‘The Walking Dead’ Review: ‘Here’s Not Here’ Is Audacious Look Into the Genesis of Morgan
Recap and review of The Walking Dead – Season 6 Episode 4 – Here’s Not Here:
“Here’s Not Here” is a pretty audacious episode for The Walking Dead. It’s a 90-minute episode that focuses solely on the genesis of one character, Morgan (Lennie James). As one big flashback, there’s an element of predictability that makes one wonder why an episode like this is even necessary. It certainly doesn’t help that “Here’s Not Here” comes one week after one of the biggest cliffhangers in the history of The Walking Dead. All these elements should have guaranteed that this episode would fail. And yet, I found this to be one of the more compelling episodes the show has ever done, in spite of its weary tone and deliberate pacing.
On the one hand, “Here’s Not Here” really didn’t need to be 90 minutes, especially when you consider that, for the most part, we all knew exactly how this story was going to end. On the other hand, what we get over the course of those 90 minutes is a profound look into a man who has his entire beliefs system changed due to his encounter with one stranger in the woods. Lennie James is a hell of an actor, and his Morgan is as brooding and solitary as ever, whether he’s with the Alexandrians in recent episodes, or whether he’s out on his own like at the start of this episode-long flashback here. Morgan is a man haunted by his demons, and searching for a purpose to keep living. And it’s never more true than at the start of this episode, as we see just what Morgan was like in the days before he found Rick again. Ultimately, his demons are getting the better of him, causing a rash of emotional breakdowns and trauma. He can’t bring himself to commit suicide, no matter how badly he seems to want to die, yet he also can’t help but take the lives of everyone he comes across. At the start of the episode, he brutally murders two men, and is about to presumably steal or kill a goat tied up outside an old house in the woods. However, the owner of the house is able to stop Morgan by displaying a skill that is actually quite reminiscent of the skills Morgan will later display with the bow staff in Alexandria. And so begins the tale of Morgan becoming an Aikido master under the tutelage of a strangely stoic man named Eastman (John Caroll Lynch).
Eastman is someone who has every reason to loathe existence. A man named Creighton Dallas Welton murdered his wife, daughter and son before the outbreak, and in a shocking act of vengeance, Eastman abducted Creighton and brought him back to a cell he’d erected in his home. There, he allowed the murderer to starve to death over the course of 47 days. It’s a positively harrowing story that’s as gruesome and tragic as Morgan’s own tale of his son being killed by the walker-turned wife he couldn’t bring himself to kill, and John Caroll Lynch is exactly the type of actor’s actor you need to sell a story like this. In fact, he’s precisely the type of actor who can sell the character of an ordinary man who embraces a dramatic lifestyle change in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. Really, I think that’s the appeal of Eastman, and why this one-off character felt so vividly realized. He was just a normal family man who occasionally practiced Aikido and saved good luck charms given to him by his five-year-old daughter. But after the murders, he became a man of pure grief and vengeance, only to discover that there’s no peace on the other side of it all. And so he adopted the practice of Aikido more intently, including the doctrine that values all life, even the lives of the most evil men.
Eastman holds to a personal code that will not allow him to kill, because it’s the only way for him to keep sane and overcome the demons that threaten to drag him back down into grief and misery. Eastman is a kindred spirit for Morgan, because he sees a lot of himself in the man. In short, Eastman turns Morgan into a sort of personal project, wanting to help the man recover his will to live, while also teaching him to respect life, in all its many forms. This gives us a powerful narrative through-line, as Morgan is initially resistant to Eastman’s attempts at changing him, even attacking Eastman despite warnings that Morgan would not be allowed to kill him. Inevitably, Morgan comes to appreciate Eastman’s mercy, while also discovering the value of the practices Aikido presents. What we end up with is a story that plays out like a two-man, one-act play, as Morgan and Eastman develop a fondness and mutual respect for one another that instantly becomes one of the most compelling relationships The Walking Dead has ever forged.
And yet, we know Eastman has to die. Part of the excitement of the episode is wondering how it will happen, although I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to guess that it’d ultimately end up being Morgan’s fault. In trying to take down a walker on his own, Morgan suffers an attack of PTSD, prompting the unprepared Eastman to come to his rescue, resulting in poor Eastman getting bitten on the back. Having achieved an attitude of tranquility under Eastman’s tutelage, Morgan now reverts back to his former misery, begging for death for all his failings. Eastman won’t allow it, of course, but it’s hard to escape the pervasive feeling of despair that blankets the following scenes: their goat, Tabitha, is torn apart by a walker while they’re, ironically, away giving respectful burials to the walkers; and Eastman’s condition worsens to the point that there’s no other choice but for Eastman to shoot himself before he turns. Poignantly, we never see Eastman commit the act, nor do we see Morgan bury him, because it’s every bit as powerful to have these sorts of things implied. Eastman’s farewell, for the viewer, is seeing him implore Morgan to keep moving, to recognize that “people are everything” in this world, and he can’t live a sheltered life. Not if he wants to truly live.
And so it is that Morgan takes up his travels again, instilled with a new sense of purpose, and a stringent moral code to guide him. While we might not agree with Morgan refusing to kill the Wolves, we can at least understand where he’s coming from, thanks to this episode. Of course, it’s likely that Morgan’s refusal to kill will have some sort of consequence, otherwise, this episode seems a strange choice to air right after one of the most talked-about moments in the history of the show. Stranger still is the framing device, as we learn that Morgan is telling this story to one of the Wolves, whom he’s kept tied up in Alexandria, attempting to help change this young man’s life in the same way Eastman changed his. However, this Wolf wants no part of Morgan’s teachings, vowing to escape and murder every single person in Alexandria. The lesson? Many people have codes by which they live, but everyone’s code is moral. In fact, this show takes place in a world where the principle of keeping a moral code is all well and good, in theory. But it’s more than likely going to get someone killed, because an inflexible moral code doesn’t allow for extenuating circumstances. There will come a time where Morgan shows mercy to someone he really should have killed, and it’s likely to result in a good person biting the dust. Ultimately, it’s hard to know if Morgan’s code is becoming less rigid, but it’s telling that, after leaving the room where he’s imprisoned the Wolf, he locks the door behind him, since he doesn’t have the same trust for this man that Eastman, who always kept the doors unlocked, had for him. The implication seems to be that Morgan is struggling to hold to his code, and it’s likely to get harder, as the episode ends with a voice (probably Rick’s, from the sound of it) shouting in the distance: “OPEN THE GATE!!!” And just like that, The Walking Dead once again proves they’re masters of the lost art of the cliffhanger.
“Here’s Not Here” is an audacious episode, but it’s among the most compelling we’ve yet had on The Walking Dead this season. It’s kind of stunning that we’re only four episodes in, considering how uniformly strong this season has been so far. I can’t remember the last time the show had this sort of batting average. Maybe I’m a bit early in my optimism, but I’m genuinely looking forward to Sunday nights every week.
But what did you think of The Walking Dead, “Here’s Not Here”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Walking Dead, read our review of the episode with the biggest cliffhanger in TWD history, “Thank You”!