Fine. Not the best episode evah. Obviously a much better episode than last night’s show was the one where the group was inexplicably surprised by a horde of zombies and Rick had a crisis of conscience and Carol was tough and Daryl looked surly and one of the black characters ended up dying. Which episode was that again?
I’m in the unusual position of feeling not very grumbly about 90 minutes that many others are grumbling about a lot. “Don’t you think it was too talky?!” It was talky, but the first three hours of this season atoned for that. Besides, the problem with talky episodes of TWD isn’t so much the talkiness, it’s the dullness of the characters doing the talking. Morgan and Eastman are unusually complex people for this show and can sustain a colloquy. If you want to do an hour of, say, Carol doing nothing but talking, that’d be fine by me too. “Wasn’t Eastman just a ripoff of Yoda?” I … suppose so, and as a Twitter pal pointed out, it’s lame that the writers couldn’t do better name-wise for a guy who preaches eastern philosophy than “Eastman.” But it worked for me, for the simple reason that this was the best acted episode of the series. Hands down. Lennie James and John Carroll Lynch as Eastman were somehow plausible in one of the least plausible storylines the show’s ever done. And the guy at the end who plays the head Wolf was superb in his terrifying little tweaker-maniac soliloquy about his moral code. That was Morgan coming face to face with his own Crighton Dallas Wilton and considering, very seriously, whether to cast aside Eastman’s rule that all life is precious and kill that degenerate straight away. He resisted — but gave in to his impulse to lock the door on his way out, something Eastman had refused to do when he had Morgan in that cell. Morgan’s now caught between Eastman’s approach to the apocalypse and Rick’s. And if there’s one ironclad rule in the TWD universe, it’s this: If you want to survive, you do what Rick Grimes tells you. Pretty clearly we’re headed for a climax in which Morgan will either have to turn to the dark side completely, likely by killing that Wolf once he inevitably escapes, or sacrifice himself by declining to kill the Wolf even if it costs him his own life. I’d bet on the latter. If Eastman is Yoda, Morgan has to be Obi-Wan.
So yeah, last night was different, but after five seasons in which the hours increasingly blur together, I feel like Bill Murray at the end of “Groundhog Day”: Anything different is good. Usually good, I should say — these little side-story episodes where the show goes off to follow a single character or two can be hit (the Governor’s story arc a few seasons ago) or miss (the Daryl/Beth arc last year). And increasingly I appreciate characters like Eastman, as hokey and unlikely as they are, simply for breaking the monotony of the mood on the show. I liked Strand in “Fear the Walking Dead” for the same reason. The world’s fallen apart and somehow they’re chill as can be. Somewhere in the din of people screaming and shouting and shooting at things, there needs to be room for a few characters who have gone zen for whatever quirky personal reason. Carol’s not quite as unflappable as the two of them but she’s appealing in the same way. In fact, Carol and Eastman are similar in that they both endured terrible traumas before the apocalypse that’s ironically left them better able to cope with what they’re facing now. Carol is the abused wife who’s found empowerment and isn’t looking back; Eastman is the bereaved husband who found revenge and then realized he needed to find something else to gain inner peace. (Strand’s backstory is unclear so far.) We can spare an hour now and then for these extreme outliers who make a dark, desperate world a bit less dull.
I even liked the religious undertones of the story last night. It does seem believable, once the normalcy of a world overrun by zombies set in, that survivors would grasp for new ways to understand it. For Eastman, aikido’s philosophy seems tailor-made for endurance: When everything is death, embrace life. For the Wolf, the fact that everything is death is an invitation to embrace it. Eastman and the Wolf are the angel and devil sitting on Morgan’s shoulder, at least until Rick comes along and tries to blow the angel away. But Morgan’s not going to give in. For one thing, having just spent 90 minutes watching him become a Jedi, the audience now won’t accept Morgan turning his back on the Eastman way. And given the pulpy notions of heroism that this show follows, the writers don’t have it in them to take a character who’s been ennobled and run him back through the mud by turning him into a garden-variety Grimes-ish killing machine. Morgan’s obviously being set up for a heroic death that proves he was true to his new principles to the end. It’s a matter of when. And when they strike him down, he will become more powerful (as a moral example to others) than the Wolves can possibly imagine. I think?
Exit question one: Eastman is a Jedi master who can disarm a Rambo-esque Morgan with nothing more than a stick, but he couldn’t take care of that one zombie who was lurching towards Morgan without getting bit? That’s like Yoda dying at the end of “Empire Strikes Back” by falling and breaking his hip. Good lord, AMC. Exit question two: Hey, home come Steven Yeun wasn’t listed in the credits last night? Hmmmmmm.