Eastman’s cabin. What then seems like the end of the road for Morgan is actually a new beginning.
Morgan spends his days screaming at Eastman to kill him and staring through a window watching the stranger practice martial arts. For his part, Eastman goes about his business, unperturbed by Morgan and seemingly getting more stressed over perfecting the art of cheese making then evading the walkers outside his cabin. When Eastman tells Morgan his jail cell door has never been locked and waxes philosophical about how humans are not built to kill, Morgan responds by of course, trying to kill him. Yet Eastman doesn’t give up on Morgan, allowing him to stay, which Morgan does – closing the door of his jail cell. But that literal and figurative door has already been opened, and it sets Morgan on a new path, so while reading “The Art of Peace,” learning Aikido and gaining wisdom from Eastman, Morgan undergoes his transformation into the Zen Master we know today.
It must be noted that the interactions between Morgan and Eastman – via Lennie James and John Caroll Lynch – were riveting to watch. Both actors delivered a full range of emotions through their dialogue together and their reactions to one another, allowing us an inside look into the incalculable tragedies of these characters’ lives, while contrasting how they came to deal with it all. The scene where Eastman tells Morgan about the killer he interviewed (as a forensic psychologist) and how the same man escaped and murdered his wife and daughter was simultaneously heartbreaking and gripping – made even more so when Morgan realized the artwork he had knocked off the wall when attacking Eastman was that of Eastman’s dead daughter.
One of the ways Morgan regains his humanity is by watching Eastman bury the dead walkers in a makeshift cemetery, observing as Eastman takes out the zombies’ driver’s licenses (good thing they all had their wallets on them!) and carves their human names onto grave markers. It was an ironic scene coming from a series that goes out of its way to showcase the gross factor of the walkers and find new, ever more violent ways to kill them. Nonetheless, it was an effective reminder that the undead were once humans – all with stories of their own.
When Morgan and Eastman go to Morgan’s old campground to scavenge, Morgan gets emotional seeing the supplies he took from the people he killed. Eastman decides that’s the time for Morgan to practice his Aikido to which Morgan sensibly tells him “not here.” But practice they do and – cue contrived plot point – they encounter a walker who Morgan recognizes as a guy he murdered. When Morgan gets overcome by that realization and freezes in his tracks, Eastman pushes him out of harm’s way, but in doing so sustains a bite.
Now I have to say, with a cemetery full of walkers that Eastman singlehandedly took care of, he makes the stupid mistake of turning his back on one? Yes I know, even expert walker killers can make mistakes and just one mistake can cost a person his life, but it was still a totally manufactured way to kill Eastman so Morgan could honor the wise dead man by following in his footsteps and also give Morgan a reason to leave the cabin and go in search of Rick.
After Eastman’s bite, Morgan initially stays at the campground, relapsing back to his old ways of walker “clearing” until he unwittingly saves a young couple in the process. Morgan goes to attack them, but the woman pulls out a can of chicken soup and one bullet to show her gratitude and as a means to leave the area in peace. As Morgan watches them go, he looks down at their offering and a single tear falls down his face. For me, this understated scene was the most affecting of the entire episode.
Morgan returns to the cabin and as Eastman grows sicker from the walker bite, he reveals what he did to Crighton Dallas Wilton (the killer who murdered his family), starving him to death in the cabin’s cell just before the zombie apocalypse started. But finding no peace in the act, Eastman vowed to never kill another living thing and buried Crighton as the first resident of the cemetery, acknowledging him with a grave marker bearing his name.
Eastman tells Morgan he has enough supplies and power to last a lifetime, but that Morgan shouldn’t stay in the place alone, because “everything is about people, everything in this life that’s worth a damn.” And before Eastman has Morgan mercy kill him, he gives him the rabbit’s foot that Eastman’s murdered daughter gave to him.
After Eastman’s death, Morgan packs up and begins his journey to find Rick (passing the now infamous Terminus sign along the way). As the episode ends, we are back in the present, and Morgan is telling his tale to the imprisoned Wolf with the hope that the psychopath will undergo a similar transformation. But based on The Wolf’s warning that if he doesn’t die from injuries he sustained at The Safe Zone he will go on another killing spree, including children, it doesn’t appear that he was moved by Morgan’s story.
This episode was beautifully shot (especially with all the outdoor wooded scenes), the performances were outstanding, and the poignant musical score was a perfect accompaniment to the storyline. But as stated previously, some parts were still contrived; Morgan’s conversion was heavy handed at times and just a bit too Karate Kid in places. Regardless, this was mostly a well done episode, but the writers’ choice to tell this story after 6.3 seems a bit curious. So I’m betting that Morgan’s actions will have far-reaching ramifications for the Alexandrian community, and the writers wanted us to know how he got to where he is so his motives make more sense. But here’s the thing, even after seeing his backstory, his motives and actions still make no sense.
The Safe Zone was under a brutal attack, and Morgan refused to adequately defend it. Of course it’s reasonable that he would initially let two lone Wolves live (back in Season 5), and that he would stop to help father Gabriel in 6.2. But letting all those Wolves leave, witnessing first-hand what they did and knowing more like them will most likely be back, seems not only immensely foolish but selfish as well. Because ultimately, he’s jeopardizing the lives of everyone in Alexandra in order to embrace his new philosophy. And aren’t those innocent people’s lives just as precious as the Wolves’? I don’t know exactly what Morgan will do in the future, but this episode didn’t do anything to change my mind about the stupidity and self-centeredness of his current actions.
Next week we return to Alexandria, but I don’t know that it necessarily means we’ll find out about Glenn. In fact, something tells me we won’t. But in any case, it’ll be good to get back to the present and stay there – at least until the next flashback episode, that is.