Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Walking Dead S6x04 Here's Not Here

Photo Credit: The Walking Dead / Gene Page
The sixth season of The Walking Dead has shot off like a rocket or a rollercoaster. I don't know which is a more accurate description. Last week's episode Thank You threw everyone for a loop. For nearly a week fans and pop culture blogs theorized over one core character's fate while we were left with one of the show's biggest cliffhangers. If there is one thing that showrunners are succeeding with so far, it's making major departures from the expected.

This week's newest episode Here's Not Here was no exception. Parting from the freight train of feels we were experiencing, more sides of fan favorite Morgan James finally came to light.

6. Clear
Morgan's temperament in the third season was far from how he and his son Duane greeted Rick in the pilot. Driven crazy from killing his family and other survivors who had turned into walkers, Morgan holed up in Rick's old stomping grounds. As a one-man wrecking crew he barricaded himself into an apartment loaded with weapons and supplies; the walls were etched with directions and reminders of the emotional traumas he had experienced. His one and only determination was to clear walkers and people, anyone who got in his way.

Starting to clear walkers in the forest, Morgan's mask as a predator showed as he killed and burned bodies day after day. He killed two humans who ran into him, and didn't even have a chance to appear threatening to his safety, with his bare hands. Suffering from PTSD, he painted rock and trees in walker blood: Everyone Turns. Pointless Acts. Morgan seemed too far gone.

Tonight's episode began with Morgan bearing down at the Wolf he had locked up earlier. Remembering that the stranger liked winded conversations like in the movies, Morgan began to tell the assassin a story of his past. The timeline was bookmarked between Now and Then.


5. Eastman
While Morgan was slaying walkers and people he stumbled across a man living in a log cabin. The stranger's peaceful demeanor was shockingly different than any other person he or we'd come across before. Morgan's instincts to kill the man kicked in but the big man took him down with a similar bo-staff Morgan now carries around. Instead of being hurt or threatened, he was put into a barred cell within man's home. That stranger was Eastman, a cheese maker who was Morgan's chance at transformation.

Here's Not Here was essentially a two-character drama starring John Carrol Lynch as Eastman, and Lennie James as Morgan. The Walking Dead met The Karate Kid, or Star Wars - whichever wise mentor teaching his young grasshopper the way movie floats your boat. Lynch was exceptional as Eastman, subtly emotional and some of their exchanges contained some slight timing for comedy. Both of them did a bravo job, and I was happy that this episode slowed things down a bit.

Before the apocalypse, Eastman was a forensic psychologist tasked with bringing psychotics back from the brink. While Morgan crashed in his cell repeating "I Clear" and "Kill Me", Eastman continually tried to feed him and through conversation reach parts of him that he knew was still there - appealing to healthy, stable aspects of Morgan that were buried by still existed.

4. Revelations
Since the episode Clear Morgan's attachment to the word clear itself  and using it as a mantra was an interesting concept. I wanted to figure out more about why this word was being used over any other one, beyond what Webster's dictionary might offer.

Drawing back from the third season where we saw how unstable Morgan was, he used a similar Bible phrase of "meek will inherit the Earth". Knowing that a lot of details in the show are easter eggs, I thought there might be additional religious correlations to his use of the 'clear' too. There are many interpretations and translations of the Bible, so I wish no disrespect or to exude any iota of being an expert on the subject.

In Here's Not Here, Revelations 22:1 was the closest passage I felt came close. However, there are several Genesis passages that may also qualify Scott Gimple's meaning. (Of course, he could have also just picked the word 'cause it's in the comics or some such. lol)

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

In the Bible its mentioned (for an example of this scripture) that the garden of Eden had a river of its own. Throughout the Bible itself, water is an emblem of life or eternal life. Symbolically its role is one of transformation through spiritual delights, purity, activity, progress towards God or fulness.

Eastman shows Morgan a new way to commit to in the world. His farm is also bearing fruit and vegetables, as well as a river not too far from its property. The riverbanks are actually where Eastman begins teaching Morgan the martial arts form of Aikido. His transformation itself takes place in an eden-like atmosphere. Earlier in the episode, the only moment of peace Morgan achieved was standing alone in the quiet forest with the sun cascading down on the meadow around him. It's here in this one somewhat safe haven that Morgan accepts and realizes Eastman's philosophy. He begins living in a pure state of mind, a renewed sense of knowledge and the state of the world, and stops bonding himself to a mental, emotional, and spiritual hell.

The book in Eastman's house, the one left for Morgan to read, was The "Art of Peace", so there are obvious hints of Japanese spirituality in Eastman's teachings as well. The use of Aikido is not justifying the killing of another person as many institutions do, but to avoid killing altogether, even the most evil person. In various Japanese sets of beliefs, water too means purification in stages of transformation.

Eastman's instructions guide Morgan out of his own mind, redirecting his thoughts and not living in the past. What he's done, he's done. Trauma and pain inflicted on us doesn't require equal and opposite reaction of justice, revenge, or violence. People can stay or they can go, but he won't allow them to kill him. In accepting that, accepting other people and protecting everyone, he is in turn protecting himself.

A deleted scene within the episode Clear revealed more of Morgan's scripture related mindset too - "People like you, the good people, they always die. And the bad people do too. The weak people, the people like me, we have inherited the Earth."

