Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
Any given Sunday. That’s when you might lose one of your favorite Walking Dead characters. Just because we’ve been given dozen of expendable new Alexandria characters, four of whom were already killed off in this episode, doesn’t mean that anyone is safe. That idea is part of what has gripped us over the past five seasons and change. So when Glenn and Nicholas were trapped in that alley with walkers on all sides, I was looking for his escape. I started to get worried, but then Nicholas put the gun to his head, and I thought that was going to be Glenn’s diversion tactic. But then they fell together.
Now it should be mentioned that Glenn wasn’t listed in the In Memoriam. There’s more Stephen Yuen to come in future episodes, whether that means flashbacks, an appearance of zombie Glenn or that we were seeing Nicholas’ intestines and Glenn was trapped underneath. As much as I love Glenn, it will feel cheap if somehow he survives being trapped on the ground with his head exposed and a herd of walkers on top of him. Of course, the comics could be like that with Carl getting half is face blown off one month only to find it was just a flesh wound the next.
But this is the biggest death we’ve seen on the show yet. No other character has been with us for five full years before dying. Plenty have come and gone, but Andrea was the last of the original crew to get killed off. And he may have been the most beloved character ever to have died.
This world is not safe. And for us to really feel the danger facing those we’ve grown to care about, punch-to-the-gut deaths need to happen. RIght after we returned from commercial break, the Wolves attacked Rick’s RV, and I thought, “not Rick too.” And now he’s trapped in there with a herd emerging from the woods. He’s not safe. If Ned Stark can be beheaded, The Walking Dead can continue on without Andrew Lincoln or even, god forbid, Norman Reedus or Danai Gurira.
Because if Glenn hadn’t died, all you and I would be talking about right now is how the best way to get killed in the zombie apocalypse is to question Rick’s wisdom or authority. For two episodes now, the pattern has been to complain about Rick’s plan and then get eaten by zombies. Or to ignore Rick’s warning about needing to be armed inside the walls of Alexandria and then getting hacked to death by psychopaths.
Instead, the message is that it doesn’t matter if you’re experienced or not, if you trust Rick or not or if you still see the good in people or you’ve given up on humanity—you still can die. Between herds of zombies and remaining humans, no is completely safe. If anything, it was trying to redeem Nicholas that backfired on Glenn, but it’s not as though our favorite pizza delivery guy had an obvious escape route had he not been knocked off the dumpster by Nicholas’ suicide.
So that’s a lot to process. Rick’s grand plan is falling apart, and it can’t all be blamed on whiny, inexperienced Alexandrians. He seems pretty cavalier about leaving his two kids to their fate back home, but this entire scheme is not Rick at his finest. And now he’s trapped in an RV, Glenn is dead (we think), and half the herd is descending upon their new home. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but at least some of it is on Rick’s shoulders. But I want to hear your take.
Two quick pieces of information from this article:
1. Hardwick then read a statement from “The Walking Dead’s” showrunner, Scott Gimple. It basically went something like: “We will see Glenn again in some version…His story isn’t over”
2. Either way, it will be at least two weeks before we find out the truth. Next week’s 90-minute episode will focus solely on Morgan’s backstory and will provide no answers to this Glenn situation.
TWO WEEKS before we get any new information? And Glenn is for sure “undead” in some way? That’s a ridiculous tease, Josh, and I’m fully with you—I let out a “Glennn noooo!” cry when he fell off the dumpster, but at the same time, we have to admit the dude is dead to rights. If he escapes from this, I’ll probably just accept it since it will be nice to have Glenn around, but it will absolutely feel cheap.
One thing I really enjoyed about this week’s episode is that it subverted the normal moral storyline that usually prevails on The Walking Dead—at least with the main characters. As you mentioned, it turned out that saving and forgiving Nicholas actually hurt Glenn, and possibly cost him everything. Right up to the very end, he was the same guy you just couldn’t count on to behave intelligently and courageously in a pressure situation. Maybe he was less malicious, and maybe he understood what Glenn had done for him, but he remained dangerous. In the same way, Michonne’s promise to the man with the letter for his wife fell short, and now Betsy will have to wonder forever what her husband said to her in his final moments (if she’s even alive). I thought for sure that when he died, Michonne would grab his letter through the fence, but instead it was just trampled in the chaos.
