'Walking Dead' Producer on Morgan's Decision: "He's Playing With Fire"

Exec producer Greg Nicotero talks with THR about Morgan's backstory — and teases Glenn's fate.
Courtesy of AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 604, "He's Not Here," of AMC's The Walking Dead.]

AMC's The Walking Dead continued to play with time during Sunday's episode, which, thanks to a then vs. now structure, filled in Morgan's (Lennie James) backstory.

The episode picked up after season three's critically praised "Clear" with Morgan still the same mentally unstable man he was before reconnecting with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) during the season five finale.

During flashbacks, viewers learned that Morgan accidentally sets his "home" on fire and is forced out onto the open road where he continues to find safety in a circle comprised of wooden spikes. What's more, he is still writing words like "clear" and "here's not here" all over the place using zombie blood.

Eventually, Morgan stumbles onto a picturesque cabin complete with solar panels and a chained-up goat. It's there that he meets Eastman (John Carroll Lynch), who takes Morgan in despite the latter's repeated "kill me!" screams. Eastman finds out that Morgan saw his wife and son killed and learns that his new companion's previous job was to "clear" — meaning to clear the undead. (Morgan's other mutterings were also explained: "pointless acts" as in saving people doesn't matter because everyone will die anyway, etc.)

Eastman, it turns out, was a forensic psychiatrist who rehabilitated inmates and, post-apocalypse, trains in a martial art form known as Aikido. The kind stranger — who was desperately trying to make his own cheese and the man Morgan referenced earlier this season — passes on his new way of life to Morgan. After Morgan — struggling with PTSD — is able to open himself up to rehabilitation, he opens the "Art of Peace" book Eastman gave him where his no-kill creed is explained: "Aikido means not to kill. Although nearly all creeds have a commandment against taking life, most of them justify killing for one reason or another. In Aikido, however, we try to completely avoid killing, even the most evil person."

It's then that Morgan and Eastman — who made a spear for his new friend — begin training and working together. Ultimately, Eastman winds up being bitten by a walker when the duo are out scavenging. But it's not just any walker: Morgan had killed a father and son before crossing paths with Eastman and froze upon coming face to face with the zombie son.

Knowing he's dying, Eastman and Morgan return to the cabin where the former explains that he used the cell in his cabin to kill the inmate who was responsible for the death of his wife, daughter and son after his escape from prison — breaking the lone Aikido commandment. When Eastman eventually dies, Morgan buries his body and heads off — stumbling on the sign for Terminus and putting him on a course to reconnect with Rick.

During the present day, viewers learn that Morgan is recounting his transformation back to sanity to a member of the Wolves he was holding captive in a basement as he hoped to pay it forward and rehabilitate someone the way in which Eastman did for him. Only it doesn't work and the Wolf — who reveals he was bitten by a walker — says that he'll kill Morgan and anyone else if he escapes. Morgan opts to lock him up — something Eastman never did when Morgan was dangerous and held in the cabin cell. As the episode ends, a voice screams to open Alexandria's gates.

Here, executive producer Greg Nicotero talks with THR about Morgan's backstory, ultimate transformation and when the Glenn (Steven Yeun) cliffhanger will be resolved.

Season six is about transformation. What surprised you about Morgan's transformation back to sanity when you read the script?

The idea that Morgan is forcibly rehabilitated I thought was fascinating. It was such a great transformation for Morgan, knowing that he was completely out of his mind and was thoroughly and completely prepared to die. The fact that he was forcibly rehabilitated and succeed in doing so, I thought was amazing. It was always intended to that way: in the middle of the season premiere, you see Morgan and Rick sitting on the steps and Rick hands Morgan Judith to hold. There's a specific line in this episode where Morgan ponders if he'll ever hold a baby again. The moment in 601 where he's holding Judith and looking at her and smiling — everything has come full circle for Morgan at this moment. By investing himself in his transformation and committing to help transform other people, it's a really great character study.

What's Morgan's next step in his personal transformation now that he's realized how much he needs other people in his life?

He's got a very intriguing relationship with the people he lives with and the people around him [at Alexandria]. He has to tread lightly because he knows he's playing with fire by potentially harboring this fugitive and trying to keep him from people who would object the most. He's gotten himself into a sticky situation but he's fully committed to it. I don't think that Rick or any of the Alexandrians would take kindly to the fact that one of the people who has literally destroyed their home would be allowed to live. That's the way the world is. I love that Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) is on board with whatever decisions Rick needs to keep the community viable. That's why they brought them in.

What did Eastman mean when he told Morgan that, "here's not here"?

He's trying to get Morgan to understand that you have to move on in life. Part of Morgan's whole scenario is him moving on from the death of his wife and [son] Dwayne.

Eastman did reveal that despite learning Aikido, he still killed Crighton — the inmate responsible for his family's death. Does Morgan believe there's an exception to the rule, despite the creed in the book?

I don't think Morgan thinks there's an exception. In my opinion, that reveals a bit of a flaw in Eastman's character. Because Morgan discovers it so late in his rehabilitation rehab. He found Crighton and got revenge and tortured him until he died. That's exactly the opposite of everything that he preaches. When Eastman ends up getting bit, he has found his own redemption in admitting to Morgan what happened. If he had never met Morgan and never redeemed himself, he'd have died a tortured soul. Eastman benefited from Morgan's presence as much as Morgan benefited from Eastman's presence.

Given the Wolves' attack on the community, how hard will Morgan try to adhere to his no-kill way of life?

Morgan is a pretty tenacious character in regards to what he believes in. If he's been able to survive this long by sticking to that mantra, there will be some considerable conflict with others who will come in to direct conflict with him. And by others, I mean pretty much everybody. There aren't really a lot of people who watched as their loved ones were slaughtered in front of him who are going to say, "We should give these guys a second chance." Morgan is committed to this doctrine he's embraced because it saved his life — so much so that he will fight to defend that way of life pretty vehemently in a very "life is precious" Daryl-sort-of-way (laughs).

What will Carol and Morgan's next meeting look like, given that they're coming from two wildly different perspectives?

Her cover has been blown after the Wolves have attacked Alexandria. She's out there now and there's going to be a bit of a struggle in terms of what Carol's new role in this world will be. The truth of matter is Carol doesn't like to kill. That is something that's been well-established in terms of what we can expect from our people. But I don't think anybody who survives in this world enjoys killing. With Carol, it's going to take its toll on her for sure.

Was that Rick's voice calling to open the gate at Alexandria at the end of the episode?

I don't want to say because it will come into play at the beginning of the next episode.

Showrunner Scott M. Gimple told THR that we'll find out about Glenn's fate in the first half of the season. What can you say about what that will look like since we didn't see him in this episode?

It's a journey and the whole point of this is to give the audience a great story and a great rollercoaster to ride. People are happy, sad and angry. The fact that we have elicited emotion from people is a tribute to Steven Yeun, our writers and cast and crew. It shows how much people care and are invested, even if they're angry. The bottom line is it's a triumph when people are talking about anything. I'm really proud of the show and know people are mad at me about what we're doing on the show. But this is, by far, my favorite season we've done.

What did you think of Morgan's backstory? Sound off in the comments, below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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