This review contains spoilers.
6.4 Here’s Not Here
We’ve seen Morgan at every stage of his post-apocalyptic life. We’ve seen the father struggling to keep life normal for his son in walker-haunted King County. We’ve seen the schizophrenic, trapped in a lair of his own making, muttering about clearing in between homicidal outbursts. We’ve seen the walking ronin, trailing after Rick and company. Now we’ve seen Morgan the born-again pacifist, letting Wolves go free and avoiding killing thanks to his strong moral code. However, we haven’t seen what takes Morgan back from the brink and restores his humanity to him. This is the episode that fills in those gaps.
We know where we’re starting, and we know where we’re ending up. There’s a certain path that has to be followed, and from the few little hints Morgan has dropped about what happened to him between Clear and here, it’s going to be something life-changing. A cheese maker taught him to be a bo staff-wielding martial arts master, and that very same cheese maker gave Morgan back both his sanity and his humanity. It’s up to The Walking Dead to make a story where the beginning and the ending are known, into a compelling extra-long adventure.
That’s a big hurdle to overcome. The second act of any story is typically where it starts to lag. Given where we left off last week, with that ‘is he or isn’t he’ drama surrounding Glenn, I’m not sure anyone wants to spend ninety minutes on Morgan. After all, he’s the guy who let the Wolves that attacked Rick go, and he’s the guy whose non-violence is going to cause trouble for Alexandria, despite his ability at putting walkers into the ground. Assuming Walking Dead history is any measure, second chances rarely end up going all that well. Still, Morgan got a much-needed one once upon a time.
The episode opens with Morgan speaking to someone we’ll return to at the end, then we go back in time to Morgan, still talking, but to himself this time. He mutters about guns and knives, he mutters about time, and all the while his home burns thanks to an overturned oil lamp. This puts Morgan on the road, creeping through the forest, clearing walkers, making camps surrounded by tent stakes, and killing any people who come across him using his spears and bare hands as needed. Sneaking up on Morgan is almost as bad as Morgan sneaking up on you, but there’s one man Morgan can’t best; a former forensic psychiatrist named Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) who worked at the prison evaluating prisoners for the parole board who now spends his days attempting to make goat cheese. Oh, and occasionally he redeems dangerous lunatics.
It’s interesting to see John Carroll Lynch cast against type. After all, he’s pretty much always the bad guy, or at least a bad guy, and it’s fun to see him playing a sort-of Steven Seagal type, a heavyset aikido expert who spouts pop psychology in between wrist-shattering arm holds and bo staff zombie smashing. He’s as good as he usually is, able to take the character and make him feel lived-in in short order. Lennie James, as we saw last in Clear, is more than capable of carrying a bottle episode on his own, and the two of them together work really well on the screen. John Carroll Lynch is great at playing the gentle giant, and the character is able to deflect Morgan’s rage, as well as Morgan’s occasional violent attack, with relative ease, in a few excellent fight scenes. It helps that John Carroll Lynch is a massive, massive fellow compared to Lennie James.
Even with its wrapper segments, this episode is more then than now. At the end Morgan spots a Terminus sign and heads in that direction, so that should tell you how far in the past this particular episode takes place. It’s slow, a deliberately placed chance to A) save a few bucks, B) give Lennie James some serious acting work, and C) explain how Morgan got his groove back. That isn’t to say it’s not well-written courtesy of Scott Gimple, and it’s definitely well-directed thanks to Stephen Williams. There’s tragedy there, particularly the sad ending for Tabitha the adorable goat, and redemption for both Morgan and for Eastman, as that second chance ends up giving them both something to live for. It’s effective, emotional stuff, and it’s really handled very well (aside from some complaints about how Eastman’s death is basically dumb luck), but…
I can’t help but feel this is the worst possible place in the season to stick a bottle episode. Everyone wants resolution for Glenn, a dead or alive decision on the guy who everyone thought was dead but executive producers have suggested might still be alive. After three fast-paced, propulsive episodes in a row, I can understand the urge to slow things down, direct attention away from the main story and to draw out the Glenn mystery for another week, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
The episode itself is great, but it’s definitely not what I want right now. I want a decision on Glenn and not Morgan in a training montage with the Zodiac Killer, either closure and confirmation that the pizza boy bought the farm or irritation mixed with relief that he somehow weaseled his way out of his fate thanks to some cheap writing trick. Having that hanging over the show makes it hard to stay focused on what’s actually happening.