In “Here’s Not Here,” The Walking Dead slows down the pace after three intense episodes. We weren’t confident we could really focus on a Morgan-centric episode when we are wondering if Glenn is dead or alive, but this glimpse into Morgan’s past keeps us riveted. In “Here’s Not Here” both Lennie James as Morgan and John Carroll Lynch as Eastman give us outstanding performances.
Having nothing to live for and being wracked with guilt after losing his wife and son, Morgan was kind of a mess. Though we might have thought that it was Rick’s kindness in “Clear” that pulled Morgan back from the brink, it turns out it was Eastman’s cellblock therapy that really helped him to choose a new path. With his mentor Eastman’s death, Morgan has even more reason to live up to this new code, beyond his atonement. Will Morgan accomplish what even Eastman could not? Will he see all life as precious even when it comes to the bloodthirsty young Wolf (Benedict Samuel) in his custody? He didn’t go so far as to leave the door unlocked, so he may understand that his choices, and the beliefs that may guide them, affect the others in Alexandria.
“Here’s Not Here” provides a fascinating opportunity to understand Morgan’s character and beliefs, particularly since it’s clear that his no-kill code has already put Alexandria at risk. If he had killed the two Wolves in “Conquer,” this chain of events may have been avoided. The Wolves Morgan chased out of Alexandria, rather than killed, in “JSS” attacked the RV and circumvented Rick’s attempt to lead the herd away in “Thank You.”
The Walking Dead is accused of acting harshly towards idealistic characters who hope for a kinder, gentler world or fail to act because of outmoded belief systems. Yet it’s often the audience that is the harshest critic of actions driven by hope, compassion, and idealism. We support such behaviors only when they result in a happy outcome. Michonne’s hope seemed well placed now that we know Alexandria is safe, but would we have called her naïve or foolish if it had been the next Terminus? Well before Nick pulled Glenn into a herd of walkers, many complained that Glenn had let Nick live. Is Morgan’s backstory intended to mediate an acceptance of rationalized violence against others, whether it’s Pete being executed or a desperate hitchhiker being left to be killed by walkers? Regardless, we are left with great sympathy for Morgan and this difficult line he walks in order to keep his sanity.
We flashback to the episode “Clear,” in which Morgan has had a breakdown after failing to keep his son safe. After his wife Jenny had turned, she kept hanging around their house out of a sense of familiarity. Though he knew he should kill his undead wife, Morgan couldn’t do it. Eventually she bit their son Duane, and Morgan lost him as well.
After losing his family, Morgan goes on a rampage—trapping, killing, and burning walkers. He’s on a mission to “clear.” Walkers aren’t the only target of his clearing effort. As he walks through the woods, Morgan is followed by two humans. We never learn what these men want, because Morgan kills them before either can get a word out. Morgan doesn’t have three questions to screen people like Rick did. He’s taking more of a “Kill now, ask questions never” approach.
Morgan hears a goat bleating and comes upon a goat tied up outside a cabin. Before Morgan can steal the goat, a man tells him to step away, that it’s not his. Unseen, the man tells Morgan he still needs the goat because he’s learning how to make cheese. Morgan continues to walk around the cabin with his gun, hunting for the man, until the cheesemaker-to-be finally knocks Morgan unconscious with his staff. That’s what you get for picking on a goat.
Meet the Cheesemaker
Morgan wakes up in a cell with a plate of food nearby. The man with the bo staff comes into the room with the cell. When the man asks his name, all Morgan can do is scream at him, “Kill me!” The man drops the book The Art of Peace into the cell as he introduces himself as Eastman. Guess they’ll be no more killing today.
Eastman eventually has to bring his goat, Tabitha, inside to protect her from the walkers. Eastman tells Morgan, “You shot at me. I fed you. Please don’t hurt her.” He turns off the lights and goes to bed. Over the next few days Morgan continues to talk to himself in a mad way, while watching Eastman practice with his staff, protect his goat, and attempt to make cheese.
After some time has passed, Eastman talks to Morgan more in depth. He’s a forensic psychiatrist. When he asks Morgan what he did or what he does now, Morgan tells him that he clears. He clears walkers, humans, anything that gets near him. Eastman responds, “That’s the biggest load of horseshit I ever heard.”
