Many fans of The Walking Dead have been furious at the pacifism with which returning character, Morgan (Lennie James) now seems to deal with all, even the worst, of humanity. During episode 604, “Here’s Not Here,” we got the backstory on why Morgan is the way he is. We learn what the Season 3 episode, “Clear,” is all about: Morgan’s PTSD-induced need to clear his surroundings of all the living and the undead, without any pause or concern regarding who they are or whether they are an actual threat. A chance encounter with a man named Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) introduced Morgan to Aikido (a Japanese martial art emphasizing peaceful human coexistence) and the mantra, “I have come to believe that all life is precious.”
Eastman’s history was traumatic and one Morgan could relate to. A psychiatrist who once evaluated prisoners to determine if they had been rehabilitated enough for release, he had advised against the release of one particular prisoner who later escaped for the sole purpose of killing all of Eastman’s family. Eastman retaliated by capturing the prisoner and holding him hostage – starving him to death – for 47 days. Realizing that this choice brought him no satisfaction – no peace – he committed himself to the Aikido philosophy of the sanctity of human life, without regard to an analysis of whether or not a life is worth saving.
Morgan adopted this philosophy of his teacher, who, on his deathbed encouraged Morgan to go live among other people rather than continue on alone. And Morgan brought his “all life is precious” philosophy to Rick and the others at Alexandria.
It is easy to see that Morgan’s belief that all human life is precious has had, and will likely continue to have dire consequences. The Wolves he set free in Season 5 attacked Alexandria in episode 602, killing countless Alexandrians. Those he again set free during that episode, even though they were slaughtering the community, went on to attack Rick in an RV in episode 603.
It was my hope that at the end of episode 602, when Morgan apologized to the Wolf who attacked him inside an Alexandria home before hitting him with his bow staff, that the apology was because Morgan recognized that not all human life had value, and he had killed the Wolf. This most recent episode, however, revealed that Morgan had, instead, captured the Wolf, and was trying to transform him to the Aikido/Eastman/Morgan school of thought by telling the Wolf his story. The Wolf mockingly tells Morgan, “I know I am probably going to die. But if I don’t, I am going to have to kill you, Morgan. I’m going to have to kill every person here. Every one of them. The children, too. Just like your friend, Eastman’s children. Those are the rules.” This does not seem to change Morgan’s mind, and he walks away leaving the Wolf captive.
The way Morgan is thinking has many fans outraged, calling him reckless and foolish. Perhaps. But actor Lennie James offered an interesting perspective on episode 604 on The Talking Dead. He fully recognizes the consequences of Morgan’s actions for the others in Alexandria. He sees the difference between Eastman’s pacifism in the middle of the woods with no apparent human beings around and his character’s choices in the middle of a town with dozens of other survivors. Yet, when asked by Chris Hardwick if Morgan feels responsible for not killing the Wolves, James responds that although Morgan feels responsible, “that doesn’t mean he thinks he was wrong. There are always consequences, and people die even on Rick’s side.” Given the choice, James thinks Morgan would make the same decisions – to spare all human life – again.
It is an interesting perspective. There are people living in the world today whose loved ones have been viciously murdered and yet they still fight for the murderer to continue living rather than receive the death penalty. So, certainly the idea that someone could believe all life is precious is not all that odd. The difference, as I see it, is that Eastman’s philosophy that all life is precious was born out of the horrible realization that he had taken life in revenge. To the contrary, Morgan’s similar mindset is not juxtaposed against a backdrop of revenge, but rather one of self-defense or defense of others. He will either kill these people, or they will go on to kill him or others. That is the flaw in Morgan’s thinking. Yet it was Morgan’s philosophy that all life is precious that caused him to risk his own life to save the lives of Daryl and Aaron when they were trapped in a car amongst a zombie horde, just as Eastman risked his own life for Morgan’s. Morgan did not know Daryl or Aaron, or what they were capable of, and yet they were worth saving.
What do you think of Morgan’s mantra? Is there merit to it? Can you understand where he is coming from? Sound off in the comments!
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