And from one walker attack to another, and Glenn’s fate left up in the air, there’s only one way to move forward: a flashback episode. So we’ve seen Morgan go from being a broken man to a competent warrior with a new appreciation for life, but how did he get here? Last Rick saw him, he was a wrecked man.
Then we see him taking on walkers from all sides and rescuing Aaron and Daryl from certain death. This sort of change doesn’t just happen overnight, so let’s see what led Morgan to this point. Welcome to “Here’s Not Here.”
The episode begins with “Now.” Morgan remembers that his captive liked talking, but it’s Morgan doing the talking now.
Suddenly, “Then.” We cut back to an earlier point in time, presumably not long after the events of “Clear,” as Morgan rants to himself about how it doesn’t matter how much time has passed. Someone was supposed to. As Morgan rambles to himself, a growing fire spreads. I assume he’s not going to will the fire into acting on his command.
Later, Morgan, now with some riot gear, makes his way through the woods, taking out as many walkers as he can find and dumping them into a pile. That night, he sets fire to the rain. I mean, he sets fire to the walker pile. Morgan walkers approach, but Morgan makes quick work of them. Hell, one even walks right through the flames. That’s commitment.
The next morning, Morgan fashions a barrier of sharpened sticks. He lives a simple life. Eating and drinking when he can, but still remaining a hardened warrior. Morgan catches a whiff of two men pursuing him. He kills one in no time with his sick and chokes the other to death with his bare hands. More bodies for the fire.
Morgan’s barrier comes in handy to stop walkers from entering his domain. He uses the walker blood to make marks in trees and rocks, such as “Here’s Not Here” and “Clear.” He must have researched this show’s episode titles.
Following this, Morgan arrives at a serene location. You know what it is, he says, all while swinging his staff. Upon hearing a sound, he grabs his gun and heads to a location marked by cans on strings. He spots some cabins and tries to free the goat, but a voice tells him to not let it go. He still needs it to figure out how to make cheese.
Morgan fires at someone ahead, but the person remains peaceful. Even offers some falafel. You can still get falafel after the world goes to hell. Remember that. The man offers Morgan multiple chances to lower his weapon, but Morgan refuses. Instead, he sneaks along the location to get a good shot. He’s soon knocked out by a man in white.
Later, he awakens in a cell inside the cabin. The man soon enters with some hardware supplies and asks the man’s name. Morgan responds that his name is ‘Kill Me.’ Stupid name. The man refuses Morgan’s demand to kill him. Instead, he tosses him a booklet called The Art of Peace.
We then learn the man’s name: Eastman, played by John Carroll Lynch. He then heads out to take care of a walker before it gets to Tabitha. So the goat has a name as well, looks like.
So Morgan eventually decides to eat, but he keeps talking to himself while Eastman continues to build. Because of the potential walker attack, he brings Tabitha indoors. Eastman figures that since he fed Morgan, after he shot at him, the least Morgan could do is not bother Tabitha.
The next day, Morgan watches Eastman train in the distance and continue to take care of walkers. Eastman tries his hand at some cooking, but he’s not so great at it.
Later, Eastman engages Morgan and lets him know that he’s a forensic psychiatrist who was employed to see if people released from prison would commit crimes again. Now he lives there because of walker outbreak again. What does Morgan do? He clears walkers, humans, anything that comes near him. Why? Because Morgan figures that’s why he’s still here. Yeah, Eastman calls that a load of horseshit.
As night falls, Morgan fashions himself a blade and begins to pry the wood away from the windows. He doesn’t make much progress since Eastman returns not long after he begins. Eastman declares that Morgan has PTSD. Morgan details the gory details of how he killed two men, leading to the blood on his stick. Yes, Morgan has killed a lot of people, even some that weren’t attacking him.
But did he save people? Even if he did, Morgan considers that a pointless act since everybody turns. Eastman notes that he saw a wedding ring on Morgan’s finger, so he must have had people that he loved…a lot of love if he’s like this. He must have seen someone close turn- it’s all happening in front of him. His mind is here now, but his mind is back there. His mind wants to go through a door, but it takes him back to a horrific moment. So he tries to just sit without going through the door.
