The Walking Dead S06E04 “Here’s Not Here” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: FOX, Mondays, 9pm
Writer: Scott M Gimple
Director: Stephen Williams
Essential Plot Points:
- We see Morgan talking to someone in Alexandria, agreeing to tell them his whole story. Then, we see Morgan ranting to himself as a building burns around him. Then he’s out in the open. He kills zombies, build a bonfire and waits for more zombies to arrive, then he kills them, even one that comes through the fire at him. Less flambe, more zombe.
- Slowly, Morgan creates a world for himself, a tiny space defined by punji stakes and the pile of zombies he’s killed. He does what he does; clears. Kills anything that isn’t him. Including two luckless scavengers whom he murders.
- One morning, out hunting, Morgan hears something impossible; a goat, alive. He tracks it and finds a beautiful cabin with a goat outside, tethered up. A disembodied voice asks him to put down his rifle and discuss matters. Morgan ignores it. He’s promptly knocked out and wakes up in a cell in the living room of the cabin.
- There, he meets Eastman, the cabin’s owner. Polite, friendly and a master with a bō staff, Eastman diagnoses Morgan with PTSD and reassures him that he will heal. Morgan is insistent Eastman kill him. Eastman refuses. Morgan is in this for the long haul.
- Finally, one day, Eastman tells Morgan the cell was never locked and gives him a choice between leaving or crashing on the couch. Morgan promptly tries to kill Eastman, breaking a piece of art on the wall as he does so. Eastman fights him into sumission, repeats the choice and Morgan storms back to the cell, closing the door behind him. Eastman opens the door and the stalemate continues.
- Later, he explains that he used aikido to beat Morgan, and that he started training in the martial art the day after his daughter gave him a lucky rabbit’s foot.
- One day, Eastman goes out and asks Morgan to protect Tabitha the goat. He sits, brooding, in his cell as Walkers appear and the terrified goat begins screaming. Finally, he snaps, runs out and kills the two Walkers. He’s on the verge of sliding back into PTSD when he sees the wedding ring around one Walker’s neck and realises they used to be people, with lives, too. He kills them, then brings Tabitha inside and disposes of the bodies.
- In doing so, he finds a graveyard Eastman has maintained of every Walker he’s had to kill.
- When Eastman returns, he helps Morgan and reminds him to use driver’s licences to identify the dead men. He also tells him he “fixed” his spear. Eastman has taken the pointy tip off. It’s now the bō staff Morgan uses in the present.
- The two men slowly become close friends, Eastman training Morgan in aikido and teaching him his belief that all life is sacred.
- One night, Morgan asks why Eastman has a cell in his cabin. He explains that he interviewed an inmate who was the only, truly, evil human being he’s ever encountered. Eastman describes seeing the man realise his charm wasn’t working, smiling then attacking Eastman. Eastman used aikido to defeat him and was instrumental in the inmate, Crighton Dallas Wilton, being denied parole. The inmate broke out anyway, slaughtered Eastman’s family in revenge then turned himself in.
- They begin packing for a trip. Eastman is cheerfully honest about not knowing where to go but has his eye on the coast and some of the islands offshore. He mentions they need some supplies and Morgan, repulsed by the thought of what he’s suggesting, tells Eastman he knows where to find what they’re looking for.
- They return to Morgan’s minuscule “safe zone” and find what they need. A Walker emerges from the trees and Eastman asks Morgan to kill it. He’s about to when he realises it’s one of the men he killed earlier. He blanks out, Eastman steps in to save him and is bitten.
- Morgan loses it and the men fight, but Eastman bests Morgan again. Visibly weakening already, Eastman takes the Walker corpse up to his graveyard.
- Morgan goes hunting, kills a Walker and, to his own surprise, saves two refugees. He’s about to go for them too when they offer him tinned food and a single bullet as thanks. Returning to himself, he leaves them be and returns to the cabin. He finds Tabitha being eaten by a Walker, which he kills, then carries the two corpses to the graveyard. He helps Eastman finish his work there and then gets his friend back home.
- Eastman, close to death, confesses everything. He kidnapped Wilton from the work gang he was put on, locked him in the cell and let him starve to death. That gave him no peace but his refusal to kill, anything, ever again, did. He offers Morgan the cabin but tells him he shouldn’t stay there but go find other people. Eastman reassures him that he’s ready for death and has a gun put to one side.
