What’s that? You want to know what happened to Glenn? Is he alive? Is he dead? Is he a shambling mess? Too bad, suckers!
You’ve got AT LEAST another week to get any traction on that storyline, and I’d be willing to bet it’s going to be longer than that, given that we’re four episodes into season 6 of The Walking Dead and we’re still telling one day’s worth of story.
Let that sink in a bit.
Sure we had flashbacks in Episode 1 that made it feel more stretched out, but all the current action took place in one day. Then we had the real-time Wolf attack occur while our heroes were out leading the herd away. That was followed by another episode of trying to lead the herd away from Alexandria. Now, with Episode 4, “Here’s Not Here,” we go full-on flashback to discover the secret origin of Morgan’s super cool ninja abilities (and his “All Life is Precious” conceit), only to end with someone shouting about opening the gate – which I would assume is Michonne and the new guys scrambling to safety with an army of zombies hot on their heels.
Which means that, despite the trailer for next week telling us that Maggie is suiting up to go look for Glenn, she’s probably not going to make it that far with hundreds of zombies between her and where we last saw her husband.
Okay, so that’s all out of the way. Worry about Glenn on your own time, people. This week was all about slowing down the pace and presenting what was essentially a two-man show about Morgan (Lennie James) and his mysterious benefactor, Eastman (John Carroll Lynch).
John Carroll Lynch has long been a favorite actor of mine, ever since his days as Drew Carey’s brother Steve on The Drew Carey Show. He’s an accomplished actor, showing up in just about every show ever made, but his highest profile appearance lately has been last season on American Horror Story as Twisty the Clown (and he’s popped up as John Wayne Gacy this season). You can pretty much count a solid, down-to-earth performance whether he’s playing broad comedy or straight drama.
In The Walking Dead, Lynch’s Eastman is an ex-forensic psychiatrist who has sworn that all life is sacred after a disturbing and brutal personal experience. And that was before the zombie apocalypse actually took place. He discovers a feral Morgan trespassing on his property as our old friend walks the earth as sort of an Anti-Kane, killing anything and everyone who crosses his path. It’s an understandable attempt to manage and live with his particular form of madness as he “clears” the world around him.
Essentially he’s taken his fortress (last seen in “Clear”) on the road, spearing, stabbing, strangling, and burning his way across the story, in a passive ongoing suicide attempt. Having lost everything, he’s ready to die if someone can actually get close enough to kill him.
And Eastman is the one who gets close enough; but since all life is precious, he’d rather try to rehabilitate Morgan than punish him, knocking him unconscious and then sticking him in a cage with food and a copy of The Art of Peace: Teachings of the Founder of Aikido. The Art of Peace, I’m told, is a non-violent alternative to teachings like Musashi’s Book of Five Rings or Sun Tzu’s Art of War and teaches that “the real way of the warrior is based on compassion, wisdom, fearlessness, and love of nature” (thanks Amazon!).
Being a confirmed cynic and supporter of Carol and Rick’s pragmatic approach to the dangers of the zombie apocalypse, I can’t say I’m a big fan of this philosophy (in the context of the show – in real life, it’s grand!), and while it doesn’t lead to the actual cruel ending of this episode’s story, as enacted by Morgan in its aftermath, this pacifism has led to nothing but death and chaos. In fact, it’s pretty freaking selfish, when we get right to the meat of the matter.
Pacifism is a philosophical approach that relies on appealing to or awakening the inherent humanity of the enemy or the oppressor. It also, as I see it, fixes the believer to a moral high ground at the expense of those suffering around them. The sanctity of life, as an absolute concept, is valued above all things and individual suffering seems to take a distant second to the moral “purity” of the self. Aikido, as a practice, is relatively new to history, developing in the early Twentieth Century and deriving from jujitsu. As such it aligns with the sort of non-violent philosophies that developed alongside violent cultures going back as far as China’s “Warring States period” around 400 BC (give or take a few years).
But in every iteration of pacifism and non-violence, there is a state or authority against which the pacifist is reacting. Pacifism in the face of armed brigands with no nation is almost always going to be a losing cause. Without a central authority to shame in a larger socio-political context, murderers and rapists have no reason to stop murdering and raping. The pacifist is just making things easier for them.
And don’t take this as a dismissal of pacifistic non-violence in the real world. Again, The Walking Dead is a fantasy of total societal collapse. It’s possible that in the context of the ongoing story, we’ll eventually get to a point where we’re dealing with groups of people larger than Alexandria, but even then, it’s hard to see how shame will accomplish anything. This is a world of death. A world where if your allies aren’t hardened to the prospect of killing, they are a weakness and a liability.
Not a single character in this show who chooses mercy and forgiveness for those who knowingly commit evil acts survives. These characters are not made for this world, but for the world the viewer lives in. And that’s a large part of the psychological appeal of The Walking Dead, I think. We become attached to those characters who try to maintain their “humanity” and it breaks our hearts when they inevitably fall, while at the same time we glorify the badasses like Daryl, Carol, and now Rick (and for me Shane from the very beginning) for their ability to survive and save the others.
The psychological question that lies at the heart of The Walking Dead is how do we protect the group without losing our humanity? What episodes like “Here’s Not Here” make plain is that there can be no absolutes. All life can’t be precious. In a world with no rules, we must make new rules. What was meant by “humanity” in a civilized world has to change in a post-apocalyptic world where the dead feed on the living – and the strong prey on the weak with abandon. What makes The Walking Dead so engaging is watching that struggle to redefine humanity and find the balance between compassion and pragmatism.
Oh yeah, so it turns out that this entire episode is Morgan telling his secret origin to that piece of shit Wolf we all hoped he’d killed back in “JSS” in an attempt to do for the Wolf what Eastman did for him. What Morgan just doesn’t understand is that he was sick and looking for a way to die, while the Wolf is not sick and looking for a way to live. And to live, he’ll murder everyone in his way.
The question is when will the Wolf escape and kill somebody else. Whose blood will be on Morgan’s hands next while he tries to maintain a sentimental attachment to an out-of-date morality?