The past three weeks of "The Walking Dead" have, arguably, been the most intense in the show's history. Taking place all on one, terrible, no good, very bad day, we've seen what happens when Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) puts a plan to save Alexandria in motion... And pretty much everything that could go wrong, does.
So this week, we take a break. Or at least as much of a break as is possible on a show like "Walking Dead," where their lull episodes involve multiple deaths and people slowly going insane/starving. The beginning and the ending bring us to speed with the present, but most of it fills in the gaps from season three's Scott Gimple scripted "Clear," to when we first catch up with the now sane Morgan (Lennie James) in season five.
The whole thing -- spoilers here, in case you couldn't guess -- is told as a story from Morgan to the Wolf he captured at the end of "JSS," a man he's trying to redeem the way Morgan himself has been redeemed. But we're getting ahead of ourselves... These are all of the biggest moments on "Here's Not Here."
Yeah, when we said it picks up right after "Clear," we weren't kidding. In the cold open, a broken Morgan, recently left to his own devices by Rick, watches as his apartment burns to the ground. He's screaming scattered pieces of sentences, like, "You know, you were supposed to!" and watching as the fire consumes him.
In case it wasn't clear, this is a transformation metaphor. FYI.
And it doesn't end there. The first act of the episode shows Morgan killing walkers -- and occasionally random humans -- adding the walkers to a bonfire in the middle of a field... A field he's transformed to look like his apartment complex from "Clear."
The rocks and trees around the field have started to be filled with his nonsense, as well: "Clear," "Here's not here," "Pointless acts." All messages from Morgan's subconscious, trying to break him free of this pattern he's gotten stuck in.
That's when he wanders into the field Bella and Edward hang out in, from "Twilight." And everything changes.
Weeks ago, when asked where he got training in using his staff, Morgan told Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) that he learned from a "cheesemaker." This week, we find out that cheesemaker is Eastman (John Caroll Lynch), a former forensic psychiatrist from Atlanta*. Eastman has an adorable goat named Tabitha, and is trying to teach himself to make cheese.
“Can you step away from the goat, she’s not yours," Eastman says when he first meets Morgan. "I still need her, I’m still figuring out how to make cheese.”
Literal spoiler alert: his first couple of tries are not great.
Oh, and also, he has a prison inside his cabin, which he promptly throws Morgan into. Morgan doesn't take kindly to it, telling Eastman, "Kill me!" when the latter asks his name.
"That’s a stupid name," Eastman responds. "It’s dangerous. You should change it."
Eastman is... Different. At least for this show. It's tough to say whether his calm demeanor and hopeful attitude are the correct way of living, given he eventually suffers the same fate as anyone who feels a sense of hope on this show. But he does offer the idea that after all this hurt and pain and terror we, the viewers, are going through watching this show, there might be something more at the end.
And that's being focused through Morgan in this episode, but isn't that also what Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) are wrestling with right now, too? The idea that there might be something beyond Rick's ideology of kill or be killed?
In that way, even more than Morgan's journey from insanity to sanity, Eastman's attitude -- and the excellent job Lynch does in portraying him -- make Morgan's viewpoint more viable for the future than we would have thought before viewing this episode.
Side note: Does Eastman know Rick? They both worked with the police, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that they worked cases together. This doesn't seem like an accident, and I'd be surprised if it didn't pop up again later; though also, stay tuned for a crazy theory I have that might make this moot.
The Three Questions
One other big difference between Eastman and Rick: their three questions. It's a pretty subtle moment, but the first three questions Eastman asks Morgan, other than his name, are: "You killed a lot of people?" "They were threatening people, attacking you?" and "You saved anyone?"
Contrast that with Rick's famous three questions: "How many walkers have you killed?" "How many people have you killed?" and "Why?"
Rick's questions are far more about testing whether the person he's asking lies -- and they focus on the dead. Eastman's are focused on the living, and are testing for hope.
For whatever reason, he senses that hope in Morgan, answering his, "I’m gonna kill you. Because I have to clear," with the simple statement, "We’re not built to kill."
That's tested pretty clearly, too, once Eastman reveals he's left the door to Morgan's cage unlocked this whole time. Morgan immediately goes to kill Eastman, of course, who takes him down using Akido -- the art of redirection and a peaceful alternative to fighting... And then he continues to leave Morgan's door open, though Morgan kicks it closed (note: this is also a metaphor).
The Art of Peace
Eventually, of course -- possibly due to the steady diet of grains and vegetables that Eastman is feeding him, versus rotten canned beans or whatever -- Morgan starts to regain his sanity. One day, Eastman leaves Tabitha the Goat with Morgan while he walkabouts. Morgan -- left to his own devices -- picks up a copy of "The Art of Peace" Eastman has left him and begins to read.
The first page (the only one we see, actually, though we hear more motivational poster style aphorisms later on) has a simple inscription from Eastman: "Akido means not to kill. Although nearly all creeds have a commandment against taking life, most of them justify killing for one reason of another. In Akido, however, we try to completely avoid killing, even the most evil person."
That's when Morgan hears a walker going for Tabitha. He takes the walker down, and starts to drag it to a place he's seen Eastman dragging them before. Turns out, Eastman has been burying the walkers in a graveyard, but not before taking their IDs. See? Eastman treats everything, even the undead, as human life. And once Morgan sees this, he starts to get pulled back towards sanity.
We're Gonna Need A Montage
And now, it's time for a '80s style training montage. In front of running streams and beautiful sunrises, Morgan and Eastman practice Akido -- Eastman quickly gives Morgan a staff made out of a spear Morgan had used earlier, with the pointy, metaphor-laden end sawed off.
