The Movie Waffler How <i>THE WALKING DEAD</i> takes place in Tommy Westphall's mind | The Movie Waffler

How THE WALKING DEAD takes place in Tommy Westphall's mind

A cigarette brand ties The Walking Dead back to a fictional universe created by 1980s hospital drama St. Elsewhere.

Words by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

This week's episode of The Walking Dead featured a character smoking a fictional brand of cigarettes - Morley. It's not the first time those particular cancer sticks have appeared in the show. The brand is a TV industry in-joke, appearing in episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Malcolm in the Middle, and CSI to name a few. Morley is most famously associated with The X-Files; it was the brand of choice for the villainous Cigarette Smoking Man. The appearance of a pack of Morely ties The Walking Dead into a much larger TV universe - the mind of Tommy Westphall.

One of the classier shows of its era, hospital drama St Elsewhere was highly influential; its ‘walk and talk’ aesthetic would later be adopted by hit shows like ER and The West Wing. It was a straightforward drama set in the real world, but all that changed in the closing scene of the show’s final episode (titled ‘The Last One’), watched by millions of Americans on the evening of May 25th 1988. What occurred in those climactic minutes would impact TV in a way no other show has.
In the show, actor Ed Flanders portrayed the character of Doctor Donald Westphall, one of whose recurring storylines involved his autistic six-year-old son Tommy, played by child actor Chad Allen. In the final scene of ‘The Last One’, Tommy is seen staring into a snowglobe when his father returns home from work one snowy evening. The twist is that Donald Westphall is now dressed like a construction worker, rather than a doctor. Donald greets his father, Tommy’s grandfather, played by Norman Lloyd, who had played another doctor on the show, and the two men discuss Tommy’s condition, with Donald mentioning his son’s obsession with the snowglobe. The camera then cuts to a close up of the snowglobe, revealing a miniature version of St Elegius Hospital, the setting for the show. The implication is that the entire run of the show had merely been a product of young Tommy’s imagination, reinventing his father and grandfather as dashing doctors in the process. Viewers were incensed at the time, feeling that the writers were somehow mocking them and betraying their loyalty. As new shows aired, the furore was forgotten about, but the impact of this controversial scene is still being felt now. As some characters from St Elsewhere crossed over into other shows, this means that St Elsewhere isn’t alone in being a figment of Westphall’s mind, but merely part of a shared universe. It’s estimated that close to 400 shows can be traced back to Westphall’s brain.

Here's how The Walking Dead links back to St. Elsewhere:

Morley cigarettes appeared in various episodes of The Walking Dead. They were of course seen regularly in The X-Files.

A 1997 episode of The X-Files titled 'Unusual Suspects' featured actor Richard Belzer playing Detective John Munch, one of the central characters of '90s cop drama Homicide: Life on the Street.

'Mercy', a 1998 episode of Homicide involves the investigation of a suspected mercy killing by a doctor named Roxanne Turner, played by Alfre Woodard. Turner was one of the central characters from St. Elsewhere.

And so, The Walking Dead is yet another show to take place in Tommy Westphall's imagination.