Gene Page/AMC

'Everything is about people. Everything in this life that's worth a damn.'

November 02, 2015 at 03:13 PM EST

Since Morgan strolled into Rick and the rest of the people of Alexandria’s lives at the end of season 5, one question has lingered: How is this Morgan the same rabid man we saw back in season 3’s “Clear”?

“Here’s Not Here,” addresses that question (which means, yes, we’ll have to wait for resolution to “Thank You”) with a brief frame story bookending Morgan’s journey. For the week, The Walking Dead becomes a two-man play that succeeds or fails based on the performances of Lennie James and guest star John Carroll Lynch (Fargo, Zodiac, American Horror Story, and another dozen major movies and TV shows).

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And wow, does it succeed. I’ve been partial to Lennie James’ performance since The Walking Dead’s pilot, and while some may not love Morgan’s pacifist approach to survival, I’ve been overjoyed to see him return to the show, with “Here’s Not Here” giving reason to his philosophy.

“Here” delivers not just in providing context but in portraying two powerful character portraits, one a journey to reclaim humanity and the other the facilitator of that journey. Even if the outcome is easy to predict from its early moments, the moving tale is well worth taking.

The main heft of the episode’s story takes place in the nebulous time period of “THEN,” though it’s safe to say it comes after Rick ran into Morgan in “Clear” and before he began popping up in season 5. “Here” re-introduces us to the manic Morgan, someone absolutely devastated by the loss in his life. He has to clear, clear, clear, and he’s paying for that mission with an isolated life. His isolation and his panicked state is mirrored on screen as he goes to hunt, the world around him blurring as he steps through the forest.

But as he takes down walkers, as he clears them, so too does his mind clear, at least for the moment. He’s abating his pain but not completely eradicating it. As he takes out walkers, he drags them to a clearing, throwing them into a heap. There’s no regard for the lives that were once there, and instead he lights the pile ablaze. The fire draws more walkers to his location, as he expects, taking them out and using them for kindling. He has to clear, and so he does.

A close call with a walker causes him to up his defenses, however, and he sharpens spears to form a perimeter much like Rick’s group had at the prison. He fashions weapons, boils weapons, and goes out to clear. All he can do is clear (he’s now taken to painting his scrawling we saw in “Clear” on the rocks and foliage around his makeshift camp.

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Walkers aren’t the only ones on the receiving end of Morgan’s spears, though. As he hunts in the force, he outruns two human pursuers, striking one through the neck with a spear and choking the life out of the other with his bare hands. All he can do is clear, and so he does.

This is what his life has become, and the concept of any joy or happiness has evaporated from his existence. On one of his hunting trips, he comes across a beautiful clearing, almost too heavenly to be real. The grass and flowers are sprouting with vibrant health, and the sun is beaming down on the land. It’s a reminder of when Morgan’s life, when the world too, was not replete with death and the dead rising from it. He falls into one of his muttering spats, swinging his spear around until he finally breaks down. But he must clear, and so he moves on.

While doing so, Morgan comes across a cabin in the woods, where he’s met by… a bleating goat. All seems quiet, until a man asks Morgan to step away from the goat and put the gun down so they can talk. Given that this is the Morgan of Then and not of Now, he fires at the man, and attempts to find him somewhere in or around the house. But this unknown figure (Lynch) surprises Morgan, thwacking him over the head and placing him inside a prison cell in the cabin.

But this man is not a hostile captor. He’s given Morgan some food, there’s a childlike drawing on the wall, and the man merely asks for Morgan’s name.

“Kill me,” Morgan says in response. “That’s a stupid name,” the man replies, setting the stage for a beautiful friendship to come. Morgan is not in a kidding mood, however, repeatedly asking the guy to kill him. But all the man is going to kill is time, giving Morgan a copy of The Art of Peace and his own name, Eastman.

NEXT: Morgan makes a friend.

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AMC’s zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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