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Culpability vs Capability in ‘The Walking Dead’

Warring ideologies and philosophies came to a head in ‘The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale.

We need to talk about that “fight” (if you can really call it that) between Morgan and Carol. After “Here’s Not Here” it became very clear that Carol and Morgan were going to disagree on what needs to be done in order to save yourself and the shreds of humanity you cling to in order to maintain your survival and the survival of the people you love – there is more on the clashing of these ideas in quite a bit of detail here.

Watching Morgan slam Carol into the cement was difficult. There’s no other way to put it and there is a major issue with it. Not just because Carol is a woman. Not just because Carol is a survivor of domestic abuse. All of these play a very significant factor in the feelings and bias and absolutely need to be a part of the overall discussion, but what was that fight supposed to accomplish for Morgan? So he manages to maintain his beliefs for one more second but what happens when Rick, Daryl and even Michonne (who was considerably much less judgmental than Rick and Carol in “Heads Up” regarding Morgan’s “every life is precious” mantra) find out?

Lennie James as Morgan Jones in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC

When he knocks the knife from Carol’s hand it was self-defense. She was making threats and self-preservation kicked in, but from that moment on Morgan was completely and absolutely more capable of over-powering Carol and he took it to a place that it didn’t need to go. Even if the Alpha Wolf hadn’t knocked him out in the next moment people will know what Morgan did to Carol specifically. And she has every right to talk about it in the same way Glenn told Maggie about Nicholas. A choice needs to be made here and it’s not about who is right or who is wrong because there’s a moral gray area.

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In fact, up until it became an all out brawl, Morgan seemed more willing to have a conversation where as Carol was coming from a more “I can and am willing to do what you are not” mindset. It’s important to acknowledge a character’s behavior can be both problematic and pragmatic and there is nothing wrong with that the same they are all culpable and capable depending on the situations. It’s a fascinating aspect of character development and for Carol and Morgan, this particular morality duel was a long time coming. NOT Carol getting knocked out. This needs to be stressed because again it’s not okay and the only hope is that there are outright repercussions for an act like that. One that was very different from Carol’s threat. But this outright push of Carol’s intensity against Morgan’s serenity was necessary and a crucial part of “Straight to Finish.”

Morgan is not an adversary. He’s still the man who saved Rick, Daryl and Aaron. He’s still someone who cares. What he’s done to Carol cannot be undone and will most certainly have consequences, but finding that balance after kind of sacrificing his own beliefs for that moment is not going to be simple to repair. The thing is it’s not so much that what Morgan has learned doesn’t work, it’s that without Eastman it’s an empty sentiment under the circumstances and without that philosophy, for Morgan, things lose their clarity.

There is some really interesting commentary on where fault lies with the Wolves’ attack to begin with and that was touched on in “Heads Up.” And while Aaron publicly took the responsibility, Morgan makes the case that certain people, like himself, needed to be around to save other people and that’s where the hope lies in not killing people anymore. Not just that “every life is precious” but that every life can and will help save another life.

Benedict Samuel as Alpha Wolf in The Walking Dead Phot: AMC

This is something that the Wolves and the way they attacked directly contradict and in a larger scale, it’s not so much that Morgan believes it in a way that’s doable but that it’s the crutch with which Morgan uses to cope. But here’s the thing: No one heals completely in this world (it’s the “One day you just change”/“Just survive somehow”/”Everyone has a job to do” way of moving forward). Morgan is trying, but who does it benefit besides himself and his own sanity?

Eastman’s teachings were an isolated experience. And while they worked in that setting, in a cabin in the woods, Eastman didn’t really know the way of the world and he never got to so we don’t know how the world would have changed him. What we do know is he went to turn himself in and found out the world ended and he carried the plaster all the way back to the cabin and all that was very good and innocent. But he didn’t encounter a man like The Governor and if he had, I’m not sure what would have happened. But that’s where Morgan’s philosophy needs to be adjusted.

Eastman was more equipped to handle the zombie apocalypse, but only from a distance. Which is why Morgan would be better off to subscribe to a “What would Eastman do?” approach. There’s no way to know the answer to that, but it’s hard to reconcile with the idea that Eastman would like the way Morgan has chosen to exhibit his teachings. If he were to consider what Eastman would think, it at least allows some movement to once again change in light of the current circumstances and it does eliminate some of the guilt.