- We see Morgan, dressed for the road, leave the cabin. We see him pass Wilton’s grave in the graveyard and find the sign to Terminus.
- We see Morgan in the present day, talking to a Wolf he’s captured. The younger man accepts everything Morgan said but then points out the wound he’s carrying. He tells Morgan he’ll either die or have to kill everyone in Alexandria. Morgan leaves his prisoner then hears someone screaming for the gate to be opened…
Yet again: bloody hell!
Late in this episode, Eastman talks about how he kicked Morgan’s ass by redirecting him. That’s the basic principle of aikido, a martial art designed to be less about physical action on your part and more about using your opponent’s energy and decisions against them.
This entire episode is televisual aikido. It constantly surprises, constantly upends your expectations and never once takes the easy way out. It’s brave and difficult and immensely moving and quite unlike anything else the show has ever done before.
So much of that is down to the minuscule cast. A few other tiny guest roles aside, this is a two-hander. Lennie James, an actor who has never turned in bad work in his career, is on exceptional form here. He’s constantly working hard, showing us the gradual journey Morgan takes from the grief-stricken loner he was in “Clear” to the tormented but ethical ass kicker we met at the end of last season. It’s subtle, constant work that’s telegraphed in James’s shoulders and posture, in his repetition of some phrases and his constant numb demeanour. There isn’t a character on the show who’s escaped suffering but Morgan has suffered far more than most and been denied the luxury of company too. This episode, finally, we see what that cost him and it’s very nearly everything.
Then there’s Eastman. Played with endlessly calm, charmingly verbose restraint by John Carroll Lynch, he’s one of the most interesting characters the show has ever introduced us to. There’s more than a hint of the hippy to him – from the vegetarian diet to the obsession with cheese making and aikido – but he’s never a stereotype. Instead, he’s a man further along the path that Morgan’s on. He’s got the distance from his wounds, and crimes, to see them for what they are. Defining yes, but not controlling.
The equal ground that shared experience creates between the two never waivers, even when you expect it to. There’s no getting around the racial element to their relationship, especially as Morgan, who’s black, spends most of the episode apparently locked in a cell in the house of Eastman, who’s white. But time and again, the show not only addresses but subverts what you’re expecting. The fact the cell was never locked is clever. The fact that Morgan voluntarily goes back inside it is heart-breaking. The fact Eastman leaves the door open is quietly, patiently, hopeful. There’s no power dynamic here beyond compassion. No agenda beyond survival, healing and redemption.
The gradual changes in Morgan, the gradual unwrapping of Eastman’s tragedy and the fact we know this can’t last makes for an intensely emotional, moving episode. You want both these guys to be okay. You want, somehow, Eastman to live even though what’s coming even though you know he doesn’t.
That’s the genius of Gimple’s script and Williams’s direction. They put us inside both men’s heads and then, like them, show us the way out. Williams’s use of a tilt-shift style effect for Morgan’s perceptions is especially clever, showing us just how zeroed in he is. Likewise, the use of sound is incredibly smart. The fact that Morgan has a near panic attack when he realises he can hear the goat is one of the episode’s highlights precisely because it’s so subtle. It shows us just how hyper-attuned Morgan is to everything around him and just how dangerous he’s become. That makes his slow struggle to change, and Eastman’s trust in him, all the more emotionally charged.
The script is shot through with moments like that too. Morgan seeing the wedding ring around the Walker’s neck is one. The sight of the grave Eastman dug for the murderer of his family is another. Together moments like those create a script that’s both a fight and a conversation, just as all good martial arts are. On one side is the belief both men have; that all life is precious. On the other is the brutal, harsh reality of their world. There’s no clear victor by the end of the episode but there’s also no clear loss. Like Morgan says, “World hasn’t ended”. That’s not enough, but as starts go we could do a lot worse. Especially if that prisoner Morgan’s keeping in Alexandria has anything to do with it…
- Everything. Seriously this isn’t just a five star episode this may be the best episode the show’s turned in to date. But here are a few specifics:
- “Why don’t you put the gun down and we’ll talk. Have some falafel? Looks like you haven’t eaten in a while.” What makes Eastman work so perfectly is the combination of Lynch’s physicality and intellect. He’s a big, hulking guy who’s a clear physical threat but he’s also endlessly calm and articulate.
