We Just Met the Real Hero of The Walking Dead

Illustration for article titled We Just Met the Real Hero of iThe Walking Dead/i

Ever wondered how the character Morgan turned from the homicidal lunatic of season 3 into the bo-wielding, philosophical badass of peace that arrived at Alexandria? Of course you have. Tonight’s extra-sized episode was basically a big origin story for Morgan 2.0, and revealed the most important character in the entirety of The Walking Dead may have been a pudgy, amateur cheesemaker.

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I loved “Here’s Not Here” for a lot of reasons, although at its essence, this was not a particularly good episode. The writing was on-the-nose in a way that the show has thankfully avoided for several seasons now, and Eastman is a completely ludicrous character, even by TWD standards.

I’m serious. Eastman is a forensic psychologist, who used to professionally judge if criminals were properly rehabilitated for their release. He also just happens to own a beautiful, solar-powered cabin deep in the woods that mysteriously has an iron cell located right in his living room. Also, Eastman has his own dark secret that led him on his own path of redemption, giving his total empathy with Morgan. And then—and then—he also is peace-loving vegan with a total regard for the complete sanctity of life, who love peace, practices the peaceful martial art of aikido, and has a copy of The Art of Peace at his house. If Yoda and a Mary Sue had a baby whose was destined by god to redeem Morgan, that character would still be less absurd than Eastman.

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And yet I love him! Not just because he’s awesome, but because he is the most unambiguously good character we’ve had on the show since Herschel (although Daryl and Aaron are pretty close), and he is a character that The Walking Dead has needed badly. With Rick having completely succumbed to the dark side last season—and pretty much taking all the residents of Alexandria with him—it is both refreshing and cathartic to hear someone say “I have come to believe that all life is precious,” no matter how cheesy the line is.

To be fair, when Morgan begins his origin story, he is pretty far gone. He starts the flashback by setting fire to his apartment from “Clear” while seemingly arguing with the fire; then he starts going on zombie murder sprees, making little bases solely designed to more efficiently kill zombies. Once he “clears” an area, he moves on to the next zone. And if he encounters any of the living? Well, he kills them too—with his self-made spear—as two unfortunate souls find out.

Illustration for article titled We Just Met the Real Hero of iThe Walking Dead/i

Eventually he comes across the aforementioned Coincidental Morgan Rehabilitation Center, a.k.a. Eastman’s cabin. Morgan immediately tries to kill Eastman, but gets knocked out by a bo staff in short order. He awakens in a cell in the cabin living room where Eastman is trying (and failing) to make cheese. And thus begins the process of healing, although it begins with Eastman trying to make conversation with the insane Morgan, and Morgan shouting nonsense and or “Kill me!” several million times.

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Eventually Eastman opens the cell door—or rather reveals the door had never been locked. (Morgan was keeping himself in the cell the whole time, you guys. Metaphors!) Morgan immediately exists and tries to murder Eastman again. Eastman uses his trusty Aikido powers to hand Morgan his ass, and the defeated, distraught Morgan slinks back to the cell of his own volition. At this point, Eastman goes about his business, although still trying to engage Morgan in conversation.

Eventually, it’s Tabitha who brings Morgan out of his shell/cell. Tabitha is Eastman’s goat (hence the cheese). One day with Eastman is out, Morgan hears zombies and the frightening bleatings of the goat; although he tries not to care, he eventually runs out, kills the walkers, and saves the goat. And when he drags the zombies off in the direction that he’s seen Eastman take the errant zombies who approach the cabin, he discovers a cemetery—a cemetery clearly created solely by Eastman, who even uses the IDs he finds on the zombies to make wooden gravemarkers with their names on him. LOOK, HE REALLY VALUES LIFE, OKAY?

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Obviously, this is the first real step in Morgan’s path to redemption, and Eastman starts laying down peace talks like a one-man U.N. security council. He tells Morgan he’s interviewed over 800 criminals, but only met one truly evil man. He tells how his daughter gave him a rabbit’s foot, which led him to take up aikido, which saved his life when that one evil man tried to kill him in prison. And in a scene that has all the subtlety of the Governor’s tank, Eastman cuts off the blood-soaked, pointed tip of the spear Morgan had been carrying, hands it back to Morgan, and says: “Here. Fixed it.”

Of course, not even Eastman’s life has been entirely without regret, or without seeing humanity at its ugliest. As Eastman tells Morgan, that one evil man that tried to kill him? After Eastman ruined all chances at his parole, the man managed to escape prison, hunt down Eastman’s house, kill his entire family, and then turned himself into the local police station. Eastman built the cell in the cabin with the intention of capturing the asshole while he was out of work release (don’t even ask) and then watching him starve to death. Eastman won’t tell Morgan whether he actually carried it out or not (although we find out at the end of the episode he very much did, the guy took 47 days to die, and after being unable to turn himself into the cops because of an unforeseen zombie apocalypse, Eastman took his vow to never kill another living thing).

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Illustration for article titled We Just Met the Real Hero of iThe Walking Dead/i

If I’m making this sound a bit absurd, well, that’s because it totally is. It’s all an elaborate, over-the-top way for Morgan to discover that he and this peace-loving aikido enthusiast aren’t really that different, so that there’s hope for Morgan to be redeemed too. And that’s exactly what happens, after an equally absurd scene where Morgan encounters the zombie version of one of the people he killed in the episode’s beginning, he freezes, Eastman saves him but gets bit, Morgan briefly goes crazy again, but he encounters a living couple and doesn’t murder them, and gets better. After a few more words of wisdom (“Everything about people”), Eastman hands Morgan the rabbit’s foot his daughter gave him, Eastman dies, Morgan buries him, and sets off.

