THE WALKING DEAD delivers a masterpiece of television with the 4th episode of this 6th season.
THE WALKING DEAD is firing on all cylinders this season, opening up its narrative, playing with timelines and space, pounding out suspenseful set pieces and offering a much broader, more epic canvas to paint its arcs on.
With that, this 4th episode dials back the dense story forged in the first three installments, with the horror of the Alexandria fallout and the death of a pivotal character (IS Glenn dead? Everyone wants to know!) pushed to the margins in favor of etching a somber, 90 minute spin-off film.
Indeed, this episode plays like a quasi-western-cum-samurai movie, with minimal carnage, maximum atmosphere and many wide, open spaces; a stand-alone 2-hander that is as existential as it is affecting, while still providing essential backstory for a major character and providing an actor to deliver some career best work.
In this episode we follow Morgan (Lennie James, who is mesmerizing) and the origins of his stick of death and life of peace. The show opens with Morgan addressing the camera directly, an obvious substitute for another character who is left off-screen, to be revealed later. Morgan promises to reveal every last bit before the action smashes to the character having some kind of mental break in a blood smeared room, ranting at everyone and no one as flames lap at the walls.
This is the pre-credits set-up for what will be Morgans story, the bridge between his life in Atlanta first charted in Season One and his new existence as TWDs resident zen warrior.
We see Morgan running through the woods, slaughtering ghouls with wild abandon. The KNB sculpted corpses keep-a-coming and Morgan keeps killing (including one head pummeling shot that rivals that of Gaspar Noes IRREVERSIBLE, piling the double-dead onto an ever-burning pyre. In one horrifying shot, a not-quite-decimated zombie leaps from the fire to continue his cannibal quest before Morgan puts it down once and for all.
But it isnt just the dead Morgan wants to destroy. Its everything and everyone. Any living person that crosses his path is murdered with equal efficiency. Every stretch of wood Morgan wipes out, he uses a stick dipped in blood (in one revolting scene we see the makeshift quill inking up in a zombies stomach) to write the word clear on trees. He simply eats, sleeps, camps, kills, erases and moves on
When he finds a fortified cabin in the woods, a voice warns him to drop his rifle. The same voice also offers him falafel. Morgan, still in a state of singular, homicidal delirium ignores this request and continues his raid, that is until hes clubbed into unconsciousness by the unseen owner of that voice.
The home belongs to Eastman, a man who lives a life of solitude and peace in the woods. He locks Morgan in a cage and hands him a copy of the book The Art of Peace and prepares a vegetarian meal for him, while lecturing about how man was not meant to kill. He keeps a goat in his yard that he protects and cares for, defending when stray ghouls drift onto his property looking for a quick bite. At night he brings the goat inside to sleep and asks Morgan to be kind to his pet. Morgan responds by demanding Eastman kill him. Eastman shuts off the lights an goes to bed.
We learn that Eastman was, before the end of the world, a forensic psychiatrist employed by the state to assess prisoners and see if they were contenders for reform. He tells Morgan that he, like all of the murderers and criminals he encounters, is not bad, just suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and he offers to help Morgan and train him in the ancient art of Aikido, to find a higher, peaceful purpose.
Morgan retorts by telling Eastman that he will kill him once he escapes. That he will do this because he clears; its what he has to do. Eastman tells him to reject such notions and it is revealed that Morgans cell was never actually locked. Morgan attacks Eastman. They fight. Eastman overtakes Morgan twice and, eventually, Morgan breaks down in defeat.
Over the span of days, maybe weeks, the two men bond and slowly, Morgan reconnects with his humanity. When a troupe of ghouls come into the yard and go after the goat, Morgan kills them, and, following the guidance and morality of his newfound mentor, buries the zombies in a make-shift cemetery. Even the living dead deserve respect and dignity
Eastman shares more of his anti-murder philosophies while also training Morgan in his stick-wielding ways. In one poignant moment, Eastman promised Morgan (who, as we know lost his wife and son) that he will one day hold a baby again, which in the season opener, he did after Rick offered him a cuddle with Judith. But after a botched attempt to kill a zombie infiltrator (that is actually the ghoulified version of a boy Morgan previously killed), Eastman is bit on the back and, very quickly, the dream unravels.
With Eastman on borrowed time, Morgan continues his duties farming and protecting the house. But then the damned goat wanders off and is eaten by a sickening ghoul. Eastman is devastated by this and the end of his life and the world he so lovingly created and passes on some final wisdom to Morgan before the zombie disease takes him and Morgan opts to leave the home.
In the shows final moments, we smash back to where we began. As it turns out, Morgan is in the now re-fortified Alexandria and is relating his tale to the member of The Wolves he confronted last round. The thug is Morgans prisoner and Morgan is now attempting to rehabilitate this man, like Eastman did to him. But the killer is having none of this and calmly, distressingly reveals that he must abide by his code and that if and when he escapes, he will kill Morgan and everyone else, babies too. Its what he is wired to do
Morgan leaves the prisoner in shackles and re-emerges to the street. He hears a sound, turns and rushes off camera towards it and
How remarkable that THE WALKING DEAD used an extended time-slot to devote to this character and deliver such a beautiful, haunting piece of work.
This season and, especially this episode, is a masterpiece of television.
And here’s a look at next week’s episode: