The Walking Dead Recap: Morgan’s Backstory Reveals How He Became Such a Badass

Lennie James
The Walking Dead finally revealed Morgan's story on Sunday's episode. Gene Page/AMC

The latest episode of The Walking Dead was a 90-minute affair, the better to fully explore Morgan's (Lennie James) backstory. (That’s right, there was no more about Glenn. Sorry!)

It was also a quiet, focused episode in which a lot went on without much happening, letting the full weight of its story sit on the capable shoulders of James and guest star John Carroll Lynch in one of the best onscreen pairings in the show's history.

Here's how Morgan got from there to "Here's Not Here."

Beginning at the End

"You said you want everything that I have? Well here it is, every last bit," said Morgan to the Wolf he captured in episode two, and so his story began.

The episode didn't go all the way back to Season 1 territory, when Morgan was holed up with his son in their home outside Atlanta, struggling to work up the courage to shoot his zombified wife. Instead, we caught up with Morgan in flashback right around the time that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) found with him on a supply run from the prison in Season 3, discovering his old friend holed up in an apartment alone.

Turns out, Morgan wasn’t always a bo-carrying badass with a deeply felt respect for human life. At one time, his philosophy was more like "kill everything that moves" — and in a flashback, we saw him spending his days in the woods, killing walkers and survivors alike, and piling up the bodies in a bonfire designed to attract still more zombies. In his spare time, he wrote nonsense graffiti on rocks and trees with zombies’ innards, because everyone needs a hobby.

Little House in the Big Woods

Somewhere in between setting zombie bonfires and smearing the word "CLEAR" on rocks in blood, Morgan stumbled onto a surprise sanctuary in the middle of the woods: a little log home straight out of a magazine, with a little goat hanging out in the yard. As Morgan approached, a disembodied and excessively reasonable voice warned him to step away from the goat and put down his gun. Morgan fired instead, and was swiftly knocked out by the voice's owner: a big, bald man in a bathrobe.

Only unlike most survivors of the zombie apocalypse, this man didn't want to rob Morgan, kill Morgan, or even harvest Morgan's limbs to make human hamburger. Instead, he brought him indoors and gave him a plate of homemade falafel — which only seemed to upset Morgan more.

Morgan would say only one thing to his captor from inside his cell: "Kill me." (Actually, he didn't say it so much as scream it repeatedly until the man finally responded by tossing a book into his cell. Said book: The Art of Peace.) And thus began a beautiful friendship.

Say Hello to Eastman

Eastman was a former forensic psychiatrist whose interests included aikido, cheese-making, and politely burying the zombie corpses in a graveyard out back. And what did Morgan do, Eastman asked?

"I clear. Anything that gets anywhere near me, I kill them," Morgan said.

Eastman had a word for this: PTSD. (Actually, two words: First he called it "horses–t.")

Although Morgan at first attempted to repay Eastman's kindness by "clearing" him, he ultimately became a guest at the cabin and a student of aikido. Eastman explained its philosophy thusly: that in caring about the welfare of the person you're fighting, you will also protect yourself.

As Morgan trained, Eastman revealed more about himself, including why he's handled the zombie apocalypse with such Zen-like calm. Turns out, Eastman had a run-in with a psychopath during his old life as a psychiatrist: a criminal named Crighton Dallas Wilton, who broke out of prison while on work-release just to murder Eastman's entire family.

Which, by the way, was why Eastman had a cell in his cabin: It was part of a presumably aborted plan to bring Crighton to the cabin, imprison him, and let him starve to death. Because, again, everyone needs a hobby.

The Morgan-Eastman Bromance Comes to an End

Unfortunately, friendships forged in Zombieland just don't last. Eastman and Morgan returned to the scene of one of Morgan's early "clearings" to get supplies, where Morgan finally confronted his losses: his wife and son. Eastman made him honor the moment with a series of aikido exercises, and paused in the middle with a hand on Morgan's shoulder: "You're going to hold a baby again," he said. (And awww, he will!)

Alas, this was Eastman's Obi Wan Kenobi moment. A zombie stumbled out of the woods, and Morgan, recognizing it as the body of a man he killed early in the episode, froze. Eastman rushed in to help him and was bitten on the back. Morgan, unable to handle what just happened, completely regressed and started screaming, "Kill me! Kill me!" again.

It seemed like Morgan might be doomed to spend the rest of his days "clearing" after all, as he started running through the woods, stalking a zombie with a spear like before. Only the zombie was stalking a young couple, who returned Morgan's favor by giving him a can of food and a bullet.

It was enough to snap Morgan back to sanity and send him back to Eastman's cabin — although not, alas, in time to save Tabitha the goat from being gorged on by walkers. RIP, Tabby.

A Lesson Before Dying

Eastman's "all life is precious" mantra served him well, but there's a twist: He picked it up after he treated someone's life extremely un-preciously.

In the graveyard, Morgan discovered a familiar name on the oldest marker: Crighton Dallas Wilton. Eastman, fading fast from his zombie bite, revealed the truth: Eastman did abduct the man who murdered his family and starved him to death inside that cell … for 47 days. In Eastman’s final hours, he gave Morgan two pieces of advice that Morgan clearly carried with him all the way to Alexandria.

First: "I found peace when I decided to never kill again."

And second: "Everything is about people. Everything that's left that's worth a damn."

Thus, Morgan's decision not to stay at Eastman's cabin, but rather to head out in search of other survivors — which is how he caught up with Rick and ended up in Alexandria.

"And that's it," Morgan said to the Wolf. "Every last bit."

"You think it can work out that way with me?" the Wolf replied, hopefully.

"I think it can," Morgan said.

At which point the Wolf pulled up his shirt to show a festering wound — which may or may not be a zombie bite — and explained that Morgan's code is nice and all, but if the Wolf doesn't die, his code means that he'll be killing every living soul in Alexandria before he leaves.

But Morgan, student of aikido and eternal believer in the sanctity of life, took it in stride — and left the Wolf alive, locking him into his basement, which is definitely going to end well and not create friction between Morgan and the rest of the survivors, at all.

Tell Us: What did you think of Morgan's backstory?

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