Airdate: November 1, 2015
Directed by: Stephen Williams
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Scott M. Gimple (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)
Tonight’s episode was a hugely gutsy move. Last season, we went all-out for the first three episodes, and came to a lurching halt with Episode 504, “Slabtown.” The change of pace jarred the narrative flow of the first half of the season, a flow that wasn’t really recaptured until the mid-season finale. “Here’s Not Here,” clocking in at one and a half hours, takes the same chance as last year’s fourth outing – only this time around, it works very well indeed. Click through for my full review.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S06E04, “Here’s Not Here” – read more at your own risk.>>
The primary conceit of 504 was that we finally got to see what had happened to Beth after she was abducted. Similarly, 604 is about a character’s whereabouts and actions away from the main group, this time telling us how Morgan went from the fundamentally damaged man we saw in Episode 312, “Clear,” to the jo-stick wielding monk we now know.
The episode was penned by showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and according to Lennie James, was shot out of sequence from the main Alexandria episodes – he said on Talking Dead tonight that the episodes were filmed 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and then 4. Gimple kept the script secret from everyone, including James, with a draft only being ready to be shared (with executive producer Greg Nicotero) after this year’s Comic Con.
The episode is presented as a frame narrative: Morgan is telling his origin story to the Wolf he fought one-on-one against two weeks ago. This immediately answers the question of whether or not he killed the Wolf when he said, “I’m sorry” – the answer is no – and forces us to ask, just what is Morgan hoping to accomplish in keeping him alive? He gives his story as an offering. When the Wolf and his (now dead) partner attacked Morgan last season, they told him that they wanted everything he had, every part of him. And this is what Morgan gives him.
We see Morgan in the room where Rick, Michonne, and Karl found him in clear, but he quickly gathers his few belongings and heads out on the road. He reestablishes himself in a forest clearing, killing walkers and piling their bodies in big bonfire, attracting in turn more walkers. One even walks right through the flames, continuing on its mindless attempts to eat Morgan. Over the next days/weeks/months, Morgan builds a more established killing field, placing sharpened posts all around his clearing, and painting slogans and sayings on boulders around the area – things like “Clear” and “Here’s not here,” most of which were things he’d scrawled in his home back in town.
He’s almost fully feral, and one day when stalking through the woods he senses that he, in turn, is being stalked. He lies in wait, and stabs the second of two men to pass him right in the throat with his sharpened spear, choking the first with his bare hands as the man tries to apologize to him. After having gotten used to Morgan as a peaceful observer of the sanctity of life over the last half dozen or so episodes, this was a real shock to the system. He doesn’t even engage – he quite literally goes straight for the jugular.
Some indeterminate time later, he hears a goat bleating on one of his walks, and tracks down the source. He finds a well-tended cabin with outbuildings, cans on strings to act as alarms, and a goat tethered in the middle of a small clearing. As he approaches, a voice asks him not to harm the goat – her name is Tabitha. Morgan shoots at the man who spoke, missing. The man keeps offering to have him in as a guest, but Morgan stalks him like prey. After one final chance, the cabin owner hits Morgan from behind with a staff, and apologizes as he knocks him unconscious.
Morgan awakens in a cell, located inside the cabin’s living room. The man who has captured him is Eastwood [John Carroll Lynch], and it turns out he’s a psychiatrist with a specialization in criminal recidivism – his job was determining whether or not inmates were ready to be released into society, and whether or not they were likely to reoffend. Morgan pleads with him to kill him, but Eastman just ignores the request. Instead, one of the first things he does is toss a book into Morgan’s cell: The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba. Morgan leaves it where it falls, and for several weeks, observes Eastwood as he kills walkers and drags them away, all while tending his garden and trying to (unsuccessfully) make tasty cheese from Tabitha’s milk.
Turns out it’s not just the garden Eastman’s tending, as he does his best to help Morgan come out of his homicidal shell. About halfway through the episode, Eastman tells Morgan that the door to his cell is open – that it’s always been open. As soon as Morgan comes out, he tries to take out Eastman, the latter finally getting the better of him and holding Morgan on the cabin floor. “Kill me, kill me” Morgan pleads once again. He explains to Eastman (although it sounds more like he’s justifying his actions to himself) that this is what he does, what he is: he clears, clears areas of walkers and humans both, because the world has come to an end. But Eastman sees something more behind the madness and disconnection, subduing Morgan and continuing to teach him. On more than one occasion, as Morgan comes to a new realization about himself, Eastman simply replies, “Progress.”
A pivotal moment occurs when Eastman’s left Morgan alone, asking him to watch out for Tabitha. He hears Tabitha bleating, and walkers moaning, so he finally leaves his cell again, although reluctantly. He kills the two walkers, puts Tabitha inside, and then takes the corpses in the direction he’s seen Eastman taking the others – turns out, there’s a whole cemetery full of walker corpses out back of the cabin, complete with wooden markers engraved with the names Eastman has found on driver’s licenses and other ID. Back at the cabin, Eastman returns Morgan’s spear. “I fixed it,” he tells him – he’s cut the sharp end off, and polished the shaft, making it into a hardened jo stick. Morgan finally begins to read The Art of Peace.