Morgan says that he has to kill Eastman so he can keep clearing, but Eastman says that he may not have to. Vets that came back with PTSD didn’t become like that because they were comfortable with killing. Of all the people Eastman interviewed, he only met one bad person. The rest were traumatized, but they could heal. Eastman knows this. It’s all a circle and everything gets a return. For Morgan, the door is open. As in the cell door is open…and has been open the entire time. You dick. Eastman offers Morgan a chance to go leave so he can clear, or he can stay and find a better way. Either way, Eastman will not allow Morgan to kill him.
So Morgan checks and the door is indeed unlocked. He steps out and charges for Eastman. Eastman makes quick work of Morgan and subdues him. Eastman reminds Morgan of his choices. Morgan soon gains the upper hand and tries to strangle Eastman, but the tables turn and Eastman is able to restrain him. Morgan soon surrenders. Again, Morgan begs to be killed. Considering that he ruined Eastman’s piece of artwork, maybe he should die.
You had two choices, Morgan: the door or the couch. Instead, he opts for the third option and returns to his cell. He even close the cell door after Eastman opens it.
That evening, Eastman tells Morgan that aikido helped him. The people he evaluated in prison had horrific stories to tell. One night, his five year old daughter found him crying in the garage after eight beers, but he claimed that he wasn’t feeling well. She gave him a trinket that she won at a carnival at school. It was supposed to make him feel better. Next thing, Aikido.
Morgan interjects that Eastman’s wife and daughter are dead. Aikido can help Morgan since he’s a shit conversationalist, and Eastman will need help for this trip. Trip where? Eastman has no idea. Lights out for the night. Morgan walks out of the cell and observes the drawing that he knocked down.
The next morning, we learn that Eastman is a vegetarian. He doesn’t kill, but he’s not giving up on chocolate anytime soon. He does have some cheat days, though Hell, live a little. Eastman will be going out to check for items and invites Morgan along, but if not, he can stay and watch Tabitha.
With Eastman gone, Morgan picks up The Art of Peace. We learn that aikido means to not kill. Morgan overhears Tabitha crying for help. She’s almost attacked by a pair of walkers, but Morgan takes care of them.
So Morgan drags the walker along and eventually arrives at a makeshift cemetery, where he starts digging. Eastman soon joins Morgan and thanks him for saving Tabitha. Eastman goes through the walker’s pockets and fins a wallet inside one. He uses the name on the driver license to make the names on the graves.
Back at the cabin, Eastman demands that Morgan fix the fence he inadvertently broke. Second, he did Morgan the favor of fixing his spear. In addition, he presents him with a new staff.
Morgan keeps his promise and helps Eastman rebuild the garden. Eastman, in return, teaches Morgan how to care about the welfare of his opponent. All life is precious. The negative thoughts must be redirected. In between this, Morgan reads more of The Art of Peace. The key is to accept and protect everyone. In doing that, you protect yourself and create peace.
Later on, Morgan asks why Eastman has a cell in his cabin. Eastman built this place with his wife. There was no cell back then- just another living room. Eastman speaks of the convicts he interviewed. One man, Crighton Dallas Wilton, was up for parole and came off as likable to Morgan. He wrote letters to the prison board. Standup guy, but Eastman saw through him as a psychopath that knew how to play people.
During one exchange, there was a moment where, right there and then, Eastman knew that Crighton could tell that Eastman saw the real him. That model prisoner stood up, smiled, and cracked Morgan across the face. The floor polisher blocked out every sound during this exchange. Eastman saw the evil in his eyes as the man’s mask slipped. Crighton would have killed Eastman to make sure he couldn’t be stopped from escaping.
But luckily, Eastman knew a self-defense technique that saved his life and made sure that Crighton never got out again. He still did, but it wasn’t to escape. Dallas killed Eastman’s family, and then walked down the street to the police station, covered in blood, and surrendered. His reason for breaking out to destroy Eastman’s life. Following that, a year passed and Dallas was allowed to work those plots by the roads out by 85, grow chrysanthemums, forget-me-nots.
