Spoilers! Don’t get trapped in a dead-end alley with all of these spoilers!
The first three episodes of season six have still not taken us beyond a single afternoon in the show’s timeline, and it’s been quite a day.
Let’s dive right into this week’s episode, “Thank You:” Glenn. RIP Glenn. Or…RIP Glenn? I’ll get to that in a minute.
The scene in the alley is more gripping and intense than anything that’s happened so far this season. We’re all over walker gore by now, and while the Wolf attack was surprising and brutal, it never seemed like any of the characters we care about were in real danger. The direction, sound effects, and acting of this scene, as the drone of the herd fades out and Nicholas reaches his breaking point, are all excellently done. The switch to slow motion as we see things from Nicholas’ harrowed perspective makes the sequence feel like one of those panic-inducing dreams in which you’re trying to run away from something but can’t get your legs moving fast enough.
When Glenn finally shakes Nicholas out of it (sort of) and he says “thank you,” for those few terrifying seconds I was almost sure Nicholas would revert to his old ways and push Glenn into the herd to try and save himself. While he’s been obviously trying to redeem himself of his cowardice, he’s still basically a loose cannon, demonstrated by his recurring moments of panic and uncertainty in this episode. And then he kills himself and there’s a second of relief, but then they both fall and the terror is back. My husband and I both shouted “Oh no! Glenn!”
It was an emotional roller coaster of a scene and delivered an outcome that was truly unexpected; I’ve gotten so used to the methodically-kill-nameless-annoying-Alexandrians formula that I guess I’d been lulled into a false sense of security, because a major character death was not on my radar. I was more expecting Daryl to ride up at the last minute and save them than for one of our beloved Groupies to die. (Who was the last major character killed off? Tyreese? Noah doesn’t really count.) Turns out, as my husband said, “That looked like an impossible situation…and it was.” So this scene proved to be better horror and drama than anything The Walking Dead has thrown at us in a while.
Which is why I’d be a little disappointed if Glenn somehow, miraculously, makes it out alive in the end.
I thought he was pretty clearly done for, but after re-watching the scene I guess it’s plausible that, as my husband pointed out, the zombies are feasting on Nicholas’ body, which landed on top of Glenn when they fell. Maybe Glenn could hide underneath Nicholas’ body until something else draws the walkers away…maybe. But there are just so many, and in a relatively enclosed space like that? Glenn did seem to be screaming in pain as the walkers feasted on intestines, but it’s not like we saw a walker bite his neck out, and we know that Nicholas’ body is also down there. They’re obviously leaving it ambiguous enough to make a Glenn comeback plausible, no matter how unlikely. But, as I said, I hope that’s not the case.
The tone of character deaths on The Walking Dead, and how we as the audience respond to them, has evolved over the course of these going-on-six seasons. In earlier seasons, while it was still shocking to witness lead characters die, the writers often left just enough uncertainty about their fates until the final moments to make it suspenseful (Lori, Andrea, Hershel). There was this overall feeling of “anything could happen, nobody’s safe.” The longer the show goes on, the more attached we grow to the ones who survive, and we start to get comfortable with them. We don’t genuinely expect one of our core Groupies to die (Glenn, Rick, Carol, and Daryl are who I’m talking about here). At least, I don’t. Maybe in some huge finale later on, but not now. Not like this.
For this reason, this week’s episode is, in my opinion, the best so far of season six (and I know I keep saying it, but really the best we’ve seen in a long time) due to its suspense, surprise, and emotional vigor. The events of this episode and its dismal ending as we lose a lead, only three of the people we see at the beginning stagger back to Alexandria alive, and (at least) one’s fate is still left uncertain brings us back to the “anything could happen, nobody’s safe” place the show used to inhabit. Surely, we think, they’ll kill off the newbies and let our favorites make it back safely. Surely, they’ll make it out of this impossible-seeming situation due to some equally impossible-seeming, last-second plot twist. Surely, this can’t get any worse.
And then Glenn falls. And then Rick’s injured. And then the RV won’t start.
As devastating as it is to see these horrible circumstances keep getting worse for our heroes, it makes for some properly powerful television and it feels legitimate for the world that The Walking Dead has created, much more legitimate than last-second rescues and improbable escapes. Seeing Glenn die in such a mundane way—getting swarmed by zombies is, after all, mundane for The Walking Dead—also feels valid and appropriately bleak for the show’s universe. There are only so many psychopaths, each crazier than the last, that I can endure before it all starts to feel like pointless shock value. Crazy for the sake of crazy. The Governor, the Terminus cannibals, the Wolves. By opting for an infuriatingly simple death-by-walkers rather than a extravagant end at the hands of another bloodthirsty psycho, the show actually elicits more shock, more emotion, more grief.
