A few random thoughts on the Morgan-centric episode we had all been waiting for:
- The showrunners had warned us about this season’s rhythm being a bit uneven: just like the season premiere shifted between slow dialogue and action-packed scenes, this episode was a (long) respite from last week’s crazy events. I’m glad they took their time with this one, as it was a story worth telling, but I can’t help but wonder what’s happening outside the walls of Alexandria as Morgan chooses to narrate the events between Season 3’s ‘Clear’ and now.
- Morgan’s choice of audience might seem unlikely at first glance, but as the Wolf is revealed in the wrap-around scene, no one is surprise. The parallels between Morgan and Eastman are evident, as are the similarities between Morgan’s former self and the Wolf, right down to the symbolism featured throughout the episode: locked and unlocked doors.
- Despite the parallels one can draw between the two stories, there are also major differences here:
– Eastman had been secluded in that idyllic location since before the apocalypse. His own personal tragedy predated the ‘end of the world’. The only threat he had to face since then was that of random walkers trying to get to his beloved Tabitha. It’s much easier to respect all human life when no one is actively trying to kill you at every turn. Had he been attacked by hordes of walkers like our group has over the course of 2-3 years, he couldn’t have possibly taken the time to look through their belongings and dig individual graves for all of them. Had he been attacked by the Governor, the Terminus people, the Claimer hang or the Wolves, he probably wouldn’t have made it out alive without having to break his code.
– Morgan’s actions, on the other hand, have consequences beyond the protection of a log cabin and a goat. His new code has resulted in loss of life in his own community not once, but twice now, not to mention he almost got Rick killed by letting the Wolves escape Alexandria. As much as he might perceive his newfound respect for all human life as noble or charitable, he is being reckless at the expense of not just himself, but the people he cares about. The very people Eastman had urged him to go looking for after he died.
- Eastman was a fantastic character and John Carroll Lynch was phenomenal. His long monologues were gripping, and that’s quite a feat to accomplish on a show where any slowing down of the action is easily perceived by the fans as ‘boring’. Morgan couldn’t have found a better mentor if he tried: not only was Eastman trained to discern between psychotic or sociopathic behavior and mental illness, he was also able to diagnose and treat the condition. It is quite telling that the man who was able to bring Morgan back from his homicidal haze was a professional psychiatrist.
- But Morgan wasn’t the only one to gain something out of this relationship. He gave Eastman purpose (other than coming up with descent goat’s cheese). His loneliness was palpable – so much so, that he was willing to invite an unhinged man into his home and leave the cell door open in order to gain his trust. Through his tutelage, Eastman gained a friend, and those are hard to come by in the apocalypse, especially in a remote cabin in the woods.
- Eastman’s story arc, though short, was fascinating. The story of Crichton Dallas Wilton was as sad as it was gut-wrenching. It also served as a great plot device to prove the very point this show has been trying to convey since the beginning: even the best of us are capable of unspeakable things. What separates the good ones from the bad aren’t their actions themselves, but their perception of them: remorse, regret, lessons learned.
- What did Morgan take away from the Crichton story, aside from the Aikido code of never killing anyone again? Certain clues point to his intention of treating his captured Wolf the same way. Although he could take him to the infirmary to treat his infected wound, he keeps him in the basement; whether this is because he intends to starve him to death remains to be seen. Despite Morgan’s zen attitude, he’s no dummy: he knows that revealing his prisoner to his fellow Alexandrians won’t end well for the Wolf. Carol would probably stab him in the face before anyone else had time to blink. The locked door might point towards a repetition of the Crichton punishment, but personally I think it speaks more to Morgan’s common sense than anything else.
- From where I stand, this is not a case of Morgan doling out the same punishment to the Wolf as Eastman did with Crichton Dallas Wilton. If anything, it looks like the roles are reversed: the new Morgan is Eastman post-Crichton, and the Wolf is Morgan before he met Eastman. By telling the Wolf the story, he is hoping to rehabilitate him, like Eastman did for him. To pay it forward, in a sense.
- Except for one important fact: Morgan, even the crazy, homicidal Morgan, was nothing like the Wolf. His killing spree had been part instinct, part PTSD, as diagnosed by Eastman (and I’m pretty sure we can diagnose that in every single member of our survivors). It was his defense against the atrocities he had witnessed. He had to ‘clear’ everything and everyone, until someone finally cleared him. He may have brutally murdered people, but he didn’t seem brazen about it.
- The Wolves, on the other hand, don’t appear to be suffering from anything other than a conscious decision to kill everything in their path. They feel no remorse, and they seem to be bound together only by their common intention of spreading death around. Eastman’s efforts to appeal to Morgan might have fallen on deaf ears at first, but it didn’t take long before Morgan’s humanity resurfaced. The captured Wolf is not a trapped animal, like Morgan was in that cell. He is matter-of-fact about his intention to kill everyone in Alexandria; he listens to Morgan story and is not affected by it in the least, because he’s lost all trace of humanity. It’s perfectly clear that he will not hesitate to follow up on his promise, as he gives Morgan that awful, demented smile.
- It looks like an experiment doomed to fail before it even began, and if we learned anything from Morgan’s behavior pattern in recent episodes, it will cause much trouble for his community. The only ray of sunshine was Rick’s voice at the end of the episode, shouting at the guard to open the gate: he made it through the zombie herd somehow, and I can’t wait to see what happened while Morgan was telling his incredible story.
- Oh, and one last detail: when discussing his plans for a trip, Eastman mentioned going to one of the islands. Maybe it’s just because I live in a country with an abundance of islands to choose from, but I’ve been saying this for years: if there’s any place that might offer some semblance of safety for the group, it’s somewhere the walkers can’t get to them, and it’s pretty fair to assume that they can’t swim. It would be much easier to eradicate the walker population in a contained environment such as an island; it would also be much easier to banish any unwanted humans and be protected (or at least forewarned) of any hostile attacks. They’ve made it to Washington (almost); they would just as well have made it to the coast and found a boat.