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I’m going to be upfront and say that “Here’s Not Here” is a hard episode of The Walking Dead to review. On one hand, it’s an absolutely spectacular character piece with amazing performances from two of the finest character actors working in the business today. On the other, it’s a giant roadblock in the season six arc that stunts the forward momentum of the season and bars us from finding out what has happened to Glenn and Rick. Personally, I’m more than fine with taking an episode and a half to learn how the crazed Morgan of “Clear” became the zen Morgan we now have in Alexandria. But I suspect a large portion of the fan base will be less than thrilled that the series took this detour into Morgan’s past when it could have moved forward with the events at the end of “Thank You.”
Plotting a season of television isn’t an easy thing, and I think we can all agree that Morgan’s backstory needed to be told, particularly because his act of “mercy” with the Wolves during the Alexandria attack has placed Rick in a precarious position. But I can’t help but think this particular story might have fit a tad better had it been placed immediately after “JSS.” It would have flowed cleanly from Morgan’s fight with the Wolf, and it would have been a strong counterpoint to seeing Carol’s kill or be killed mentality save the day in the attack. It’s hard to believe that Scott Gimple and the team at The Walking Dead couldn’t foresee that massive media firestorm over the show’s decision to actively refuse to discuss Glenn’s fate on the show (choosing to stoke the media fires with veiled comments regarding his fate rather that simply keep quiet altogether). Even today, google The Walking Dead and the top stories will be discussions of the fact that Steven Yeun (Glenn) no longer appears in the show’s opening credits rather than reviews of what turned out to be one of the show’s finest episodes. But rather than continue harping on the poor choices of the show’s PR team, let’s break down “Here’s Not Here.”
Put Lennie James front and center on The Walking Dead and you are in for a treat. Add John Carroll Lynch to the mix and create a two-hander episode that shines in its intimacy? Well, this was just an amazing acting showcase. Gimple, the series’ showrunner, was also the episode’s writer, an important point to note, as he has been responsible for some of the show’s greatest episodes, including “Clear” and “The Grove”- both wonderful character pieces. The combination of two stellar actors and Gimple’s deft touch in mining strong character beats while finding drama and suspense in human interaction made “Here’s Not Here” one of the best episode’s of the past six seasons of The Walking Dead.
For a series that spends a lot of time ratcheting up the gore and violence, taking 90 minutes out of the season to explore the quiet of a mountain retreat where two broken men are able to heal is something special. The entire episode had the feel of a film, from the limited dialogue to the complete character arc of Eastman, each beat of the episode was clearly conveyed. To be able to introduce a character and have the audience develop an attachment to him so that his inevitable death (and, knowing that Morgan is now a lone wolf himself, Eastman’s death was always a foregone conclusion) truly stings within the confines of a single episode takes a great deal of work: on the page, in performance, and in the directing (this episode was helmed by Stephen Williams). Eastman was a completely realized, three-dimensional, character. If the show is able to do this with a one-off character, it troubles me that it hasn’t been able to do the same with several of the show’s long running core characters (although, perhaps Lynch’s considerable acting talent is greater than the abilities of some of the show’s main cast).
Aside from the great performances from Lynch and James, the episode has some intriguing things to say about Morgan’s approach to violence and killing. On the face of the episode, it’s easy to understand Eastman’s philosophy and why is appeals to Morgan. For a man who was as broken as Morgan, having a creed to stick to and define his life is key. Structure allows for him to move past who he once was and stay focused. Without personal meaning within his life, Morgan could very easily slip back into the messed up version of himself from “Clear.” But is this lifestyle truly viable in the “real” world? When you’re living alone in an isolated cabin, it’s pretty easy to say taking a life is wrong. When the Wolves are bearing down on your house and slaughtering your neighbors? Not really a viable choice. And we’ve already seen that Morgan’s choice to spare the lives of the Wolves has resulted in Rick having to fight for his life. Alone in a cabin, all consequences fall on you. In society, your choices can result in others getting killed.
I think it’s fair to say that the show has come down in favor of Carol’s kill or be killed mantra over Morgan’s pacifist notions, but I’m glad the show has taken the time to explore why Morgan is the way he is. After all, we’ve been presented with six seasons worth of evidence as to why Carol has become who she is today, it’s only fair that we get a chance to better understand Morgan. I’m eager to see what happens when Morgan is faced with the decision of killing to save someone (it would be fitting if it were Carol, even though I would hate to see her in danger). Will he accept the death of an ally rather than kill an enemy?
— As I mentioned above, Steven Yeun is no longer in the opening credits. Actors’s names have disappeared and reappeared before (most recently, Emily Kinney (Beth) was out of the credits following her character’s death, only to once again appear in the credits when she returned as one of Tyreese’s hallucinations), so make of it what you will.
— Someone needs to give John Carroll Lynch his own series. He’s such a great actor.
— In news that will surprise no one, AMC renewed both The Walking Dead and Talking Dead for another season this weekend. So, plenty more walkers to come.