- “You saw it happen. That’s how it started, right? It’s all happening in front of your eyes, over and over? Your body’s here, but your mind is still there. There’s a door and you wanna go through it to get away from it so you do and it leads you right back to that moment and you see that door again and you know it won’t work but, Hell, maybe it’ll work. So you step through that door and you’re right back in that horrible moment every time. You still feel it every time. So you just wanna stop opening that door. So you just sit in it. But I assure you, one of those doors leads out, my friend.” To see a show like this peel away not just the layers of PTSD but the impact PTSD has on the psyche of a male lead is staggering. This is intensely brave, compassionate writing that explores the consequence of this world in a way The Walking Dead rarely, if ever, has before.
- “I don’t have any friends!” “Get to know me.” An episode like this lives and dies on its performances. This episode soars, thanks not just to Lynch’s good-natured chattiness but James’s constant, scowling, frantic presence. This exchange sums up the two men perfectly; one desperate to be alone and desperate to not be, the other calm and ready to let his friend come to him on his own terms.
- “We’re not built to kill. We don’t have claws or fangs or armour. Vets that came back with PTSD? That didn’t happen because we’re comfortable with killing. WE’RE NOT. WE CAN’T BE. WE FEEL. WE’RE CONNECTED.” The entire scene is the highlight of the episode but this line is the one that hits you right between the eyes. To hear anyone say that in the post-apocalyptic world of the show, let alone someone like Eastman, is a lifeline and one Morgan ultimately grabs with both hands.
- “It’s all a circle, and everything gets a return.” The show also never lets Eastman off the hook. As well as showing us what he’s capable of it also shows us what he’s pushing against. That philosophy isn’t just a life raft for him it’s a door he chooses to close on his past life. That realisation that he’s got blood on his hands too is what ultimately makes it work.
- “It was aikido. That was how I kicked your ass, earlier. Well… that’s how I redirected your ass.” – A perfect description of a gentle, politely brutal when called upon to be, martial art.
- “I don’t kill but I’m not giving up on chocolate any time soon.” And with this line, Eastman ascends to the pantheon of polite, over-articulate asskicking big guys.
- “What we’ve done, we’ve done.” This is the crux of the conflict, and dialogue, between the two men. Accepting and embracing the past rather than being trapped there, folding your failings into what makes up your life and doing something better with them. It’s enlightened compassion of a sort Rick and co haven’t been able to afford for a while and seeing it expressed here perfectly explains why Morgan is like he is.
- “I have come to believe that ALL life is precious. That’s why we’re having oatmeal burgers.” “You’re good at it…redirecting…” I love this exchange. Eastman is open, charming and evasive. And Morgan sees it and calls him on it. It’s the moment where we know Morgan’s back, even if he doesn’t quite know it himself.
- “Who did you lose?” “My wife and son.” “WHO you lost? Their names.” “Janet… and Dwayne…” Again this is a lovely encapsulation of their relationship. Eastman gently showing Morgan his wounds and forcing him to realise that his family were people, not just casualties.
- “If they caught me it’d have been fine… it’d have been better.” The final speech is heartbreaking but this line, and everything behind it is the killer. Eastman’s endlessly calm and aware and compassionate and, just like Morgan chooses to go through the door out of his PTSD, Eastman can’t ever quite go through the door that leads out of what he did.
- You’re going to see some, at least partially, justifiable criticism of this episode being put where it is in the running order. Coming the week after the apparent death of Glenn it looks a lot like gamesmanship on the part of Gimple to keep the tension up. That’s valid but this episode is so good and so unusual that you don’t mind.
- In an episode full of sublime subtlety, this thuddingly obvious visual metaphor comes across more like a bad pun. Pointless? Sharp pointy things? Yeah, we geddit.
- John Carroll Lynch is the patient zero of ‘That Guy Who Was In That Thing That Time!’ actors. His CV includes movies like Fargo, Gothika, Zodiac and Shutter Island while his TV appearances take in everything from Voyager to Lie To Me and an upcoming episode of American Horror Story: Hotel. So we’ll be talking about him again shortly in those reviews.
- His character is named Eastman, I suspect, as a nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One of whom, Donatello, uses abō staff as his weapon of choice. Lennie James’s trainer, martial artist Stephen Ho, is the fight double for Donatello. So, like the man says, everything’s a circle.
- Shot of the episode is this. Morgan, running forms one last time before leaving to join the road to Terminus and, from there, to Alexandria.
Review by Alasdair Stuart