Morgan and Eastman bond, Morgan has regained his sanity, and that's when we learn the truth about Eastman. Or at least, most of it.
Who Is Crighton Dallas Wilton?
So what happened to Eastman that made him the one sane man in the face of the apocalypse? It's that he breached the sanity barrier, and went on through to the other side... All due to a man named Crighton Dallas Wilton.
Back when Eastman was a forensic psychiatrist, he was assigned to Wilton's case. Wilton was a model prisoner, loved to garden and was constantly nice to his parole officers. But when Eastman met him, he saw right through him. And Crighton knew that Eastman knew he was a psychopath.
"His mask had slipped, and he was going to kill me right then and there," Eastman tells Morgan, "...Because I knew his mask had slipped."
And he almost did, flipping out and nearly beating Eastman to death. Only because Eastman knew Akido was he able to defend himself. But even with that, after a longer stint in jail, Wilton still got out. And he proceeded to go to Eastman's house, and murder Eastman's wife and children.
Then Wilton went and turned himself in to the police. "Only reason he broke out was to destroy my life," Eastman continues, before revealing the reason he has a prison in his house is that he planned to kidnap Wilton and starve him to death.
And he did. As revealed much later, Eastman kidnapped Wilton, and locked him up, right before the world fell.
"It took 47 days, and then I was gone, I was where you were," Eastman tells Morgan. "What I did to him, it didn’t give me any peace. I found my peace when I decided to never kill again. To never kill anything again."
Here's a question: Is Eastman actually Wilton? We see Wilton's grave in Eastman's graveyard, but couldn't Eastman's story -- one that involves finally getting his vengeance, only to discover it doesn't take away that itch -- also apply to Wilton? If this is true, who knows whether Wilton killed Eastman, or just assumed his identity after the end of the world; but either way it would explain a lot about Eastman's behavior.
His deep calm in the face of the end of everything is, let's be real, psychopathic in nature. He loves gardening, just like "Eastman" explains "Crighton" did. And does it make more sense that a forensic psychiatrist had the time and inclination to learn Akido; or a murderer who had nothing better to do in jail? That certainly seems like the sort of technique -- non-violence, redirecting anger, not killing -- that would be taught to rehabilitate prisoners.
It's just a theory, mind you, but given Lynch is best known for playing serial killers, it would certainly be a subtle theme to weave in. The ultimate killer becomes the ultimate force for peace -- something the show is heavily grappling with this season anyway.
Also, just to throw it out there, we never learn Eastman's first name; and given his obsessive need to ID everyone else (another very murderer-y characteristic), it's pretty surprising. Double also, Eastman sounds like a made up name. Just saying.
That said, given both Eastman and Crighton are in graves by episodes end, we'll probably never know the truth.
The Price of Sanity
Looking for supplies, Morgan leads Eastman back to his old camp -- and immediately loses it when he sees a man he previously strangled to death come back as a walker. Eastman sighs, takes down the walker... And gets bit. Morgan flips out, but Eastman just sighs (again) and starts to leave, so they fight, with Morgan begging him once again to kill him.
Eastman wins, and Morgan starts to break even more. "I said not here!" Morgan tells him.
"Well, that’s the thing, Morgan," Eastman says back. "Here’s not here."
Anyway, Morgan doesn't totally break. He manages not to kill a couple who is clearly about to die anyway in the woods -- they give him some of their supplies, instead -- and heads back to find Eastman.
There, Eastman tells Morgan his story about Wilton, and also tells Morgan to leave the cabin. To go see the world.
"Everything is about people," Eastman says, clearly reading the promotional materials for the show. "Everything in life that’s worth a damn."
All joking aside, though, this is an aphorism that gets repeated time and again in "The Walking Dead," and with the rare exception of episodes like this one, or "Clear," gets ignored in favor of a relentless, grim hopelessness. When it works, like it does during this hour, it's a really beautiful underlining of the reason we keep watching this show. When it gets repeated, but not followed up on, we end with nothing but death and destruction.
So with that, Eastman dies, and Morgan heads out -- finding a Terminus sign, and linking up with the end of last season.
The Big Bad Wolf
Except there's a little more to tell. Morgan has been trying to Eastman-ize the Wolf he captured, and for a brief moment we think it might work.
"You think it can work out that way with me," says the Wolf (Benedict Samuel) in what splits the difference between hope and a mocking tone.
"I think it can," Morgan says back, not as confidently as you'd hope. There's a pause, and then the Wolf answers.
"Maybe. You noticed I’m shaking a little. sweating a little?" he asks, before showing off a bite on his side. "I saw how settled this place was in the pictures I found, and thought maybe there’d be something here. Medicine, to help this. But that was before you people won. So I know I’m probably going to die.
"But if I don’t, I’m going to have to kill every one of you, Morgan. I’m going to have to kill everyone. Kill the children. Just like... Eastman’s children. Those are the rules. That’s my code. I’d say I’m sorry, but you said it, right? Don’t ever be sorry."
Shaking, Morgan exits the house he's captured the Wolf in, and makes the same choice Eastman did with him: leave the door unlocked, hoping the Wolf will learn the lesson? Or lock it?
Morgan chooses to lock the door, proving that after all he's learned from Eastman, he may have learned from Rick as well. To underscore the point, we hear a voice -- Rick's voice? -- shouting, "Open the gates!"
When we last left Rick, he was in an RV surrounded by walkers, so if that is him outside Alexandria, we've got some more time jumping to do.
Regardless of whose side he's on, though, Morgan hears the voice and he runs. He may have trained with Eastman, but Morgan still has many, many more tests to go through before he becomes a master.