Published on November 3rd, 2015 | by Bean0
The Walking Dead – Season 6 Episode 4 “Here’s Not Here”
The central premise of “Here’s Not Here”, a meditation of madness and redemption, is one rather at odds with the tone of brutal futility that is so frequently The Walking Dead’s wheelhouse. After the clusterfrak of the last episode, the show chooses to slow things down a few gears and go for a deep exposition story. Focusing all its attention on Morgan, an enigmatic character played with great intensity by Lennie James, is a deft choice, and the episode works like an antidote to the recent carnage; contemplative and quiet.
And so, we discover what transpired for the Morgan who Rick, Carl and Michonne left, busy with his “clearing” mission, and how he came to be the pacifist Morgan currently challenging the status quo of Rick’s group. His character’s evolution has been a source of mystery since he became a cast regular at the end of last season, and it seems in keeping with Morgan’s reticence that we only be finding out about it now.
The episode’s director Stephen Williams makes another interesting choice by moving the story at a languorous pace regardless of content. Morgan’s base built during his siege-mentality era quickly ends up conflegrated, and we move onto his open-air-fort phase, but there is no energy to the editing as his daily activities consume screentime. The repetitious nature of the period – fortify, clear, daub something nihilistic on a rock, fortify etc. – grinds the viewer into Morgan’s mindset. Don’t question anything, merely react. He is quite mindless, in more ways than one.
Morgan’s madness is readily apparent, as is his indiscriminant approach to what he calls “clearing”. The trauma of failing to protect his son from slaughter at his zombie-mother’s jaws set the man into a mental free-fall that leaves no room for rational judgement. It seems unlikely that Morgan even experienced the negative human-villain scenarios that Rick’s group has (The Governor, Terminus, the wandering bastards Rick de-throated et al); if he had, “Here’s Not Here” would have been an appropriate time to mention it.
Rather, Morgan’s violent reactions towards the humans he encounters is his mind simplifying, a reductive reaction to less even than black and white – just black. His ‘kill everything’ approach during total mental breakdown is the pendulum swung way out balance, as is his current course of not killing patently dangerous lunatics who mean to do him and all his people harm. We see Morgan as a seemingly all or nothing type, and once he is committed it takes a lot to re-direct his energies.
This concept of re-direction comes into full force with the arrival of Morgan’s eventual mentor Eastman, a proponent of Aikido and its ‘no-kill’ philosophy. Little by little we learn what type of man Eastman is – kind, wise, magnanimous, patient and just as damaged as the rest of us. The lengths this man will go to to achieve redemption and avoid murder only become clear when we understand why he must, what drives him on his mission of peace. The man who can offer Morgan a chance out of his PTSD loop of suffering must know intimately the nature of that pain, and not just clinically, but viscerally.
Eastman’s tale is a sad one, if not particularly original. From the moment we hear he only ever met one evil person in all the 825 patients he saw as a Forensic Psychiatrist, it is clear that person caused him damage. Similarly, since Eastman’s no longer with Morgan in the present day, we feel the impending doom of his character’s short arc. Luckily, John Carroll Lynch is a charismatic actor, and combines gravitas with an everyman quality that allows us to trust Eastman as we might Yoda.
So Morgan becomes Eastman’s acolyte, turning his life around by embracing the tenets of Aikido. Reading that back, it sounds dead hokey, but between Lynch and James, they make it work. The episode’s extremely long run-time affords the narrative the time to simmer, and Morgan the full process of evolution that is required to make his transition believable. And I whinged about one 2 minute scene of Monopoly in Fear The Walking Dead! Certainly Morgan and Eastman make the most of their time together and their story is all about purpose and intention, two relevant and recurring themes in The Walking Dead.
And yet, what is most interesting about “Here’s Not Here” are the indicators that Morgan is still in a state of imbalance. He might seem calm and level-headed, but his behaviours belie that. The ‘A’ we saw marked on the stoop at Alexandria was Morgan – we see him carving it into a tree during his psychotic breakdown. What does this augur? The mantra of mercy he now speaks is still too cut and dried, too narrow a viewpoint, however beautiful and noble, and is merely the opposite of his “clear” tagline.
Can he truly achieve a balanced, fluid kind of decision-making that comes from a place of rational thought, judiciously arrived at in each encounter rather than prescribed by a script learned by rote? It is hard to write such things, even of fiction, to stand opposed to passivism. But the show leans us in this conflicted direction by closing the episode with the literally dreadful choice Morgan makes to keep alive the head ‘W’olf we saw him in combat with two episodes previously – a man we knew to be essentially a Reaver fueled by bloodlust, but it turns out is also on the short ride to zombieville, and reeeeally up for murdering everybody in Alexandria. When do those mantras become ill-advised famous last words?
Review by Nina Clark
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