From Matthew 5:5, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

The word meek is often misunderstood as weakness, but looking closer at its origins it means strength brought under control. But having this strength also means not to inflate your ego or courage over your services. The scripture as a whole means that those who are in accordance to God and do the service of others, while being meek and generous shall inherit the Earth (or land, ground, God's Earth).

In this world I wouldn't presume to call Morgan weak even if his mindset is severely unstable and not exactly the patient person as suggested in more meanings of the scripture. He obviously believes he is doing a service to others, as much as himself, but he does not hold himself as more courageous or giving himself an inflated ego. I think these are pretty self-evident in the scenes he has with Rick, as his guilty and obsessed train of thought rambles through. He is simply clearing the path, and might reach a place of physical paradise as well as spiritual prosperity and peace - which in a way leads him to Eastman.

It might be a stretch but I thought it was some interesting ideas to consider.

3. The Doors In Your Mind
At the beginning of the episode it seems like Eastman has locked away Morgan in his home. Until, he mentions that he's going to sleep and asks Morgan not to hurt Tabitha. We realize later that the cell door was open the whole time and Morgan is the one holding himself mentally and physically hostage.

One of the best aspects of the episode was not only Morgan's transformation, but also Eastman's. Why have a cell in a log cabin in the first place?

What we learn about Eastman is that from his previous career was a forensic psychologist, delineating whether or not if criminals were rehabilitated for release. One of his cases involved a psychopath Crighton Dallas Whitten. Eastman had sent him to prison, making sure he never got out again. Instead the prisoner weaseled an escape, went to Eastman's home, murdered his family, and then walked to the corner police station covered in blood and surrendered.

A year later Whitten was still working plots along the highway planting chrysanthemums and marigolds. Eastman kidnapped Whitten and brought him to his cabin, put him behind bars and watched him starve to death. It took 47 days.

Even for someone who knew from professional experience that people not built to kill and that people can heal from trauma, the restitution Eastman accomplished didn't recover or justify what he had suffered. Even to obliterate a psychopath who had destroyed his life, Eastman came to believe all life was precious.

I found it quite incredible that Eastman still lived in the cabin where Whitten was killed because that in itself could turn into an ugly reminder of his actions. And, yet he managed to mentally stay ahead of his trauma through his constant practice of acceptance.

Similar to the Japanese beliefs briefly touched on earlier, the closed doors we hold ourselves prisoner to in our minds leads to an open way, if we choose to do so. We can't keep opening the same doors and relive horrible moments of our lives; that's how we stay prisoners to our pasts.

2. Goodbye Tabitha
Unfortunately, Tabitha and Eastman came to an untimely end. Morgan began soaking up Eastman's lessons in Aikido and how to mentally recover to stay alive. While they were practicing Eastman was bit in his back by a wandering walker, which almost triggered Morgan's old instincts. Eastman returned to the farm to bury the walker that bit him, while Morgan stayed in the forest. A couple came wandering by and instead of killing, he allowed them safe passage. Returning to the farm, he found Tabitha being attacked by walkers. Eastman made his choice when he was ready to go and ended his own life with a gun in his outhouse.

If I didn't say it before, I'll say it again: John Carroll Lynch really stole the show. I just appreciated a character like Eastman much more than I expected. Even though he and Tabitha ended up dying, I felt like it was a peaceful death.

After seeing Morgan making baby steps to sanity, and Tabitha died, he was ready to go. Morgan may have had to bury his body, but the blood wasn't on anyone's hands. Similar to characters like Andrea, who chose to end her life before she turned, so did Eastman. He didn't go by anyone else's hand or on anyone else's conscience except his own. With Morgan as his apprentice and friend, Eastman achieved some form of redemption from the mess with Whitten.

1. Too Far Gone The Other Way
Even after sharing his story, one of the Wolves Morgan was talking to still held onto his own code: he will kill everyone, every person, the children too. Morgan has met his own Crighton Dallas Whitten and still attempts to follow in his mentor's footsteps. Still thinking he can change him, he locks the Wolf into one of the vacant Alexandria houses.

One quality that Eastman found in Morgan that made him think there was a human still inside the facade of a monster was his past and ability to save people. The Wolves are clearly people who identify in some way with the real world but go about destroying it for their own survival.  Seeing how he used to be in the past, is it reasonable to think that The Wolves are not beyond saving?

Like other past characters who represented hope or peace, nobody has attained Morgan's similar level of peace. Nobody else (practically) shares in his code that all life is precious. But is it also reasonable to think that Morgan has gone too far the other way - to think that these people have a chance of coming back from the edge?

Quick Thoughts
  • My only real qualm with the episode was perhaps its length. I'm unsure how much time was needed showing Morgan sitting in his cell threatening Eastman to kill him or to be killed.
  • Stand-alone character-centric episodes are always refreshing because we're allowed to slow down a bit. For a survivalist show, if we didn't learn more about the characters we might eventually see die or get killed, it would just be weekly executions.
  • Here's Not Here received criticism for being manipulative; it felt like bait giving us more reasons to support Morgan before he is killed off. I didn't find that exactly to be true. I thought the episode was more formulaic than manipulative. Glenn's possible death was manipulative; all of the parallels leading up to a Jon Snow cliffhanger.
  • Even if Morgan dies later on this season, I'm happy this episode didn't end with his death. We are still given some room to breathe and to witness exactly how Eastman's lessons impact Morgan's decisions in continuing to deal with Alexandrians, Rick and the Wolves.

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