Sunday, October 25, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Walking Dead' - Michonne & Glenn Desperately Lead the Group Back to Alexandria in 'Thank You'

AMC's The Walking Dead - Episode 6.03 "Thank You"

A return home doesn't go as expected.

Over the years, The Walking Dead hasn't been afraid to kill off some major characters. It has also broke away from the storyline in the comic books on a couple of occasions. This would be an important time to mention that the show and the comic books are completely different things. Just because something happens in the book doesn't mean it will happen on the show. But it's also important to remember that the audience doesn't know how all of this is going to resolve itself. That's the problem with doing episodic reviews. The big moment in this episode feels real when it happens. But when one looks at it objectively in terms of what it means to the overall narrative and story, it actually starts to fall to pieces.

"Thank You" features the death of a character who has been on the show since the first season: Glenn. Over the years, Glenn has become a reliable backbone for the group of survivors. He has never been all that interesting outside of his relationship with Maggie. In fact, he's the character who feels like he should be killed off every season and isn't. He has learned how to survive in this world just like the rest of Rick's group. Glenn was there from the very beginning. He has escaped tricky and impossible situations before. This instance would just be a little incredulous though. And for what would grand purpose?

The setup for Glenn's death includes the group outside Alexandria doing their best to return when the horn starts blaring and the walkers break off from the intended path. This episode proves just how stupid and idiotic Rick's plan was in the first place. It could have gone wrong any number of ways. And now, a ton of characters are paying the consequences - including Glenn. He and Nicholas break away from the group in order to set fire to a building to distract the walker herd. When that building has already been burned, they choose to go down an alley. That decision is what dooms their fates. The alley they go down is filled with walkers approaching from both sides. They are trapped with seemingly no way out. Glenn has been in a position like this before. He has always managed to survive. Nicholas hasn't. He has been on a path to find forgiveness and redemption. Glenn is starting to trust him again. But he checks out on a number of occasions throughout this hour as things look increasingly hopeless. When he and Glenn are standing on top of that dumpster, Nicholas decides to give up. He takes the coward's way out. He thanks Glenn for what he did but then pulls him down with him.

First of all, how is pulling Glenn to his death any form of gratitude? Or did Nicholas think that only his body would fall? That would then create enough of a distraction for Glenn to escape. Glenn just held on for a moment too long and took the plunge as well? But more importantly, how is this a satisfying end to Glenn as a character on the show? His arc with Nicholas has always been weird. Because of Nicholas, Glenn lost Noah. He still decided to offer him redemption. Nicholas took that and followed Glenn's lead. And now, Glenn dies because he wanted to be optimistic about someone else in this world. Glenn has always been at his best as a character when it comes to his relationship with Maggie. This ending offers no strong resolution to that story. No one knows what has happened to him. Michonne and the rest of the survivors just go on ahead hoping he's still out there surviving. That uncertainty can be devastating to both Maggie and the show. So, it's hard to comment on how this story is handled in this episode without knowing what the show is going to do next.

However, Glenn's death would have significance because it shows that not only Alexandrian red shirts died during this change in leadership. So far, the people of Alexandria have been shown as weak and afraid of the tough and harsh methods of people like Rich and Michonne. They are hesitant to embracing their worldview. As a result of that, they are easily killed when they venture outside the walls. It's an action that shows just how right Rick is. He and the rest of his group are survivors. They know how to survive in this world. And yet, just because they have the knowledge doesn't make them better equipped to avoid a gruesome end out there. Glenn's death shows that anyone can still die at anytime on this show. Yes, it's suspicious that such an important character perishes in the third episode of the season and not in a premiere or a finale. But it still holds value as the world and the situation intensifies around the characters as their big plan failed spectacularly.

Rick left the rest of the group out in the field because he wanted to keep the big plan moving forward. He told Michonne that they would lose people in getting back to Alexandria and they would just have to leave them behind. It's kinda spectacular but a bit incredulous that whenever someone shows some humanity or questions Rick's orders they die a few moments later. This episode builds on death because characters remain hopeful that everyone can survive. It's a thematic point that only really works when Michonne is telling Heath just how much she has done in order to continue living in this world. Even that point is driven home later when Heath sees his reflection in the pond with a bunch of blood on his face.

The Walking Dead has always been a very pessimistic show. The characters have to embrace that mentality. As soon as they embrace hope, they die. Each character is defined by their willingness to survive in this world. That's the only thing of real value right now. They are doing their best to protect Alexandria. But with a dwindling population with each passing episode, that seems like a more and more daunting task. Rick wants to make this entire venture outside the walls worth it. If he fails, the herd will continue to march through until everyone in Alexandria is dead. Again, it's a horrible plan. But he's clinging to it anyway. He needs it to work. But even he is trapped in a seemingly hopeless situation again by episode's end. He checks in with Daryl, Sasha and Abraham to make sure they are all committed to forging ahead no matter what is going on back home. He fully believes he's doing what's in everyone's best interests. This is how he survives - even if it means killing a bunch of wolves when they attack him in the RV. Despite his best efforts though, he is trapped in an RV that won't start surrounded by the herd of walkers coming for him. A bleak end to an overall bleak episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Thank You" was written by Angela Kang and directed by Michael Slovis.
  • I started to worry that Glenn might die as soon as he restated Hershel's big philosophy of everyone having jobs to do as well as calling Rick a jackass in their final conversation together - just like he did at the end of the pilot.
  • There's also a very weird subplot that features Daryl driving around on a motorcycle and not really doing anything. He broke away from the plan and came back. But nothing really happened while he was away.
  • Come on guys, it's just common courtesy to kill a guy when he's being feasted upon by walkers. Why in the world did Michonne and Heath just watch that guy suffer as he was being eaten alive? 
  • The wolves who attacked Rick in the end were the ones that Morgan let go, right?
  • It's amusing that the three people left standing from the big mission as they return home to a battle-torn Alexandra are all African-American. Should that be read as the show addressing it's (and the genre's) misgivings when it comes to killing off black characters?
  • What do you think? Is Glenn really dead or not? I'm really indifferent to it. I don't really care one way or another. That's somewhat surprising but not really because he has never been my favorite character. He's always been somewhat bland to me.