It’s rare for TWD to even flirt with nihilistic principles, and it never lasts very long—the central conflict of the show often seems to be “how savage will we let ourselves become?”, with the answer inevitably falling into the realm of “savage enough to survive, but not enough to lose our souls.” In episodes like last night, though, it almost seems like the writers are entertaining the notion that there may be no meaning or purpose, and even considering that outlook makes everything slightly more sophisticated in a show that spends most of its time in the shallow waters, morally speaking.
Of course, it will revert back to the norm quickly, and, if Glenn somehow pulls a “scrambling between the zombie legs move,” unsatisfactorily. But it’s nice to have those moments of cosmic injustice now and again, if only to keep us on our toes.
I liked your analysis of Rick—he preaches the “we need to be tough!” mantra endlessly, but if you’re an Alexandrian keeping score at home, you’ve lost about 80 percent of your population since the dude arrived. Granted, the zombie pit was about to blow up, and the Wolves would have slaughtered the entire population in the pre-Rick days. Still, Rick’s leadership hasn’t exactly saved many lives. I’ll disagree with you slightly about his plan—it went off without a hitch until the horrendous timing with the horn going off back at the compound, and it seems like it needed to be done. But his attitude toward the Alexandrians, which is essentially disdain mixed with indifference—”just let them die at the slightest sign of weakness”—probably doesn’t help his PR case.
I’m pretty sure the writers didn’t intend this, but it’s easy to draw a parallel between the gang’s arrival in Alexandria and the first European arrival in North America, in the sense that everything went to shit for the natives real fast. And the way Rick feels about the Alexandrians, like their lives matter less, is a pretty neat metaphor for the racist attitudes of the first explorers. Just some food for thought there.
Still, I have to say that Rick is a complete badass, and with the weird absence of the usual Daryl heroics, he’s become my favorite character to watch. His sprint to the RV was heroic, and after apparently breaking his wrist to cave in the head of a zombie, he staved off an attack by five different wolves (who, yet again, prove how shitty they are at fighting strategy). He’s the opposite of Nicholas—he’s at his best under pressure, and when he gets that lunatic expression going, you really don’t want to cross his path. Half-panicky back-against-the-wall Rick is the best Rick, and I want to see more of him. That RV better start, Josh.
As I kick it your way, I’d like to refer you back to this review from October 2013, when I asked you to rank the main characters in terms of expendability. There were nine of them, and of the six you ranked “least expendable,” all are still alive, while of the three you ranked “most expendable,” all are now dead. So my first question to you is, ARE YOU ROBERT KIRKMAN/NORMAN REEDUS/GOD? And second, who’s going next?
I feel a little bad about having Glenn in my three most expendable spots, but as I wrote back then, Season 3 Glenn was pretty angsty and humorless. But those three—Hershel, Beth and Glenn—all have something in common. And it’s something they have in common with almost every character we lose. Before it was their time to go they grew more and more likable. I talked about this back in Season 2, calling it the T-Dog effect, and it certainly applies here. Glenn has quit grumbling; gone back to his badass, volunteer-for-the-toughest-mission ways; and displayed an almost unfathomable degree of compassion, helping to redeem the man who actively tried to murder him. By almost any measurement, he was the best person alive in the apocalypse. The writers have been adept at making us care deeply for the characters they’re about to kill off.
But of course, we know nothing, Jon Snow, and the more I sit with last night’s episode and the ridiculous is he/isn’t he discussions on last night’s Talking Dead, the less satisfying this feels. If Glenn is dead, we didn’t get to properly mourn. If he’s still alive, everything the writers have done to raise the stakes and make this world feel dangerous for all of the characters will become a little bit undone. It puts the viewers—or maybe I’m alone in this—in the very strange position of hoping that Glenn is really dead because any escape scenario will feel unrealistic, and yes, I realize I’m using that term about a show with creatures that somehow remain alive with no heart feeding blood into the brain.
