‘The Walking Dead’: Zen and the Art of Goat Maintenance

The Walking Dead
“Here’s Not Here”
November 1, 2015

Oh, hey, were you looking forward all week to this episode of The Walking Dead so you could learn, once and for all, the fate of one Glenn Rhee? You know what? How about a Morgan bottle episode instead?

NOW

Hey, remember that one Wolf that Morgan got into a fight with at the end of the second episode, the one he didn’t just hand a gun to and send on his way? And it was unclear whether or not Morgan had actually killed him or if he had just smacked him upside the head with his Jedi stick? But then we stopped worrying about whether or not Morgan killed him because OMG THEY KILLED GLENN!

It turns out Morgan didn’t, in fact, kill the Wolf, but instead kept him alive so that he would have someone to tell his story to as punishment for decapitating his friends.

THEN

After Rick, Michonne and Carl paid Morgan a visit at his cozy little nest of axe traps and insane chalkboard ramblings, apparently the whole place caught on fire? Morgan set it on fire? It burned down. Somehow. Morgan responds by muttering nonsense and moving out to the woods.

Killing forest zombies, killing forest zombies, killing forest zombies.

When not killing zombies, Morgan bides his time by creating a little camp, complete with zombie campfire, a fence made of sharpened zombie impalers, and unhinged messages on rocks including: “POINTLESS ACTS” “HERE’S NOT HERE” “CLEAR” and “A.” When your chalkboard burns down, you gotta make do.

Morgan also breaks the walker-killing monotony by occasionally killing the non-zombie people who cross his path, including one unfortunate father/son duo. Morgan stabs the father in the face, and then proceeds to strangle the son with his bare hands, for laffs.

Later, Morgan is off looking for something or someone to kill, when he hears a goat bleating nearby. He sneaks past a can alarm and is just about to claim a new goat pet/dinner for himself, when a disembodied voice coming from somewhere inside the nearby cabins instructs him to step away from the goat, The Voice needs her for cheese. The Voice urges Morgan to put his gun down, it’s cool! They can talk about it over some falafel! But Morgan ignores The Voice, choosing to sneak around the cabins, looking for a way inside, earning a Jedi stick to the head for his trouble. Bonk!

When Morgan comes to, he finds himself in a jail cell inside the cabin (which begs many, many questions), with a plate of tomatoes and falafel beside him. The fabulous John Carroll Lynch, whom we are calling Eastman here, asks Morgan for his name, only to get a surly “KILL ME” in response. “That’s a stupid name,” Eastman replies, “You should change it.” Morgan just keeps yelling “KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME” over and over until Eastman loses interest, tosses a copy of The Art of Peace into Morgan’s cell and then heads outside to save his goat, Tabitha, from a couple of walkers. STAY STRONG, TABITHA.

As Morgan mutters more nonsense to himself — “16 hours in 19 on the floor,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean, for instance — Eastman brings Tabitha inside for the night, and asks Morgan nicely to not hurt her, reminding Morgan that even though he shot at him, Eastman fed him, so the least he can do is not eat Tabitha.

The next morning, Morgan watches as Eastman practices his Jedi stick moves, kills some walkers, drags their bodies off somewhere, and attempts and fails to make goat cheese.

toddlers-and-tiaras_gag

Later, Eastman tries to make conversation: he used to work as a forensic psychiatrist for the state, what did Morgan do? What does Morgan do? Morgan explains that he “clears,” meaning he kills anyone and anything that comes across his path. Why? Because he’s still here. Eastman thinks this is nonsense, before offering Morgan more food.

Morgan spends his time in his cell twisting a zipper tab off of his jacket which he then uses to pull the wood panelling off of the window: Step One in Morgan’s Great Escape. The plan is put on hold, however, when Eastman returns and begins diagnosing Morgan. It’s PTSD. Eastman noticed the blood on his stick out there. Morgan explains that he killed a father and son the day before he came here — maybe the same day, Morgan’s too crazy to know the difference anymore. But that’s what he does: he kills people. Eastman asks if the people he kills had threatened him, and Morgan admits that not all of them had been threats. Eastman then asks if Morgan saved anyone, and Morgan explains that saving people is a “pointless act.” After all, everyone turns. (I mean, aside from the ones the zombies completely devour. Details.)

Eastman mentioned that he noticed a wedding ring on Morgan, and, seeing the wince when he asks Morgan if he had children, has his answer. Eastman calmly notes that Morgan must have loved them a lot to be this way, before guessing that Morgan “saw it happen.” Eastman then explains that it’s still happening before Morgan’s eyes, but that there is a door in front of him, and Morgan tries to go through it, only to be led back to that moment. Morgan might be tempted to stop opening the door, but Eastman assures him that one of those doors will lead out of his personal hell.