Eastman built this cell to bring Dallas in and watch him starve to death behind those bars. He has come to believe that all life is precious…even for a man as evil as that. When Morgan challenges that assertion, Eastman merely repeats that all life is precious. That’s why the two of them are having oatmeal burgers. Morgan notes that Eastman is good at redirecting.
Next day, Eastman plans to get more supplies, and Morgan has a good idea of where to look. He takes Eastman to his spot. Eastman asks who Morgan lost…and Morgan says that he lost his wife and son. But their names, though. What were their names? Jenny and Dwayne. Morgan says that Eastman has no reason to be sorry, so Eastman orders him to assume his form. Morgan makes a few strikes and redirects his anger.
A walker approaches, but Eastman is too shell-shocked to do anything. Eastman kills it, but gets bitten in the process. Morgan rages that Eastman can’t just step in and refuses to head back, but Eastman insists that he return since he made it back. The two fight and though Morgan puts up more of a fight than his initial outing, Eastman still overtakes and refuses to kill Morgan. Even though Morgan didn’t want it to happen here, Eastman retorts that here’s not here.
So Morgan remains in his zone and goes back to fashioning spears for the hunt. He stalks a walker and stakes it through the head before it can kill two random travelers, who are scared shitless by this random black guy with a spear. One of them hands over a can of chicken noodle soup and a bullet. She then thanks Morgan as the two go on their way.
Later, Morgan returns to the cabin and finds a walker feeding on Tabitha. Well, that’s damn unfortunate.
Morgan meets Eastman at the gravesite. He’s dismayed to learn that Tabitha got out. Wouldn’t you know it, the door was open, too. Morgan takes over for digging, but spots a grave for Crighton Dallas. Yes, he was allowed to work. Eastman learned his schedule and soon got him in his car quick. If Eastman had been caught, he would have been fine with that. Eastman did indeed put Dallas in that cell and watched him starve to death in 47 days. At that point, Eastman was at the point where Morgan is now.
But what Eastman did gave him no peace. His peace came when he decided to never kill anything again. He then went back to Atlanta, but found out that the world ended. But, Morgan retorts, the world hasn’t ended.
Back at the cabin, Eastman explains that his daughter drew that drawing on the wall and Eastman just put a frame on it. He couldn’t turn himself in since the world went to hell. So he walked a long while through the dead for a piece of drywall. Still the best thing he did. Eastman offers a chance for Morgan to remain here for the rest of his life. He’ll be secure, but alone. Everything is about people. Eastman decides that he’s ready. But before that, he hands Morgan the good luck charm. Morgan has made up his mind.
Later, Morgan is packed up and ready to go. He heads back to the gravesite- not sporting a new grave- and makes his way out with a new resolve. He soon arrives at a set of train tracks, along with a sign and map that directs him to a place called Terminus.
We then return to the present where Morgan finishes his tale to the Wolf, who thinks that this could have worked out for him as well. Even still, he’s sweating and shaking. He saw how settled the place was and thought maybe there would be something to help for his wound. But that was before the people of Alexandria won. If he’s about to die, then fine, but if he doesn’t, he’ll have to kill everyone in the community, just like Eastman’s children. Those are the rules. He’d apologize, but like Morgan said, don’t ever be sorry.
Morgan gives no response. He leaves and locks the door behind him. He then hears someone yell to open the gate.
Well done, really. After dealing with walker attacks on all fronts for the past few episodes, we get a more focused tale in “Here’s Not Here” and it’s a welcome one that helped flesh out Morgan between “Clear” and now.
A lot of credit should go to Scott Gimple, who has far beyond proven his writing prowess with episodes like “Clear,” “What Happened and What’s Going On” and “The Grove.” The Walking Dead has a lot of talent in its writing staff, no doubt, but Gimple’s name sticks out to me because he does an effective job of crafting a well-paced story that allows the atmosphere and tension to build- all while still providing strong character development.
And if anyone needed that, it was a character like Morgan, who has been around since the pilot, but we’ve seen little of him. What we knew about Morgan, from his refusal to kill his turned wife, was that he’s a man trying to make it in this new world, but couldn’t fully let go of the world he left and the people in it. He wasn’t a pacifist, but if he didn’t have to kill his wife, he wouldn’t.
