[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode ofThe Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]
"I've come to believe that all life is precious."
On Sunday's very special (and 90-minute) episode of The Walking Dead, Morgan taught viewers a lesson in paying it forward. But will that turn out to be a mistake?
One week after The Walking Dead possibly (but probably not really) killed off a major character, the show pressed pause on the pulsing action and debate to spend 90 minutes tracking just how Morgan (Lennie James) went from being the raving maniac we met in the Season 3 episode "Clear" to the staff-toting, life-preserving warrior who returned to Alexandria. And we have one man to thank for Morgan's miraculous transformation: a doughy forensic psychiatrist named Eastman (guest star John Carroll Lynch).
Despite wonderful performances from both James and Lynch, two actors I generally will watch do almost anything, I am not convinced this episode needed the extended running time. Or at least, I am not sure that we needed the opening scenes of Morgan scrawling "clear" on every surface he can find and screaming at himself. We've seen that side of him before in another episode devoted almost entirely to him. The meat, of course, was how he left those ways behind, and that all began when Morgan met Tabitha, Eastman's goat. Eastman warned Morgan to stay away, and when he insisted, Eastman cracked him over the head and popped him in a prison cell inside the cabin.
But Eastman isn't interested in keeping a prisoner or, as Morgan repeatedly begs, killing Morgan. Instead, he wants to help Morgan find his way out of his PTSD (Eastman's professional diagnosis). Eastman believes Morgan keeps opening a door in his mind in hopes of preventing his wife's and son's deaths, but instead it just keeps leading him to reliving it over and over again. "One of those doors leads out," Eastman insists, calling B.S. on Morgan's so-called mission of wiping out humans and walkers alike. "We're not built to kill. We're not. We can't be. We feel. We're connected."
Proving that his Kumbaya attitude is more than just words, Eastman reveals that Morgan's prison cell isn't locked (and hasn't been the whole time). Once Morgan is out, he instantly tries to kill Eastman, even though he'd warned Morgan he wouldn't allow that. Although Morgan bests Eastman briefly, the big guy eventually gets the upper hand. He later explains to Morgan that he did so with aikido, a form of martial arts that "redirects" an opponent's energy rather than being aggressive. As Morgan later reads in Eastman's copy of The Art of Peace, aikido doesn't believe in killing, "even the most evil person." (Eastman is a vegetarian who eats "oatmeal burgers" and even digs a grave for every walker he is forced to put down.) Once Morgan agrees to finally allow Eastman to teach him his life philosophy, he realizes that he must also redirect his thoughts about who he was and what he's done. "We evade it by moving forward, with a code to never do it again," Morgan says.
But Morgan's transition doesn't come without some bumps. When Eastman suggests they need some extra equipment for an upcoming trip, Morgan leads the men back to his old campsite where he stored some supplies. However, being back in that place makes Morgan question his commitment. Eastman makes him do some of his aikido and brings him off the ledge. But when a walker attacks — a zombie version of a young man Morgan had previously boasted about strangling with his own hands — Morgan zones out, forcing Eastman to step in. But before Eastman can take the walker out, he is bitten in the back. A furious Morgan instantly begins to slip back into his old mind frame and he sends Eastman away.
After some time alone, however, Morgan returns to Eastman's cabin where his teacher shared his final lesson. Although Eastman had previously told Morgan about Crichton Dallas Welton — a prisoner Eastman once treated/evaluated who, because Eastman prevented his parole, broke out of jail simply to kill Eastman's son and daughter — Eastman didn't tell the full story. Eastman built the cell Morgan formerly occupied, kidnapped Crichton and watched him starve to death over the course of seven days. Eastman tells Morgan that after that, he was as lost as Morgan had been, and that the act didn't give him any peace. "I found my peace when I decided to never kill again," he says before encouraging Morgan to not stay in the cabin alone after Eastman is dead. "Everything is about people, everything in this life that's worth a damn."
And as luck (or Eastman's lucky rabbit's foot) would have it, as soon as Morgan leaves Eastman's cabin, he finds the signs for Terminus, promising him a safe and happy community to join. Although we know how that turned out, that journey ultimately led Morgan back to Rick and the current philosophical debate they have been having this season. But that debate is probably about to get even more heated. That's because the final moments of the episode reveal that Morgan was telling his story to his own prisoner, the Wolf he knocked unconscious a couple episodes ago.
Even though Morgan seems intent on teaching his new pal the lessons Eastman taught him, this young man seems less interested than Morgan was in being rehabilitated, partly because he's already suffering from a life-threatening injury. "I know I'm probably going to die," he tells Morgan. "But if I don't, I am going to have to kill you, Morgan. I'm going to have to kill every person here. Every one of them. The children too. Just like your friend Eastman's children. Those are the rules." As Morgan leaves his prisoner behind seemingly undeterred, he does lock the door behind him. Perhaps he's not as evolved as Eastman yet. Or, more likely, Morgan knows better than to let this known killer free to act on his promise. But something tells me that Morgan's decision to keep the man alive at all is going to seriously bump with Rick, assuming he makes it out of that RV.
Again, the performances were amazing and, as a piece of character work, this episode worked very well. But I am not certain that it illuminated Morgan's struggle in a way that was all that enlightening. Simply knowing that Morgan believes all life is precious puts him in opposition to Rick, regardless of how well we understand Morgan's reasons for that belief. However, perhaps it does illustrate just how seriously Morgan takes his new code, which in turn suggests that neither Morgan nor Rick are likely to be swayed by the opposite viewpoint.
So, who do you think is right? Or, perhaps more importantly, who will win out?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.