Spoilers for tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead are ahead. Don’t continue reading unless you want to get bit!
Our national nightmare is finally over. On Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead, we finally found out what befell Glenn, the best boyfriend of the zombie apocalypse, played by Steven Yeun. He’s alive! That’s right, we got trolled hard. It was as many of you suspected: The viscera stretching out in front of Glenn’s horrified face wasn’t his own, but rather that of the cowardly Nicholas who shot himself in the head and almost took Glenn down with him. Tonight, we saw from different angles how Glenn pulled a Houdini and used the moment of feasting to wriggle his way underneath the dumpster where he stabbed the walkers in the head until the rest of the herd left. After all, it would have been an undignified way to kill off one of the most beloved characters on the show. If you’re going to kill one of the most pivotal characters in the show, there’s a sense it should be accompanied by some amount of ceremony.
To recap, it seemed as though Glenn had met his fate towards the end of this season’s third episode when the entire herd unexpectedly broke out of the quarry and waylaid Rick’s carefully crafted plans. But there were reasons to be suspicious. During The Talking Dead, AMC’s post-mortem recap show afterwards, the producers declined to confirm his death and instead simply showed a screen that read, “Please don’t let it be true.” And for the next three episodes, the show continued to dangle Glenn’s fate in front of us by editing Steven Yeun out of the opening credits where he had resided in every episode since the pilot. Then, after an episode that mostly jettisoned the ongoing plotline and focused on Morgan (Lennie James), we had Maggie act as the audience surrogate, wondering what happened to her husband. More importantly, she still had hope — going as far as erasing his name from the list of the deceased on the wall. Finally, in last week’s episode, Daryl picked up a voice on their frequency saying, “Help.” While we still don’t know if the voice on the other line was Glenn, it was also a callback to how Glenn introduced himself in the pilot to Rick when he called him a “dumbass” over the walkie, and then lent him a helping hand.
The larger question now is: Where does The Walking Dead go from here? Buzz can be a dangerous thing: It can generate excitement, or it can take you out of the show. If viewers end up speculating more on behind-the-scenes creative decisions rather than the narrative, it can feel like the show is baiting viewers rather than telling its own story. It also raises a more philosophical question: Six seasons deep, are certain characters untouchable? While we know that the show would never kill off Rick Grimes, are other beloved characters like Carol, Daryl, Michonne, and Glenn also above death? (While we’re musing, we should say that we would be totally fine if they killed Carl.) And if so, what does this mean for the guiding ethos of the show, which is that life in the apocalypse is always precarious and that anyone, no matter how strong, how savvy, or how lovable, can die at any moment?
Ultimately, all of this may not amount to much. In the comics, Glenn famously dies in the 100th issue at the hands of Negan. From casting news, we know that Negan is coming, to be played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan after the mid-season hiatus, so all of this may just be a prelude to Glenn’s eventual demise. The question will be: Will we care if it happens?
Would the better narrative choice have been for The Walking Dead to kill off Glenn? Or were you okay with being trolled? Discuss!