Eastman then promises Morgan that he doesn’t have to clear; that humans, we’re not built to kill. Of the 825 criminals he interviewed over the years, Eastman only met one he thought was truly evil. As for the rest, they all had the capacity to heal, we all can. It’s all a circle, everything gets returned.

ouroboros-gif

With that, Eastman explains that the cell is open, it has been all along. Morgan has two choices: he can leave, or he can stay on the couch and try to find a way to open that door in his mind. BUT THOSE ARE HIS ONLY CHOICES. So Morgan exits the cell and immediately attacks Eastman, which as was made clear, WAS NOT ONE OF HIS CHOICES.

Fight fight struggle fight. In the midst of their tussle, Morgan breaks a framed piece of kids’ art, which, for the briefest of moments, makes Eastman consider killing him dead.

But he does not. Morgan begs him, again, to kill him, but when Eastman does not, Morgan returns himself to his cell.

Later that evening, Eastman explains that Aikido is how he kicked Morgan’s ass — or, rather, how he redirected Morgan’s ass. He himself then redirects, explaining that in his job he heard a lot of horrific stories. One night, his five-year-old daughter found him drinking and crying in the garage, overwhelmed by what he had heard. When Eastman explained to her that he wasn’t feeling good, she gave him her lucky rabbit’s foot to make him feel better. The next day, he saw a flyer for Aikido, so the foot worked.

Anyway, Aikido: it will help Morgan, and he needs help before they go on their trip. Morgan asks where they’re going, and Eastman is like, “LOL IDK!” Eastman then says goodnight, and Morgan slips out of his cell to see what it was that Eastman was working on the whole time: the kid’s art that Morgan broke in their fight.

The next morning, Eastman offers Morgan some goat cheese, before explaining that he’s been a vegetarian for a while — not that he’s giving up his GooGoo Clusters anytime soon.

Mmm… GooGoo Clusters.

Eastman invites Morgan to come scavenging with him, but when Morgan silently declines, Eastman asks him to stay behind and watch Tabitha for him. So he does, passing the time with a little light reading:

IMG_5001.JPG

His reading is interrupted by Tabitha’s increasingly more distressed bleating as walkers approach, and Morgan does his very best to ignore her. But even Crazy Murderous Morgan isn’t just pure, goat-hating evil, and he saves Tabitha in the nick of time, but not before noticing a wedding ring hanging from a chain around the walker’s throat.

Eastman returns to find Morgan in the process of burying the walker in Eastman’s private cemetery, where Eastman digs out the corpse’s ID so that he can make it a name marker. When they return to the cabin, Eastman scolds Morgan for breaking his garden fence and trampling a tomato plant, before gifting Morgan with his very own bonking stick.

jedi light saber obi-won luke.gif

Cue the Aikido training sequence. All life is precious. You have to care about the welfare of your opponent. It’s about redirecting. Whatever we have done, we have done. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Accept everyone. Protect everyone. In doing so, you protect yourself.

One night, over dinner, Morgan asks the most obvious question of the episode: what’s with the jail cell in the cabin? Was that an add-on with the construction kit? Eastman explains that of the 825 people he interviewed, one stood out: Creighton Dallas Wilton, a charming psychopath who played everyone in the prison system. The problem is that Eastman saw through him. And Wilton knew Eastman knew, which is why Wilton attacked him in the middle of an interview. That’s when Eastman began taking Aikido — for self-defense, and made it his mission to make sure Wilton never saw the outside of prison. However, Wilton managed to charm the right people, broke out of prison, and went straight to Eastman’s home where he murdered Mrs. Eastman and Eastman Jr. and Lil’ Eastman Jr. Wilton then marched to the police station and, covered in Eastman blood, surrendered.

So Eastman waited a year, and built the cell in the cabin with the intention of grabbing Wilton from a work project on the side of the highway and watching him starve to death. When Morgan asks if he went through with it, Eastman explains that he’s come to believe all life is precious. And Morgan applauds him on his redirecting.

The next day, Morgan leads Eastman back to his camp to retrieve supplies for their upcoming trip to wherever. There, Eastman asks Morgan for the names of those he lost, and, heartbroken, he says their names again: “Jenny and Duane.” Eastman tells Morgan he’s sorry, and Morgan instructs him, “don’t ever be sorry.” With that, Eastman orders that they “do their forms,” and after a little practicing, Eastman assures Morgan that he will “hold a baby again.”

And that’s when a walker stumbles out of the woods towards them — and not just any walker, but the kid who Morgan strangled to death FOR NO GOOD REASON. Morgan hesitates in killing him, which is why Eastman steps up and gets his fool zen self bit. AHHHGH, NOT EASTMAN. I MEAN, WE ALL KNEW THIS WAS COMING, BUT IT STILL HURTS.