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To the extent that “Here’s Not Here” works at all, it’s bolstered a great deal by TWD’s usual excellent direction and editing, but also another terrific performance by Lennie James as Morgan, who goes from bat-shit death-frenzy crazy to wary optimist convincingly, and the superb John Carroll Lynch, whose understated performance as Eastman makes an absurd character seem genuinely possible, if not particularly plausible. If he’d turned it up even a little, even he’d winked even once at how ridiculous his very existence was, I honestly think the entire episode would have fallen apart.

The episode’s real problem is that at no point is Eastman’s idealism challenged by the “real world.” We have no idea how Eastman would handle someone like the Governor, or Shane, or the Wolves, which means when Morgan finishes telling his ridiculously long story and the Wolf promises to kill everyone in town, especially the children, it’s hard not to feel foolish, like all this has been an enormous waste of time—that the Tao of Eastman only works when you have an idyllic cabin the woods with a cell in it and don’t meet anybody.

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Morgan doesn’t kill the Wolf, but leaves him tied up and locked in a house. He has a troubled look on his face, but I assume he believes there’s hope. I also have to believe, because otherwise The Walking Dead is just an eternal showcase of humanity at its worst, and not a story of people trying to retain their humanity while others abandon it. I know Morgan probably isn’t going to turn the townsfolk of Alexandria into a legion of warrior monks destined to bring peace to the post-apocalypse, but… I really wouldn’t mind if he did.

Barring that, I believe that Morgan—WITH THE POWER OF EASTMAN, PRINCE OF PEACE—will be the one who finally helps Rick regain some of the humanity that he’s lost. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be total, and chances are Morgan will probably have to die in order for Rick to achieve it. But I have hope. Because without hope, why is anybody fighting to survive? Without hope, why are we even watching?

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Illustration for article titled We Just Met the Real Hero of iThe Walking Dead/i

Assorted Musings:

• All that said, I have no idea why the episode needed to be 90 minutes long.

• Morgan’s flashback ends with him seeing a sign for Terminus, and giving a big smile. I understand that’s where we first picked up with his character after “Clear,” but knowing what we do about Terminus, it’s another awkward moment that hints that Eastman has doomed Morgan, and not saved him.

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• Rick arrives at Alexandria the end of the episode, so apparently he survived being trapped in that Winnebago.

• Hey, The Talking Dead. I know you love having “surprise” guests, but when the episode almost literally only has two characters in it, it’s pretty goddamned easy to figure out who the guests are gonna be, okay?

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Contact the author at rob@io9.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robbricken.

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DISCUSSION

Cool_Breeze
Cool_Breeze

What a fun trip we all had this week with Morgan at the wheel. A few times there it felt like the wheels might come off, but we made it through. Morgan made it through the roughest of patches, and that gives hope to other characters in a show where hope is hard to come by. All it took was a little Aikido.

1. Since we first saw Morgan, he been through some shit, and had to deal with it (mostly) alone. This episode we got to see him come back from beyond the brink. A big theme of last season was whether we could come back from that dark place, and Rick seemed like he was right on the edge. The end of last season and the first few episodes this season show that Rick has embraced the edge, but he’s still right there.

Last episode ended with Rick realizing that leaving Alexandria to fend for it self might have been a foolish move, what with that Wolf having the apple sauce from his house and all. Cracks were starting to show through that tough facade he was putting on. There’s hope that he can come back.

The story of how Morgan came back from his state in Clear is a road map for Rick to regain whatever humanity he has lost so far. Morgan was normal, until Dwayne died. but not only did Dwayne die - his walker-mom was the one that did it, because Morgan wasn’t strong enough to do what he had to do.

So he compensated. Morgan made it his life’s purpose to clear the world of Walkers and people alike. It got so bad, that it didn’t matter to him who he cleared - living or dead. Morgan’s shift from somewhat normal person to terminator with a mission was quick. Rick’s change has evolved slowly since Lori wouldn’t stop calling him on that damn phone.

After Rick ditched the phone, he calmed down some, but the whole drifters trying to have their way with Carl and Terminus put him back over the edge. In order to survive and keep his family alive, he had to be ruthless. For Morgan - in order to clear the world, he had to be ruthless.

The only difference between Rick now and Morgan before he met Eastman is that Morgan was alone, and Rick has a family that keeps him somewhatgrounded. They provide a dissenting voice when it’s needed, and for the most part he actually listens to it. But when his mind is made up, they stay out of the way or help. Morgan was alone.

If Morgan’s trip were a scale from one to ten, with one being Clear Morgan and ten being Aikido Morgan, Rick is probably at a three (I’d call that return to the scene of the strangling Morgan) only because he has a support team from keeping him from going further.

Eastman, as a criminal forensic psychiatrist, taught Morgan that he could overcome the horror that was his past, and use it to make himself into a better person. He remarked that with his PTSD, no matter what he did, he was right back at that horrible moment. There is a way out, even in this horrible world. It took Morgan a while to listen, but he eventually did, and was able to find his way back from over the edge.

The same can be done for Rick, and Rick is actually better positioned to recover than Morgan simply because he is not alone. Rick is going to need some catalyst to pick up what Morgan is putting down, and I feel we may have already seen it: His realization that his choices get people he love killed. He doesn’t know about Glenn, and he has worries about Carl and Judith. He’ll find out next week that they are alive (based on the teaser for the next episode), and Morgan will be better able to help bring him back from the edge.

Rick isn’t going to be using a staff any time soon, but he’ll be more compassionate, and after this eventual herd of walkers gets cleared from Alexandria, he’ll be open to the idea that even in this horrible world, he doesn’t have to live in the past, and can come back from the edge, and rejoin humanity. To make up for what he did, and to vow never to do it again.

You know, until Negan comes along.

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