by Thom Yee
6×03: “Thank You”
I don’t think it takes that much thought to reach the conclusion that being eaten alive until you die (and obviously we’re talking about being eaten in pieces, not just swallowed whole) probably isn’t a great way to go. A lot of people died this week on The Walking Dead… not as many as last week, but a little more personally… and a lot less quickly. Obviously we’ve seen people bitten, eviscerated, and dismembered by walkers before on this show, but with how detailed these onscreen deaths are becoming as the show’s effects budget increases alongside its ratings, it’s getting tough to sit through these prolonged death scenes and not think about the value of mercy killing. When you’re in a situation where almost all of you made it to the other side of the fence, don’t just watch the one unlucky member of your group that didn’t make it die. Shoot him in the head or something, he’s being eaten alive! That’s gotta hurt!
Right now a lot of you are probably feeling a bit like I did a few years ago after reading a particularly climactic issue of The Walking Dead comicbook. The Walking Dead is a show that, by its nature, courts death at any and every moment, and quite often those deaths are expected and often even funny. For much of this week’s “Thank You”, that was very much the case as most of the Alexandrians who were brave and stupid enough to follow Rick’s lead met their ends in the most stilted and cliché fashion possible. As soon as any one of them expressed doubt or fear or even a small measure of resolve or bravery, they were cut down almost immediately.
But then, at least for a show like The Walking Dead, the unthinkable happened. Glenn, one of the longest surviving members of our group, one of the most beloved, one of the most important and enduring people on this show, is dead. For now, let’s leave all of the theories around the character’s potential survival to the side, no matter how attractive, convincing, and numerous they may be, and admit that to ourselves. Last week, back behind the Safe-Zone walls, it felt like so many Alexandrians were dropping like flies at the hands of the Wolves that of course our heroes were going to be safe and there to save the day, and I think a lot of us let that bit of false positivity creep its way into this week’s viewing when we assumed that all of our principal characters were safe. It’s been a long time since a truly core member of the cast died, and other than Daryl, Carl or Rick himself, they don’t get any more core than Glenn.
Judging by the online fan reactions I’ve seen, Glenn’s death has met with an almost overwhelming sense of sadness, and I think it’s a sadness that’s greater for him than it would be for any other on the show. When Dale died, it was unexpected because it was one of the first major breaks from the comicbook, but he was really starting to get annoying and most viewers didn’t mind seeing him go. The same could be said for Shane or Lori or Andrea, in fact most of us were cheering when we saw them die, but Glenn was different. He was decent and good and unthreatening by nature, but hopeful and useful and resourceful, and he grew with the show as we grew with the show. In some ways he was our viewpoint character, in many ways he was the type of person we would hope to be if we were in the same type of situation. He was our rock, not because he was the toughest or the leader of the group, but because we needed his caring and heart to carry us through a show that can be very grim and dark and unsympathetic, and now it’s hard to know what to do without him.
There’s a hushed, somber tone that’s fallen over this Walking Dead group as we speak about Glenn. Truly it’s a rare thing to care so much about a fictional character, especially in a popular television show, and that’s something special and something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. We may not feel good about Glenn’s death, we may be grasping at every straw we can to deny it, but these feelings are a testament to how good this show is getting lately and how important story can be to our collective and individual psyches. As a comicbook reader, I’ve been prepared for Glenn’s death for a while (and I don’t think that’s too much of a Walking Dead comicbook spoiler since I’m not saying exactly when or how he died there), but for me, especially with the different circumstances of his death in the comic, rather than sadness, I was overcome with feelings of anger at the time of reading the book. I think Glenn’s comicbook death is the most angry and most emotional I’ve ever felt about a fictional character dying, and it wasn’t anger at the creators or publishers, it was exactly the right type of anger, the anger I was supposed to feel about such a death and an extreme anger at the person responsible (a character who may still show up later on the show).
Unfortunately, on the show the writers didn’t do as good a job in building up Nicholas, whose suicide, though sensible and in line with everything I wrote at the beginning of this review, also led to Glenn’s untimely demise, leaving Nicholas, no matter his redemptive final arc, as little more than a character for everybody to hate. This shallow hatred, in addition to where we are in terms of plot and place in the season, and a lot of behind-the-scenes speculation, has led people to believe Glenn’s still alive. Would they really kill a major character at this odd early point and not the mid-season or full-season finale? How will Maggie help Deanna overcome the death of her husband (and son Aiden, don’t forget) if she’s reeling from her own husband’s death (and rest of her family, don’t forget)? And it doesn’t really feel right that Glenn’s own good nature in giving Nicholas another chance should prove to be his undoing. Maybe for a more arrogant character, maybe for a more foolish character, but not Glenn. What kind of a lesson is that for us to learn?
What this episode definitely does is reaffirm the danger that the walkers still represent, even with the continuing threat that the Wolves might represent and even with the internal strife percolating inside the Alexandria walls. Maybe even more importantly, the events of “Thank You” are starting to show us that the writers may be willing to circumvent our own expectations of safety, storytelling convention, and even story expectations and buildup in order to bring us a show that’s finally going to be daring and dangerous. For me, it didn’t take long into season six for The Walking Dead to retake the crown of the better zombie show from Fear the Walking Dead as the show seems to have reached a real breaking point for Rick and co., one where core concepts and themes don’t matter as much as the reality of this situation. I mean, who even cares about Rick vs. Morgan anymore, who’s still thinking about the Wolves as a serious threat? In that final scene where Rick’s in the RV being attacked by the Wolves, it didn’t even matter that they were there, it was beside the point that Rick spent almost no effort killing five or six of them, all that mattered is that no matter how hard our heroes try and how big their individual victories can occasionally be, it’s all downhill no matter what.
The Walking Dead — “Thank You” final score
Items of Note
- If the walkers don’t get you, Michonne, Heath, and guy shot in the leg (who’s married to Sasha in real life), that swampy water will. It certainly can’t be good to get that water into a bullet wound.
- Also a lot of talk about Rick’s cut left hand this episode. Don’t know if that’s going anywhere.
- Next week’s episode has an extra-length, ninety-minute running time, so get ready for at least six more minutes of commercials.