Later, Eastman tells Morgan, “It’s PTSD, you’ve been through trauma, right?” Eastman has his own version of three questions, asking Morgan if he killed a lot of people, if they were threatening or attacking him, and if he saved anyone. Morgan tells him about killing the two humans, telling Eastman they were probably a father and son. When Eastman asked him if he saved anyone, Morgan says he did but they were pointless acts. Morgan threatens Eastman, telling him he will kill him when he gets out because he has to “clear.” Eastman tells Morgan:
“See, that’s the thing. You don’t. We’re not built to kill. We don’t have claws or fangs or armor. Vets that came back with PTSD, that didn’t happen because we’re comfortable with killing. We’re not. We can’t be. We feel. We’re connected. You know, I’ve interviewed over 825 people who’ve done terrible things. I’ve only met one evil person. Some of them were born with bad brains. Some of them got sick along the way. The rest were just damaged people. Traumatized themselves like you, but they could heal. Some more, some less, but they can. We all can. I know it.”
Eastman tells Morgan that he needs to choose a different path, to walk through a different door. Eastman tells him that the door is open, literally, as he has no key to lock the cell anymore. Morgan thought he was trapped, but has been free all this time. Eastman tells Morgan that he can stay or go, but he won’t allow Morgan to kill him. Sure Morgan has free will, but so does Eastman.
Morgan walks out of the cell and charges at Eastman. He is no match for the cheesemaker, who puts in him a hold until Morgan calms down. When Eastman sees that Morgan has ripped the child’s drawing he had on the wall, he holds the staff at Morgan’s throat for a moment. Morgan begs, “Kill me,” and Eastman pulls the staff away. When given the choice of the leaving or taking the couch, Morgan crawls back into the cell. Though he attacked Eastman, he starts to turn the corner by choosing to stay.
Eastman learned Aikido to deal with the stress of hearing the stories of the prisoners he evaluated. He offers to teach Morgan Aikido because he needs someone to go with him on his trip, though he doesn’t yet know where they’re going.
Opening the Door
The next day Eastman invites Morgan to go outside with him, but he declines. Eastman asks Morgan to at least keep an eye on his goat, Tabitha. After Eastman leaves, Morgan picks up “The Art of Peace” and reads the note in the front of the book:
“Aikido means not to kill. Although nearly all creeds have a commandment against taking life, most of them justify killing for one reason or another. In Aikido, however, we try to completely avoid killing, even the most evil person.” He drops the book, not wanting to hear the message.
He hears Tabitha’s bleating and walker growling. He almost does nothing, but finally gets up to rescue the goat. As he fights with a walker, he sees a wedding ring on a chain around the walker’s neck. He finally kills the walkers, cries for a bit, then gets up. He drags the bodies in the direction he saw Eastman bring the other walkers and finds a makeshift graveyard. Eastman joins him, helping to make a marker for these walkers who were once people with lives and families. Eastman tells Morgan he saved a goat today, adding, “Progress.”
Eastman begins to teach Morgan the practice of Aikido. He tells Morgan it’s about redirecting and about caring about the welfare of your opponent. He tells Morgan, “You have to believe your life is precious, that all life is precious.” Through their practice, they hope to live with what they’ve done “by moving forward with a code to never do it again.”
Morgan asks why he has a cell in his house and Eastman tells him a story about an inmate he had evaluated named Crighton Dallas Wilton. When he was up for parole, the prisoner Wilton did all the right things, including going into therapy. Yet, Eastman saw right through him. He could see that Wilton was a true psychopath who knew how to play people. When Wilton realized that Eastman knew his true nature, he attacked him. Eastman “saw his face, his, his eyes, his evil. Mask had slipped.” After being denied parole, Wilton broke out of the prison just to kill Eastman’s wife, daughter, and son, and then turned himself in. Eastman built the cell with the intention of bringing Wilton to the cell and watching him starve to death. When Morgan asks Eastman if he killed the man, Eastman responds, “I have come to believe that all life is precious.”