Over the next several months, the two men develop a friendship, a sempai/kohai relationship with Eastman taking on the Miyagi-sensei/Yoda role to Morgan’s Daniel-san/Luke – only Morgan is a lot less whiny and a lot more unbalanced. The Aikido training Eastman gives him, however, helps him to find his balance once again. As they bond, they open up more to each other about their pasts. We learn that Eastman, just like Morgan, has lost his entire family. In his case it was to the hands of a psychotic murderer, Creighton Dallas Howard, whom Eastman refused to allow out of prison. He used his charisma and charm to convince others to help him escape. He went straight to Eastman’s home, killed his wife and two children, and then turned himself in again. This hugely traumatic event sent Eastman down the same rabbit hole Morgan is finally pulling himself out of. These commonalities between the two men lead to mutual respect, and a pretty cozy life of tending the garden, making cheese, and practicing Aikido beside the picturesque local river.
This lasts until, preparing to leave the cabin and head toward the coast (Eastman feels that life might be safer on one of the coastal islands), Morgan tells him that he knows where they can find supplies. They head to Morgan’s clearing, still largely intact. As they gather supplies, a walker approaches – it’s the man that Morgan choked before meeting Eastman. He freezes, and when Eastman pushes him aside to save him, gets bitten himself in the back. They dispatch the walker, but Morgan snaps – he keeps yelling “Not here!” at Eastman, and attacks him with his jo stick. The two struggle briefly, but Eastman is still the master, and quickly has Morgan on his back. “Just kill me. Kill me!” Morgan yells, but Eastman, as he’s told him before, feels that all life is precious. They part, and Morgan begins to turn feral again.
We see him back in stalking mode, coming up behind a walker and sticking it in the skull. As it falls, we see a man and a woman that the walker, in turn, was stalking. Morgan brandishes his newly resharpened spear at them, grunting. The man is using a crutch, and the woman is shaking, obviously afraid that Morgan is about to attack them. The woman cautiously makes Morgan an offering – a large can of chicken noodle soup, and a single large caliber bullet. “Thank you,” she says, as she and the man walk away slowly. Morgan looks confused, torn – and a single tear falls from his eye.
Coming to an epiphany – that life is, indeed, precious – he returns to the cabin, only to find Tabitha eviscerated on the ground, a walker gorging on her innards. He dispatches the walker, and takes him out to the graveyard, where he finds a seriously weakened Eastman trying to dig a grave. Morgan helps, and as he does, finds a grave marker for Creighton Dallas Howard: the psychotic individual who killed Eastman’s family. Eastman comes clean – he brought the killer here, and starved him to death in the cell (hence the cell’s convenient existence). He realized that killing Howard did nothing to make him feel better, to ease his pain, and he fully embraces the way of peace. A day or two later, he tells Morgan that he’s ready to go, and that he has a gun. Sadly, Eastman – faced with the certainty that he is dying and will soon become a walker himself – decides to take his own life. He tells Morgan that he’s welcome to stay, but that he shouldn’t; Morgan agrees, telling him he already knows what to do.
The episode ends with us back in Alexandria, as Morgan is talking to the Wolf. The Wolf senses that what Morgan is really trying to do, is to convince him, much as Morgan was himself, that the way of killing is no way at all. The Wolf very clearly and calmly explains that, should he survive an infected cut he has on his side, and should he get free, he will kill everyone in Alexandria, even, as he says, “the children.” He says this with a grin and apparently clear conscience. Just as Morgan knew that “clearing” was the right thing for him to be doing, the Wolf has a certain moral clarity about his own actions. Not exactly the kind of enemy you can negotiate with. And yet. And yet Morgan leaves him in the basement of an unoccupied house, tied up and locked in to be certain, but a Wolf in the sheepfold nonetheless.
Much of the episode is carried by Lynch as Eastman, who talks at length about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and its effects on the human mind. Casting Lynch here was a real coup for Gimple. He has the feel of a gentle giant with a dangerous aspect that is just below the surface, and he’s also an excellent actor who is able to come aboard the TWD train and go shot-for-shot with James, arguably one of the better actors in the group. For James’s part, he emotes with the best of them; more than half of his communication tonight was done through meaningful looks and body language. When he’s first released from the cage by Eastman, Morgan’s hunched shoulders and low posture make him look more beast than man, a predator ready to pounce on its prey. Watching these two actors play off one another was a real pleasure.
No, the action never quite ramps up to the levels seen the last two weeks, but “Here’s Not Here” is an excellent episode nonetheless. In fact, I suspect that this episode turned out much better than a comparable story told with more action would have. Gimple and first-time director Stephen Williams team together to give us a nice interlude after the craziness in the Alexandria Safe Zone, and give us another week to hold our collective breaths as we wonder about Glenn’s fate.
Steve’s Grade: A-
Another solid episode to continue what has been, aside from the first episode, a stellar outing so far from Gimple and co. Now if only they’d let us know whether or not Glenn is still alive – how about a flashforward instead of a flashback!