So, Let’s Talk about that “The Walking Dead” Episode that Broke the Internet

A screen-grab from Season 6, Episode 3 of "The Walking Dead".
A screen-grab from Season 6, Episode 3 of “The Walking Dead”.

This post contains spoilers for Season 6, Episode 3 entitled “Thank You”.

Please do not read on if you are still planning to watch the episode, and you’ve still somehow managed to avoid massive plot spoilers because the internet.

Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead broke fans, Chris Hardwick, and the internet in general.

In an episode that seemed poised to accomplish little more than thin the herd of Alexandrians you don’t care about, the unthinkable happened: Glenn, the beloved conscience of our Season 1 survivors and the character I’ve lauded as the single best thing to happen to the AAPI community with regard to on-screen representation, appeared to suffer a horrible — and totally unexpected — death.

Here’s what happened: in Season 6, Episode 1, Rick had set in motion a plan to herd a Megahorde of Walkers — capable through sheer numbers to overwhelm the Community’s defenses — off their original trajectory and towards Alexandria. But, shit hit the fan when a horn began blaring in the distance, which caused half of the Megahorde (the “BetaHorde”?) to break off from the larger group and head towards the source of the noise: the Community. In Season 6, Episode 2, we learned that the horn was related to a sudden raid of the Community by the Wolves (who were introduced in Season 5), attracted to the Community by Aaron’s recruiting efforts.

Season 6, Episode 3 begins with Rick, Michonne, Glenn and other survivors racing back to Alexandria to warn the Community of the approaching BetaHorde. Rick splits off to try and get the RV which he hopes he can use to cut off the BetaHorde and redirect them back towards the main group of Walkers. Glenn and Michonne lead the rest back to Alexandria, but are forced to stop in a small commercial area because most of the other Alexandrians kind of suck at survival; they are soon surrounded. While the remaining survivors hide in a pet store, Glenn and Nicholas head to a feed store that they hope to set on fire; they hope the flames will lure the local Walkers and create an opening so that Michonne and the other Alexandrians can escape and keep heading back to the Community.

This plan doesn’t work. Nicholas and Glenn find themselves trapped in a dead-end alley, backed against a barbed wire fence. A herd of Walkers approach, and Glenn pulls Nicholas onto a dumpster. They are quickly surrounded by zombies, all reaching to pull them down onto the ground. Nicholas is overwhelmed by hopelessness. He turns to Glenn, puts his handgun to his forehead, says “thank you”, and pulls the trigger. Nicholas’ body falls on top of Glenn, and both fall off the dumpster and into the swarm of Walkers. The camera shows Glenn’s horrified face in the background as a body is ripped apart in the foreground.

It would seem as if Glenn is killed and eaten, once again paying the price of Nicholas’ lack of courage.

Fans of the Walking Dead — including a ton of AAPI viewers — were devastated last night, as AMC appeared to almost singlehandedly drop the number of AAPI characters on television by more than single-digit percentage points.

But here’s the rub: it doesn’t seem very likely that Glenn is actually dead.

Glenn’s “killing” felt superfluous and unnecessary, and it’s hard to see how his “death” would advance the plot in any meaningful fashion. He “dies” away from other survivors and it is implied that he is immediately eaten, which would mean that little would be left for the other survivors to find. In the scene where Glenn appears to scream as someone’s guts are pulled out and eaten, the Walkers are shot as if they are removing intestines out of Glenn’s upper chest — which is not where human intestines are typically found. Moreover, the writing of the episode seemed relatively unconcerned by the death of such a pivotal Walking Dead character; there was more angst over Noah’s recent demise than over Glenn’s.

It certainly seems plausible that Glenn survived Nicholas’ suicide. It seems plausible that the intestines we saw being eaten were Nicholas’, and that Glenn was able to scramble under the dumpster and hide until (hopefully) the herd is lured away by Rick and his (broken) RV. The show’s other theme, after all, was “JSS” — Enid’s motto which stands for “Just Survive Somehow” — which might fit nicely with the possibility that Glenn must do something pretty damned heroic and horrible just to survive.

But then, there are also hints that The Walking Dead really did just kill off fan favourite Glenn. Walking Dead has already signaled their willingness to end the live of characters of colour with abandon — Tyreese’s death was almost an afterthought. Already, it seems that people of colour only exist in the Walking Dead universe for the benefit of Rick’s own character development. Indeed, Glenn’s final words to Rick remind him (and the viewer) of Glenn’s first utterances to the same character in Season 1, Episode 2, when Glenn rescues Rick from the tank while also calling him a “dumbass”. Not only does this reek of writers trying to make a character come “full circle” (Glenn also pulls out Hershel’s pocket-watch, another sledgehammer “full circle” moment), but it hints that Glenn’s “death” will serve to force Rick to again second-guess his own judgement. That means that if Glenn truly is dead, than show creators will have once again killed a character of colour in service of Rick’s life.

In truth, Glenn’s time really is already up. His character doesn’t make it much past the events of Season 6 in the comic: he is pointlessly beaten to death by Big Bad villain Negan shortly after the Community survives the Megahorde. In that comic issue, Glenn was killed for the same reason that Kirkman kills most of the characters who aren’t Rick or Carl: to prove that a Big Bad Villain is really big and bad. This remains exceptionally lazy writing, and Glenn — as the heart of the survivors and an important moral counterpoint for Rick — always deserved better.

Was this “death” a better one to close out the story of Glenn? We’ll just have to wait and see. It goes without saying that I want Glenn to pull through. Because #GlennDiesAndWeRiot.

But one thing does remain clear after last night’s episode of The Walking Dead: whether Glenn truly did suffer an arguably totally pointless death, or whether Walking Dead writers are pulling a bait-and-switch — Walking Dead show-runners hate their fans. They hate us so much. They provoked us with this mean-spirited cliffhanger, and no matter how things work out, it won’t feel satisfying.

There have been seasons of The Walking Dead that have worked well, and there have been others that have made me want to tear my hair out with frustration. This is the first episode that has literally made me rethink whether or not I want to continue watching this show. In last night’s Talking Dead, Chris Hardwick argued that Glenn’s apparent “death” cemented the message that “no one is safe”.

We already know no one is safe in the Walking Dead universe. But, as fans, we deserve writing that respects the characters we have come to know and love. When a pivotal long-running regular character dies, we deserve a scene that honours that character. Robert Kirkman’s comic has long ago stopped writing those meaningful deaths, instead carelessly shoehorning in character deaths alongside villain introductions like a mad god drunk on shock value.

I always thought the AMC show was a chance to do better. I was always leery about when the show reached this point in the comic — the Megahorde and the introduction of Negan — as this is about the point when Kirkman’s writing really jumps the shark.

I can’t even begin to express my disappointment with how the writers of the Walking Dead AMC show appear willing to write with the same recklessness and carelessness that has come to characterize the comic. We deserve better. Glenn deserves better.

What do you think? Is Glenn dead, and if so, what impact will that have on the survivors? Or, if he makes it, how do you think he does it?

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