Morgan is SO MAD AT EASTMAN, and yells at him that it wasn’t for him to do, and demands to know HOW IT IS. Fight fight struggle fight, and after a nasty hit in Eastman’s bite, Eastman knocks Morgan to the ground, and Morgan once again demands that Eastman kill him. Eastman declines.

Instead, Eastman drags the walker’s body back to his cemetery in the wagon, and Morgan slips back into old habits. Grabbing his non-Jedi stick, Morgan slips back out into the woods to “clear.” There, he kills a walker who just happened to be about to nom on a delicious GooGoo Cluster young couple. And for a moment, Morgan considers finishing the job that the walker was about to start. But then the young woman pulls a can of food and a bullet out of her bag as thanks, and he lets them go. I mean, they’ll be eaten later, clearly; there’s no way those two survive. But hey! Morgan makes progress, and that’s what’s important.

However, sadness: Morgan returns to the cabin where he finds a walker devouring Tabitha. AHHHHGH, NOT TABITHA. I MEAN, WE ALL KNEW THIS WAS COMING, BUT IT STILL HURTS.

R.I.P. Tabitha. You were a good goat.

tabitha the goat the walking dead

Morgan brings Tabitha’s body to the cemetery, where Eastman tells him he’s glad he came back. As Morgan digs a grave for everyone’s favorite goat, he spies the marker for one Creighton Dallas Wilton, and is like, “MMMHMM.” Eastman explains: he kidnapped him from a work site, brought him to the cabin and let him starve to death. It took 47 days. And then Eastman was where Morgan was: it didn’t give him peace. Eventually, Eastman found peace when he decided to never kill again, and he went to Atlanta to turn himself in. Except, HAHA, the world had ended.

On his way back to the cabin, he swung by his house to pick up that picture his daughter had drawn — she had drawn it on the wall and was worried that he’d be angry. Instead, he put a frame around it. So, on his way back to the cabin, he cut it off the wall to bring with him, walking 30 miles through walkers for a chunk of drywall.

Eastman then tells Morgan that while he can stay at the cabin if he wants, he shouldn’t. Morgan needs to be with people: everything is about people, everything in this life that is worth a damn is about people. With that, Eastman gives Morgan his lucky rabbit foot, and tells him he’s ready.

And the next thing you know, Morgan is packing his things, and passes Eastman’s grave as he heads out.

R.I.P. Eastman. You were a good zen master.

And on his travels, Morgan finds a sign for Terminus. Fortunately for him, he missed out on that excitement.

NOW

The Wolf wonders if Morgan thinks he can be saved, before showing Morgan the bite wound on his side. It seems the Wolves came to Alexandria after seeing Aaron’s photos, thinking that they might have medicine or cookies, GooGoo Clusters, something. The Wolf tells Morgan that he probably will die, but promises if he doesn’t, that he is going to murder every man, woman and baby in this town. Sorry, man, them’s the rules. Morgan tells him to not ever be sorry, before bashing the Wolf’s head in getting up, walking away and locking the Wolf in the basement prison.

And that’s when he hears Rick screaming to OPEN THE GATES!!

Let’s start by talking easter eggs, because this episode was as full of them as a GooGoo Cluster is of peanuts. Speaking of those GooGoo Clusters, we finally understand why Morgan placed that GooGoo Cluster, the rabbit’s foot and a bullet on Father Gabriel’s altar:

morgan church altar the walking dead

I’m sure you noticed Eastman’s turtle shirt:

eastman turtle shirt the walking dead

But did you also see the turtle prints in Eastman’s home?:

IMG_5002.JPG

I originally thought the choice of the name “Eastman” was sort of a lazy allusion to the Eastern philosophies that inform Eastman’s life choices. And while this might be a part of why the writers named him, it seems that the creator of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is named Kevin Eastman. And the connections don’t end there: the actors who played Morgan and Eastman learned their Aikido moves from Steven Ho, who played Donatello in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. And so now all those turtle references make a little more sense.

There was an “A” spotted again, this time in Morgan’s camp along with all his other crazy messages. This just confuses the issue of what the writers mean with this particular symbol, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. We’ve seen the “A” on the train car at Terminus; on the side of Father Gabriel’s church; as the stamp that Sam puts on people’s hands in Alexandria; on the bannister in Terminus; and now at Morgan’s campsite. So who even knows what the “A” represents anymore. WHO EVEN KNOWS. FRANKLY, I DON’T THINK THE WRITERS KNOW.

Eastman tells Morgan, in one of the most poignant moments of the episode, that he’s going to hold a baby again:

morgan judith the walking dead
I’M NOT CRYING. YOU’RE CRYING.