In many ways, this episode is a reminder that any day, any wrong turn, any choice could be our characters’ undoing. As Hershel said, “Nowadays, you breathe and you risk your life.” This is the zombie apocalypse. Even if you’re smart, and brave, and a good fighter, this world is crazy. This is war. And sometimes things just go wrong in too many ways and you can’t escape it.
Going back to Rick’s injury, that seems to be another potential red herring. My husband thought that Rick was bitten on his way back to the RV. We re-watched that scene also, and again, I was pretty sure about how it went down: Rick accidentally slashed his hand with his knife as he took out a walker. At least, that’s how it looked based on the angles and how he was moving. But upon further inspection, we don’t really get a good look at his injury, and Rick is pretty mad about his wound for some reason, and then he drops to his knees and seems to be preparing himself, perhaps to cut his hand off? And, as reviewer Erik Kain at Forbes points out, there are also those moments in the RV when Rick presses some tissues to his wounded hand, again gathers himself, and is about to say something else—something apparently significant—into the walkie-talkie, but we don’t hear it because the Wolves burst in (of course). Again, it’s a tough call, and they intentionally leave it uncertain.
However things turn out for Rick, it’s refreshing to see him legitimately panicked as the walkers close in and the RV won’t start. For a while now, nothing’s really been able to phase him, and the show’s been using his cold, almost clinical killer tactics as a means to build drama and add tension, even among his allies (neither Glenn nor Michonne adhere to his pirate’s code-style if-they-fall-behind-leave-them-behind command). Finally, things are going so badly that even Rick is breaking. I’m enjoying sitting with the characters’ panic and tragedy in that masochistic way only fans of The Walking Dead can.
Anything could happen. Nobody’s safe.
Sasha, Abraham, and Daryl get minimal screen time this episode, but I was interested in Daryl’s struggle over what to do: stick with the plan or turn back to help his friends at Alexandria, whom he knows are in trouble? Seeing the sign for Alexandria pushes him to turn around. It’s his home now, and he wants to protect it. After Daryl’s emotional despondency in the wake of Beth’s death last season and his initial hesitancy to settle into life at Alexandria, this is a big moment for him.
Daryl’s a soldier, and he has always been motivated by his immense loyalty. (Even at the expense of his well-being and perhaps against his better judgment, like when he chooses his abusive, dangerous brother over the Group for a short spell in season three. He’s still human, after all.) So in these moments, despite having very few lines and too little screen time (what can I say? Daryl’s been my favorite character since his first foul-mouthed, surly appearance in season one), Reedus effectively portrays his inner struggle. It’s not the first time Daryl’s questioned Rick’s judgment about what’s best for Alexandria (in “First Time Again,” he disagrees when Rick says they shouldn’t look for people to join the community anymore). It’s still frustrating seeing such a great character suppressed for three huge episodes, but hopefully the writers will pay us back later on, when everyone finally makes it back to Alexandria so we can regroup, figure out exactly what’s happened, and see what the survivors will do next.
But with how they’ve stretched things out over these three episodes, who knows how long that will take?
- I’m kind of glad they dispensed with the escaped Wolves quickly, instead of letting that loom in the background for a long time. Are there even any Wolves left now? Did our heroes kill them all off in two episodes? If the Wolves are gone, then I’m left wondering even more about what will happen with the rest of this season.
- The ambiguity of Glenn’s death could mean something interesting for Maggie. Their mutual hope in each other’s survival is what kept them both going after the prison fell, so until Glenn’s death becomes abundantly clear (after all, no one else witnessed what happened), the smallest possibility of his survival could keep her going.
- I have a plot twist proposal: Maggie’s pregnant. They’ve dropped hints that something important and unspecified is going down with Maggie and Glenn. In the premiere episode, Glenn tells Maggie to stay at Alexandria to keep an eye on Deanna. “That’s not the only reason,” she says. “Yeah,” Glenn responds. “It isn’t.” Now in this episode he talks about how he needs to get back to Maggie; maybe it’s just me, but it felt like there was another reason other than “I want to see my wife again.” We’ll see, but I’m putting money on a little baby Rhee. And if Glenn turns out to be a goner, Maggie being pregnant would be a satisfying way for the writers to twist the knife even more (and maybe help motivate her to keep going).
- Other weighty lines:
- Michonne: “We have no choice. We’ve gotta keep going forward.”
- Glenn to Rick over the walkie-talkie: “Good luck, dumbass.” A surprisingly sweet callback to Glenn and Rick’s first meeting in season one.
- I pointed out to my husband last week that we’ve got another Breaking Bad-style RV on the show now. “All that’s missing are the bullet holes.” When Rick shot up the side of the RV to kill the remaining Wolves, my husband turned to me and said, “Well, there’s your bullet holes!”