Only The Walking Dead could have me on the edge of my seat worried about the safety of a goat named Tabitha. Such is the power of the show that continues to strongly deliver week after week this season. Here’s Not Here was an impressive if unusual departure from the norm.
This week provided a much-needed opportunity for us to catch our breath after the action-packed intensity of the first three episodes by providing an origin of sorts of bada$$ pacifist monk Morgan.
It was a seriously risky move considering the collective state of shock the fanbase was in following last week’s implied death of a major character and a not so bright outlook for the main character cliffhanger. But the show pulled it off masterfully.
Fleeing the city, Morgan makes camp in the woods setting up his stake trap for any approaching walkers. As a man and a teenager race through — it’s unclear if they mean any harm — Morgan drives his stake through one’s throat and strangles the other. Morgan is clearly not in a good place.
Director Stephen Williams utilizes some cool camera tricks including keeping Morgan in focus while blurring the edges and syncing the blur with Morgan’s frantic heartbeat.
Morgan stumbles onto a cabin where a goat is tied in the front yard. Its owner calls out from the woods to repeatedly ask Morgan to lower his gun before knocking him out with his staff.
From there, the episode essentially becomes a two man and a goat play. Morgan wakes up in a cell intended more for the safety of his “captor” Eastman (John Carroll Lynch). Lynch is one of those reliable character actors that’s been in everything from Shutter Island to Crazy Stupid Love. This episode was a tremendous showcase for his talents.
If the Emmys ever bothered to recognize “TWD,” Lynch would be worth a Guest Actor nomination. Lennie James has already proven an outstanding addition to the cast this season and Morgan is just as engaging with an extended 90-minute episode as he is as a member of the ensemble.
Eastman slowly builds a rapport with Morgan explaining his past career working with veterans with PTSD and determining if prisoners were ready to re-enter society. Over the course of the episode, Eastman reveals more of his previous life as he starts to get through to Morgan.
Gradually, Morgan is ready for the truth — the cell has been unlocked this entire time and he can stay or go, but Eastman won’t allow him to kill him. Morgan tests that theory and promptly gets his butt handed to him thanks to Eastman’s Aikido training.
Writer Scott Gimple makes the bond between Morgan and Eastman develop realistically. Morgan doesn’t immediately want to find a better way of life and Eastman doesn’t prod. Eventually, Morgan is ready to learn the ways of Aikido and its most important tenants that all life is sacred and no one should be killed.
Eastman had to learn that the hard way as he fought against the parole of a psychopath who eventually escaped and killed Eastman’s wife and two children. It was pretty cool watching the training montage and seeing Morgan’s skill with the staff dramatically improve.
Since Morgan didn’t come to Alexandria with a +2 — not to mention the tragic nature of the show — things weren’t looking good for Eastman and Tabitha’s survival rate beyond this episode.
But somehow when Morgan freezes at the sight of the man he strangled now turned into a walker and Eastman takes the sacrificial bite it still stings. This wasn’t the same sense of loss of (potentially) losing a longtime character like Glenn, but Eastman was someone that would have been welcome to see in a recurring role or simply not meet such a needlessly tragic fate.
Morgan angrily chews out Eastman, who takes the walker’s body to a burial plot. After rescuing a couple from a walker, Morgan finally fully gets Eastman’s message of the gift that is life … just in time to see a walker munching on Tabitha.
At the burial plot, Eastman shares that he caught his family’s murderer and kept him captive until he starved to death but it didn’t give him peace. It’s the same message Morgan relays to the Wolves Leader (Benedict Samuel) he caught last week.
That inspiring message does little for the Wolf captive as he assures Morgan if he gets out he’s killing everyone, including the children just like Eastman’s psychopath. While clearly the sensible thing here is to kill the Wolf, Morgan leaves him tied up and locked up in a basement. This decision is eventually going to lead to some horrific consequence, but I appreciate the episode explaining why Morgan values all life even those who don’t deserve it instead of simply making him look like an idiot.
As Morgan leaves the basement, he hears someone, which sounds like Rick frantically calling for them to open the gate. What trouble is up next will just have to wait for next week.
Rating: 9 out of 10
A brief detour from the frenetic pace established so far this season was a smart call as it was necessary to explain Morgan’s actions and make his decisions understandable. Powerhouse performances from James and Lynch made for a more acting-focused episode that more than made up for the lack of action. If there’s a better show on TV right now it’s not on my cable satellite provider.
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