The Circle of Life and Death
They need gear for their trip. Eastman is thinking about going to the islands offshore. Morgan knows where they can get gear, and takes Eastman back to where he had been clearing. When Eastman asks whom he has lost, Morgan tells him he lost his wife and son, finally saying their names. Eastman makes Morgan practice his Aikido forms to help him redirect his thoughts. Eastman tells Morgan, “You’re gonna hold a baby again,” foreshadowing Morgan holding Judith in “First Time Again.”
A walker comes out of the woods and Morgan can see it’s the young man he strangled but apparently never bothered to stab in the head. Doesn’t seem like very effective clearing. Morgan panics and Eastman has to step in to save him, getting bitten in the process. Morgan yells at Eastman, telling him that wasn’t for him to do. Eastman tells him he needs to come back to the cabin, but Morgan refuses. They begin to fight and when Eastman disarms him, Morgan begins yelling, “Kill me. Kill me.” So much for Morgan’s progress. Eastman tells him, “Well, that’s the thing, Morgan. Here’s not here,” referring to the very words Morgan has written on the nearby rocks. Eastman puts the body of the walker in the cart and starts heading back to the cabin.
Morgan seems to have gone back to clearing. He kills a walker, but then finds himself face to face with a human couple. He growls at them. They freeze and put a can on food on the ground. He puts his staff down. The woman says, “Thank you,” and they quickly leave. This act of civility seems to snap Morgan back.
Morgan makes his way back to the cabin, where he finds Tabitha being eaten by a walker. Poor Tabitha. He kills the walker and brings the dead goat over to Eastman’s graveyard. Eastman is there, burying a walker.
Eastman: “Oh she got out. She figured out the door was open too.”
Morgan: “I didn’t figure it out. You had to tell me.”
Morgan looks at the cemetery markers and sees the name “Crighton Dallas Wilton.” It turns out that Eastman didn’t come to believe that all life is precious until after took Wilton from a roadside work crew, locked him in the cell, and let him starve to death over 47 days.
Eastman: “What I did to him, it didn’t give me any peace. I found my peace when I decided to never kill again. To never kill anything again. When I decided to settle things, I went back to Atlanta to turn myself in. That’s how I found out the world ended.”
Morgan: “But the world hasn’t ended.”
Eastman tells Morgan he can stay at the cabin, but he shouldn’t. “Everything is about people. Everything in this life that’s worth a damn.” Eastman tells him he’s ready to die, but before he does, he gives Morgan a lucky rabbit’s foot that his daughter had given to him. Later, Morgan leaves the cabin, walking through the woods holding the rabbit’s foot. He finds signs to Terminus and begins to head down the tracks.
We return to the present, and find Morgan telling this story to the Wolf he captured in Alexandria. By sharing his own story of redemption, he hopes to be able to redeem this Wolf who has twice tried to kill him. After seeing the pictures of Alexandria, the Wolf thought there might be some medicine to help him. He shows Morgan his walker bite and warns him:
“So I know I’m probably going to die. But if I don’t … I am going to have to kill you, Morgan. I’m going to have to kill every person here. Every one of them. The children, too. Just like your friend Eastman’s children. Those are the rules. That’s my code. I’d say I’m sorry, but you said it, right? Don’t ever be sorry.”
It looks like Morgan isn’t the only one with a code. Two codes, each of which could cause devastation to Alexandria, either directly or indirectly. Morgan leaves, locking the door to where he is holding the Wolf. He hears shouting, which sounds like Rick, and runs towards the noise.
“Here’s Not Here” reminds us that the world of The Walking Dead is a mad one, where people may have to act in ways that run counter to their humanity. Yet if they don’t keep connected to their humanity, they can lose their grip on reality completely. This well-told story is a great standalone episode about finding peace after your world has been destroyed, whether by a zombie apocalypse or a psychopathic killer. Both Morgan and Eastman not only had to live with the pain of losing their family, but also with their own inhumane actions following the loss. Morgan’s moral code may give him the peace of mind he needs, but at whose expense? We all love a good redemption story, and in “Here’s Not Here” The Walking Dead gives us a morally complex tale that leaves us anticipating its impact.