[This post contains MASSIVE spoilers for the most recent episode of The Walking Dead. Please don’t read any further unless you already watched it, want to know what you missed, or are excited to hear us get angry about the plausibility of an event on a show where zombies are an everyday fact of life.]
It must be very difficult to keep character deaths fresh on a show where death is a regular and continuous aspect of the story. “What if, this time, someone dies because they get ripped apart by zombies?” is a sentence that probably gets you fined on the set of The Walking Dead, AMC’s juggernaut hit about the survivors of an apocalyptic zombie outbreak. Over the years, we’ve lost just about every original member of the show’s first few episodes, and our only surviving cast from the show’s starting lineup are Andrew Lincoln’s Rick, Norman Reedus’ Daryl, Melissa McBride’s Carol, and Steven Yeun’s Glenn. (Poor Carl, we’re marginalizing him even now.) But on the third episode of season six, we had a shocking and brutal death that really upset people: The loss of Glenn after Nicholas kills himself and they both fall from atop a dumpster into the waiting embrace of a hungry zombie horde. It was unexpected and awful, but also pretty unequivocally the end.
Only, maybe it’s not. And here’s where things get stupid.
Anyone watching the show noticed that Nicholas fell on top of Glenn, and that the zombies seemed to be digging into the former’s body first, which makes sense. However, we also get shots of Glenn screaming in horror, which is the kind of thing one might be expected to do, were one being ripped apart by zombies. Very sad. Except that Talking Dead, the post-game discussion show that airs immediately following The Walking Dead, basically bent over backwards (like only a zombie could) to say that Glenn wasn’t dead. He wasn’t included on the “In Memoriam” segment, a dead giveaway that AMC at the very least wants you think Glenn might still be alive. Also, The Hollywood Reporter reports a source claiming Yeun recently renewed a deal to remain on the show, an unlikely move for someone being brutally killed off. And yes, there’s been numerous sightings of Yeun on set post-ostensible-death.
There’s also been lots of analysis of the scene, and it’s true that we never actually get confirmation the guts being ripped out are Glenn’s, meaning there’s the outside chance that the zombies could have ripped apart Nicholas, thereby covering Glenn in someone else’s viscera, and buying him time to, we don‘t know, slide under the dumpster or some other unlikely bullshit. In fact, most scenarios that have Glenn emerging unscathed, or even still alive, are grade-A bullshit of the highest order.
Because if Glenn’s still alive, that means The Walking Dead is cheating. This isn’t American Horror Story. There’s no Ryan Murphy behind the scenes, saying, “Hey guys, let’s negate any and all narrative stakes, shall we?” On The Walking Dead, death is final, and cold, and ugly. So if the show is dicking around its viewers by having what looks like a horrific demise for one of its most beloved characters, only to pull some deus ex machina nonsense via an escape that beggars belief (read: a horde of zombies being so satiated by one guy’s innards, they decide to ignore the screaming human being lying right in front of them), it’s a shitty narrative trick. If you need to rely on your post-show recap program to tell people someone isn’t dead, you’re not doing a very good job making your show.
So in the best of all worlds, Glenn is dead, despite the fact that it makes us sad, because it’s way sadder if The Walking Dead pulls a weak-ass copout on its commitment to making death matter. (We discuss this in greater detail on the most recent episode of DVR Club Plus, which you should check out if you haven’t already.) But let’s review the other options, in descending order of terribleness, because make no mistake, these are all terrible options.
- It was all a dream. A stupid, stupid dream, telegraphed in no way, shape, or form.
- Some sort of totally unjustified time jump, where this Nicholas/Glenn death actually happens much later, like when Lily and Marshall try to meet at the airport on How I Met Your Mother, only to have a snowstorm disrupt their schedules. Again, there has been no suggestion of that in the narrative.
- The zombies devour Nicholas, but spare Glenn out of the goodness of their zombie hearts. (Those arguing that Glenn is hidden by Nicholas’ body are forgetting that disguising yourself in blood and guts only works if you’re using the insides of the already-dead. Claiming it would work in this scenario is like saying you throw out Twix wrappers with half the candy bar remaining, because you didn’t notice it, you were so busy eating the first one.)
- Somehow, Glenn manages to use the time the zombies spend eating Nicholas to pull himself under the dumpster, where he can’t be reached. This ignores the long stretch of time we linger on Glenn’s screaming face, and basically treats the zombies completely differently than we normally do.
- Glenn pulls himself under the dumpster, but not before being bitten and clawed repeatedly. At least in this scenario he’s still dying, and it might buy him a few hours, thereby justifying his continued presence in future episodes.
Of course, ideally Yeun is still around because his character is indeed dead, but he’s filming A) flashbacks, B) the hallucinations of other characters, or C) some “what if?” alternate-reality thing. Although it’s possible he’s now a ghost (Boooooo, I’m the apparition of clumsy plot devices!), which, honestly, probably shouldn’t be as big of a reach on a show about zombies as we’d all like to assume it is. Still, much like the situation in which Nicholas and Glenn found themselves, it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any good way out of this for AMC or The Walking Dead. So please stop using the #GlennIsAlive hashtag, when #GlennIsGreatButHeBetterBeDeadForTheSakeOfRespectableTelevision is so much more accurate.