Lennie James & John Carroll Lynch as Morgan Jones & Eastman in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC

There’s a thru-way plot line here that goes back to The Governor (and interestingly fits well into the “everything gets a return” philosophy) because Morgan and The Governor are very similar. It’s interesting that Morgan’s first reappearance occurred in the midst of that conflict. And then when you consider what was happening to Team Family while he was learning that “every life is precious” it really puts the whole experience in perspective. But the reason they’re similar is one that quite a few characters share; Morgan and The Governor both lost children as their inability to be strong enough. The Governor couldn’t even bring himself to get rid of walker-Penny and Morgan feels responsible for losing Duane due to his inability to kill his wife. And that loss and guilt drove them both down the PTSD rabbit hole and that’s where their stories diverge.

Morgan was finding that his well-being could be maintained if he had something to cling to and help him work through extreme moments of despair. The Governor killed people. He had very little regard for human life. Everyone and everything was a means to an end. He wanted to create maximum suffering so that the world could feel his pain but the world was already in pain. He created the illusion of safety in Woodbury the same way he created the belief in his leadership and when he responds to Rick’s “Too Far Gone” speech with “Liar” he knows that there’s no coming back.

And that’s the crux of it. Time and time again we have heard characters explain their absolute refusal to kill the living. It’s always the same reason “because once you do that there’s no coming back” and that idea really doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for making certain choices and killing certain characters because it’s just not true in the context we’ve seen it.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC Gif: fandoms-trump-real-life via Tumblr

It weighs on someone like Carol who was forced to make a choice regarding Lizzie that literally no one else would have been able to make. And it’s that act that leads her to hand the gun to Tyreese who doesn’t just refuse because he now knows that killing her won’t accomplish anything and certainly won’t bring Karen back but that it’s important for these things to be apart of who they are. He doesn’t need Carol’s death on his conscience. But Carol kills to protect and that’s not the same way we’ve seen Morgan and Rick kill people.

Morgan won’t kill but the choices that occur in the mid-season finale are extremely concerning. “Every life is precious” but Morgan is willing to risk all the lives for this one Wolf who has already made not one, but two attempts on Morgan’s life alone. There is no satisfaction in killing him and there shouldn’t be. Morgan has every right to feel compromised by the situation but the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and when it comes down to it this isn’t about Morgan anymore.

There is no greater good to accomplish and everyone has already lost in this situation so it’s not helpful to make someone like Carol question what she has known since Sophia walked out of that barn. She already feels undeserving of love and gratitude and there was that time that Rick threw her out and told her that he wouldn’t want her there. And now Morgan has literally taken a physical stance against her, a stance that she is all too familiar with prior to the end of the world. And the detriment for Carol is that now she will be even more hesitant to be vulnerable and this is something she desperately needs.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC Gif: fandoms-trump-real-life via Tumblr

She expressed the fact that she only trusts a few people and Morgan will never be one them. It’s interesting to consider the direct consequences of these actions, mostly fatal, both as a result of Carol’s inability to protect anyone because she’s been incapacitated and Morgan’s insistence on letting a dangerous man live. But there’s an aspect that’s even deeper. Where Morgan stands at the end of this is significant and will quite possible create an entirely different wedge between other characters. Banishing Morgan, while fair based on the same reasons Rick banished Carol in Season Four, is not the answer but they clearly can’t make him change his position on killing so what are the options?

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He can’t heal everyone (if he even can heal anyone, it’s not this Wolf). Is there some kind of point to prove one or the other is right or wrong? Because all we actually get out of Carol and Morgan finally facing each other is that Carol is overly responsible and really doesn’t have to be and that perhaps Morgan needs to change his philosophy. He likes to tell people “you should sit down before you fall down” that could work.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC Gif: fandoms-trump-real-life via Tumblr

The concern lies in the fact that where Morgan is culpable it’ll force him to his breaking point, making him once again an asset and capable and therefore absolved of all previous choices and actions. And where Carol is capable it’ll force her to continue to believe that she is unworthy and it’s entirely her fault. It’s unclear if this was the intent of that scene right now but for the most part every character feels guilty for doing something at the expense of someone’s life and that’s okay. It’s certainly more effective than undermining a no kill policy. That’s the kind of feeling that keeps your humanity.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday, February 14 at 9/8c on AMC

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