The most powerful and memorable episode of Season 6 of The Walking Dead is episode 4: Here’s Not Here. We see Morgan losing the plot even more from when we last encountered him alone and traumatised in Season 3. Yet through the episode, he finds a way to return from the brink of isolated madness. His personal salvation comes through meeting with Eastman, a clinical psychologist, who lives alone having lost his wife and child to a vengeful murderer before the world’s end. Eastman saves Morgan physically and emotionally, and sets him on a path that leads him to Terminus and then to Alexandria.
Since we last encountered him burning the walking dead Morgan has entered the ‘wild’. He has been hunting to ‘clear’ areas of the infected, but also he continues to go further and ‘clear’ the living too – murdering a father and son who stray into his territory. He appears lost in every sense.
Yet his acts go beyond ‘ending’ the living dead. He collects them together and burns them in an accreting pile with petrol. The grisly pile of half-burned bodies define the centre of his world a ‘here’ that’s not really ‘here’. Around it, he creates a ceremonial space to be clear – a void – where harm and hate don’t exist and he can control the horrors of the post-apocalyptic environment.
Stakes define it, as a defence to catch ‘walkers’, and defining his ‘void’. Furthermore, earthfast boulders are part of his personal circular ‘cleared’ zone. He daubs in zombie blood statements asserting his acts and assertions, mirroring and extending his behaviour in Season 3 when Rick finds him alone in a room with walls covered in angry statements and a map of the ‘cleared’ town. Here in the woods, he creates his own isolated environment which he can purge and protect spatially and materially.
Once he slays, he burns. Cremating the dead is once again portrayed in TWD as about destroying and dispelling the undead without ritual or respect. Yet it is Morgan’s own personal ritualised set of actions. He is shown at one with the flames, and with its accumulation of half-burnt corpses. He handles the dead, burns the dead. He even swiftly and without hestitation slays a ‘walker’ that strides through the flames to attack him. He knows no mercy and knows no fear. Cremation is utter dissolution of humanity and society, we are shown him immersed in its practice.
Only one he seems to forget to burn: and this comes back to harm him and harm Eastman.
The most archaeologically evocative scene shows a close up of a charred skull and other bones, while he arranges the bodies of newly dead ‘walkers’ close by. Fire clears, and fire cleanses, fire defines the ‘here’ that’s not here.
Yet fire is hungry too, demanding the extension and continuation of Morgan’s urge to ‘clear’, to create a void of place that isn’t place, and memory that isn’t memory.
Crucially, this proves to be in contrast to what Morgan learns about how to respectfully treat the dead, introduced by Eastman. For while Morgan burns bodies without ceremony but through unstoppable compulsion, Eastman buries his enemies in regularly defined burial plots. In this inhumation practice, mirroring earlier ‘respectful’ treatments of the dead by Rick’s group, he respects them materially and textually. Where possible, Eastman attempts to identify the names of the daed, providing them with makeshift wooden grave markers bearing their identity through text. It is to these we shall return in a second post about Here’s Not Here.