And there was some clever use of repeated dialogue. You might have noticed that Morgan tells both Eastman and the Wolf, “don’t ever be sorry.” But what you might not remember is that back in “Clear,” Carl shoots Morgan (who survives because he was wearing body armor). When Rick, Carl and Michonne leave Morgan, Carl apologizes to Morgan for shooting him, and Morgan replies, “don’t ever be sorry.”

And there was this repeated dialogue:

come on sit down the walking dead.jpg

ouroboros-gif
It all comes back around.

Finally, there is the ultimate easter egg: the fact that they removed Steven Yeun from the opening credits. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? It means one thing: redirection.

As for the episode itself, though it didn’t answer our most current most pressing question — whether or not Glenn is actually dead — it was a much needed gasp of air in an otherwise unrelenting season. It was a character study, and it is, arguably, what The Walking Dead does best.

It’s interesting, many many characters were spilled onto the intertubes on the “Glenn’s Death” episode last week, and one piece in particular, “Why You Should Stop Watching The Walking Dead,” caught my attention. It was written by someone who admitted to having given up on the series somewhere in the third season, complaining that The Walking Dead isn’t a story, “It’s just a monotonous drone of people in pain.” And there is some truth to this! If you are watching The Walking Dead hoping for some sort of solution to the zombie apocalypse, you’re going to be woefully disappointed. Because of the nature of the threat, there is not going to be some sort of answer or resolution to the zombie problem.

Instead, The Walking Dead has, somewhat brilliantly in these most recent seasons, become a series of character studies examining what it means to be human, and demonstrating people’s true natures as they reveal themselves through the prism of these apocalyptic circumstances. And there is no one right or uniform answer: Faced with the end of the world, The Wolves and the Terminites lose all regard for the sanctity of human life; Rick and the Governor become a strong men, willing to kill those who threaten their people; and Morgan, just to be able to function, to survive, comes to a place where he understands that all life is precious, even his own.

There was nothing particularly surprising or unexpected in this episode: we all knew there was someone behind Morgan’s zen-like transformation and it was just be a matter of time before we met this person. And the story itself is pretty familiar: a guide or mentor leads the hero to search within himself for his inner strength, the teacher ends up fighting Darth Vader to the death as the student looks on, the student becomes the teacher. It is that familiarity, that reliance on the classic monomyth structure, that made this episode the sotto voce relief we needed in the midst of this fortississimo season. It didn’t upset expectations, it wasn’t a challenge — it just told a straight-forward story of how one man found his redemption.

What is interesting from a storytelling perspective is that redemption story follows a classic monomyth format: Morgan leaves his home (the building that burns down in the early moments of his story is in his hometown where his family died), and crosses the threshold into the unknown, which is full of threats and dangers — most of all, himself. There, he meets Eastman, a mentor, his Yoda/Ben Kenobi, the Supernatural Aid. When he chooses to save Tabitha, he embarks on the road of trials, tested by not just Eastman but by his own past and madness. While it is not a classic “Atonement with the Father,” Morgan does eventually come to understand and forgive Eastman for sacrificing himself to save Morgan, and Morgan is able to let the violent part of himself die to become new Zen Morgan. Morgan, who had spent the better part of the episode begging to be killed, reaches the final stage of the monomyth, Freedom to Live. From Wikipedia:

Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.

Campbell: “The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is. ‘Before Abraham was, I AM.’ He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, nor is he fearful of the next moment (or of the ‘other thing’), as destroying the permanent with its change. ‘Nothing retains its own form; but Nature, the greater renewer, ever makes up forms from forms. Be sure there’s nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form.’ Thus the next moment is permitted to come to pass.”

Typical redemption narratives usually rely on a figure like Morgan saving someone so that he can forgive himself and see the value of his own life. However, Morgan doesn’t actually save anyone in this episode, aside from Tabitha, and that is temporary. In some ways, he ends up getting the goat killed by running off in crisis. He does save the young couple at the end of the episode from the walker that was stalking them, but that wasn’t intentional, he was “clearing” and not on a rescue mission. And the fact that he chose not to kill the young couple isn’t exactly the same thing as “saving” them, though it does work towards Morgan saving himself.

What is interesting about using the monomyth format to tell this story is that it demonstrates what Morgan’s redemption story is really about: being with other people, rejoining society. The heroes of monomyths are typically young people, people on the verge of adulthood. The journey to becoming a “hero” is really the process we all undergo transforming from a child to an adult. We leave the comfort of childhood to venture into the unknown terrors of adulthood, discovering ourselves along the way — and, most importantly, we rejoin society as someone changed, more mature, able to give something back to the world that created us.

And that is what Morgan’s story is really about: his journey from the madness of solitude back into society. After all, “everything is about people, everything that is worth a damn.”

The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC at 8 p.m.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Chron.com.

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