So back to the question: Who is going next? The population of Alexandria has been culled to a more manageable number, but there are still 19 new named characters who may still be alive. That leaves lots of fodder for zombie herds and Wolves and general Darwinian deaths to further prove Rick right. Rick is the most exposed of the main characters right now, but I don’t think there’s any real likelihood of the show killing off its star while its still dominating the ratings. His day on the couch of Talking Dead may still come, but not anytime soon. In fact, with Glenn dead, I’d be surprised if any of the Big Six—Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Carol, Carl, Maggie—died this season. But I’d also be surprised if all of the second tier characters made it to Season 7, and I’m including Morgan in that group, along with Eugene, Tara, Abraham, Sasha, Rosita and Gabriel. Be wary if Gabriel has a big redemption arc; as soon as he becomes likable, he’ll probably be hacked to death by a Wolf.
But, as frustrated I am by the Glenn tease, I can’t wait for 90 minutes of Lenny James next week. I fully expect an episode on the magnitude of “Live Bait,” where the Governor quietly wanders through cinematic landscape. How has Morgan changed from fearful husband/father who can’t let go of his zombie wife to partly insane cleanser of zombies to zen master of the quarterstaff who considers all life precious?
So my final question to you is: If this was really just a tease and those were Nicholas’ guts we saw getting munched on, how does Glenn escape? Write us out of this one, Shane. Bring him back like he’s Matt Damon.
Excellent call on Gabriel. That’s exactly what’s going to happen to him, and I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming. We’ve already seen the hints that he’s a “new man” now, and ready to take responsibility, and the chances that he does something vaguely heroic this season, and then dies, are literally 100 percent. It’s too bad you can’t gamble on TV shows.
If you could, here’s a longshot: Are we about to see a Romeo and Juliet situation with Glenn and Maggie? Glenn doesn’t return, Maggie thinks the worst, kills herself, Glenn returns to see her dead, kills himself? What sort of odds would you give me there? Since this is our last email of the week, I’m going to assume your answer is 10,000-1, and yes, Josh, I’ll take a $10 bet on that. You’ve got a deal.
To your question, I see four possibilities for Glenn escaping.
1. He crawls underneath or into the dumpster, like Rick in the tank from season one.
2. He crawls through the zombie’s legs to safety. I know there has to be a famous scene where this happens (possibly in an animated show), but I can’t think of any right now and Google isn’t helping. Any commenter who can help gets 10 Paste points, a new currency I just invented which is equal in value to a Bitcoin.
3. They’re about to eat him, and Glenn’s like, wait, do you guys like jokes?? And the zombies stop and are like, well, honestly, nobody ever asked us. And Glenn says, I feel that, it must be hard to be a zombie. And they’re like, it’s not great. And Glenn goes, okay, let me tell you a joke, and he starts to tell it but pretends to forget the punch line, and says that he wrote it down back near the feed store, so they let him go and follow him, and then he runs away, and the zombies become obsessed with figuring out the punch line, and they no longer eat people and the planet is saved, until Gabriel accidentally tells them the punch line and they go back to eating people.
4. Glenn falls in love with a zombie who rescues him, Pocahontas style, and he brings her back to the camp, where he has to convince Maggie to let him practice polyamory, which leads to comical misunderstandings between Maggie and the new zombie girlfriend because let’s face it, they just come from different cultures.
Two last things. One, I’m impressed that you somehow know there are 19 Alexandrians left…or at least Alexandrians with names. My guess is that by season’s end, we have three, but that they’re in the for the long haul. Two, I totally agree about the upcoming Morgan story. “Live Bait” remains one of my two or three favorite Walking Dead episodes ever, and I hope we get another poetic treatise, burning slow and contemplative. See you next week.
Please don’t die, Rick and Daryl,