When we fast forward to “Clear,” Morgan had become a shell of himself, going as far as telling Rick that Carl would die. At this point, Morgan had lost everything. Dwayne was no longer at his side and he had no reason to live. So he resigned himself to clearing. But these random killings gave him no peace. He’d become an absolute shell of his former self. Had he continued going down this dark path, he’d be no different than the psychopaths Eastman described.
So this episode brought us up to speed on where Morgan’s newfound optimism and appreciation for life came from in the form of Eastman’s teachings. I understand that people would take issue with Morgan refusing to take lives. As we’ve seen with the likes of Bob and Tyreese, mercy and optimism don’t cut it in this world. The Carols and Rick Grimes have a better chance of survival.
But Eastman is a different sort. He had worked with horrible people before- one of whom killed his very family just to get to him. So while the walker outbreak turned things upside down for world, Eastman had already been deeply wounded before things got crazy. After losing his family and even trying to turn himself in, Eastman became Morgan at that point- going through life with no resolve.
This is what I feel makes the aikido teachings and practices feel much more important because we see how Eastman steeled himself to bury all negativity and embrace all lives. It all sounds like an act. Remember, Rick found it suspicious that Aaron would still act friendly after being punched in the face and having his items confiscated. But some people have no reason to agitate a situation further after they’ve been hurt.
Even though Eastman had a chance at vengeance, it didn’t make him feel better or bring back his family. It would have been a temporary Band-Aid on a permanent wound. He could either let that anger and hate fester or find a way to channel it into a positive. From his dry humor, cheat days, practicing aikido, and even leaving the door wide open for Morgan to escape, Eastman found some form of peace in his life. Not complete happiness, but he found a way to turn a negative into a positive.
That’s hard to do in a world where you have to kill to survive. It’s a strict code to adhere to and some would throw caution to the wind just to satisfy their bloodlust and keep moving, like Morgan. I like that Morgan doesn’t just accept Eastman’s teachings from the beginning. He accepts Eastman’s kindness, but he’s still as bloodthirsty as he was when he first walks out of the cell because he’s stuck on his need to clear.
But as Morgan reads and observes Eastman at work, he sees how this code could not only keep him alive, but bring him back from insanity. If Morgan just took Eastman’s approach outright, I don’t think it would feel as realistic, considering how far gone he was at the time. Between hearing about Eastman’s past and seeing the reactions of the scared travelers, Morgan realized that change for him could work.
And this is what’s led to his appreciation for all life. Damn shame that we had to lose both Tabitha and Eastman in the process, though.
But Morgan’s methods obviously don’t mesh well with Rick’s quick kill decisions, made all the more apparent from the disapproving looks he’s given to folks like Rick and Carol. With walkers, fair game, but for the new Morgan, all life is sacred. It’s not an outlook that others around Morgan would accept.
Hell, we even see this with the Wolf at the end. Despite his hope that the Alexandria Safe Zone could work, he still pledged to kill everyone inside in that tense exchange toward the end. Just when Morgan thought he’d gotten through to someone, he saw the same darkness that Eastman saw in Dallas. Even through all of that, he refuses to go back to the man he was before. It’s a believable transformation that’s made stronger by the performances of Lennie James and his chemistry with John Carroll Lynch.
Even though optimism isn’t recommended in this world, “Here’s Not Here” found a way to make it work by showing us Morgan at his lowest and bringing him back from the point of no return. Through a strong advisor in Eastman, Morgan has found a way to redirect his anger and consider life worth living and protecting. It remains to be seen how long this will keep up for Morgan, given how his actions did lead to some of the Wolves finding Rick at the end of “Thank You.” Not to mention he’s putting the community at risk by keeping one Wolf alive.
But for the purposes of this episode, it was a well-paced character study of a man who found a positive way to move forward with clarity in his life. I’ll say it again, walker battles are fine, but The Walking Dead is at its best when it’s just characters talking about and trying to make sense of what’s going on around them. Character development and strong storytelling can be just as good, if not better, than nonstop waves of walker attacks. With strong writing, direction, and great performances, “Here’s Not Here” brought Morgan back from his dark place and set him on a new path. Now that he’s reunited with Rick, time to see how long it lasts.