There have been plenty of transformations on The Walking Dead. We defy you to get yourself caught up in a zombie apocalypse and not change. However, no character has altered more since the start than Morgan Jones.
When Rick — having stumbled, freshly emerged from his coma into a devastated world, blinking into the bright sunlight like a newborn foal — first meets Morgan he finds an embattled man. One who is trapped in a cycle of grief from the loss his wife, but who has worked out a way to survive thus far with his son, Duane.
It’s difficult to see how Morgan would have continued without meeting Rick. And perhaps vice versa. The two assisted each other, not only practically but also emotionally, with Rick helping Morgan to begin moving forward. From finding it impossible to put a bullet in the head of his walker wife to dredging up some kind of will to survive, we saw the origins of the Morgan we know in Season 8.
Back then, he was God-fearing, upholding customs such as saying grace as the three of them ate. That’s not something you could imagine Morgan doing eight seasons later.
The loss of his son is the major turning point for Morgan, though. Forever scarred from that moment on, Morgan is a man in constant turmoil, despite finding a way — seen in Season 6 — to deal with his situation. But not before he’d become a loner. Oh, and a man with a mission to “clear” anyone who crossed his path.
“Clear” is the name of the episode in Season 3 when we next meet Morgan after he parted company with Rick in Season 1. He’s holed up alone in a small town and has tasked himself with clearing the area of walkers, having set up an elaborate network of traps.
He’s reached rock bottom following Duane’s death and seems to have had a full-on mental breakdown, claiming not to recognise Rick and begging him to kill him when Rick overpowers him during a fight. Once again, it’s a crucial and timely meeting with Rick that forces Morgan to pick himself up and although he refuses to join Rick once more, he’s in a better place mentally after their encounter.
It’s another couple of seasons before we see Morgan again. He pops up in Season 5 exhibiting top-class tracking skills as he attempts to find Rick. After taking on a group of Wolves and helping Daryl and Abraham out of a pickle, we discover just how resourceful Morgan has become – and how adept he is at fighting with a wooden staff.
He heads to Alexandria in the hope of reuniting with Rick, but what he sees when he gets there horrifies him – Rick is in the process of executing Pete Anderson, the guy who murdered former Alexandria leader Deanna’s husband.
In Season 6, we discover where Morgan learned his martial arts skills and what happened to him between Seasons 3 and 5. In a flashback episode called “Here’s Not Here,” we see Morgan meet a character called Eastman who transformed his outlook, teaching him that all life is precious — alongside a bit of Aikido. Morgan vowed never to kill again.
It’s this peace-and-love-spouting Morgan we meet in Season 6 — one who comes into conflict with Carol, who definitely doesn’t share Morgan’s pacifist outlook. However, in the season finale his hand is forced when he has no choice but to kill a Savior to save Carol. Morgan is in a position once again where he is having to re-evaluate, and adapt.
An Uneasy Balance
In Season 7, Morgan finds a friend and ally in King Ezekiel, whose ‘Kingdom’ accepts him and Carol while she heals from her ordeal. Morgan finds a purpose in a teacher/mentor role to young survivor Ben, and trains him in staff-fighting skills. He seems to have found something of a balance, passing on his book The Art of Peace to Ben and telling him he still values life.
When Ben is shot and killed by the Saviors, however, Morgan spirals downwards once again and ends up killing Richard, who was responsible for the situation which led to Ben’s death. In a brutal attack, Morgan strangles Richard with his bare hands in front of an onlooking group of Saviors and Kingdom citizens. He later swears to kill the Saviors one by one, and symbolically sharpens his staff into a spear as his transformation into killing machine begins.
Full-On Killing Machine
Which brings us to Season 8. We have so far seen the Morgan that he has described as “stuck”, a man caught between his ideals and the reality of his situation. In Episode 2, he uttered the words: “I don’t die”. But rather than arrogance, it’s a depressing realisation on his part. And it’s a statement that’s given all the more credence when he’s gunned down alongside two others to emerge the only survivor.
In Episode 3, Morgan seems to be reaching the point of no return. Having swung wildly back the other way, he’s angry with Jesus for sparing the lives of a group of Saviors who they have taken prisoner. While Savior Jared is teasing Morgan, trying to push his buttons, Morgan snaps at the point when he makes fun of Ben’s death. At that moment, a walker attack throws things into disarray and Morgan chases a gang of fleeing Saviors. Jesus steps in to stop Morgan from killing them all which leads to a fight between Morgan and Jesus. Morgan once again appears to be unravelling.
Morgan eventually realizes what he’s done and tells Jesus he isn’t right, but at the same time that doesn’t make him wrong. He decides he can’t be a part of the war, and leaves, once again going off on his own.
Actor Lennie James, who plays Morgan, told FANDOM that through Season 8 his character is “in the middle of a huge battle with himself in the middle of this huge war” and that “the thing that worries Morgan is in which direction he will become unstuck”.
Is Morgan destined to swing between these two ways of being ad nauseum? Or is there a balance he can strike that will allow Morgan to live in a way that allows him to find some amount of peace? We’ll have to watch to find out what happens next.