Monday, October 26, 2015

How Last Night's 'Death' Could Strain the Audience's Trust in AMC's 'The Walking Dead'

Last night, AMC's The Walking Dead aired the third episode of its sixth season. Rick and his crew outside Alexandria were battling walkers trying to get back. Death plagued the hour. But one death could seriously jeopardize the audience's trust in the show - to the point where one has to serious question why Scott M. Gimple and the rest of the creative team opted to tell the story this way.

SPOILER ALERT for anyone who hasn't seen "Thank You" yet.....

After being split up from Michonne and the remaining redshirts from Alexandria, Glenn and Nicholas opted to create a distraction for the walkers but wound up in an alley with seemingly no escape. As they were surrounded, Nicholas killed himself and dragged Glenn down to the ground to be eaten by literally hundreds of walkers. The camera showed the walkers starting their work on his intestines while Glenn yelled out. It was pretty clear that the show was killing off a major character from the first season. It helped showcase that anyone is capable of being killed at any moment on this show - except for people like Rick, Carol and Michonne.

But is Glenn's death as certain as it initially appears? Moments after it happened onscreen, people on Twitter and other social media platforms started saying it was a fake out. The guts being eaten were actually those of Nicholas, whose body is shielding Glenn's at least for now. That could afford him the opportunity to cover himself with blood to mask his own smell and slide underneath the dumpster until the walkers leave the alley. It's a completely preposterous explanation. And yet, it could very much happen as well. When one watches the scene again, it's much harder to tell who exactly is being eaten.

And yet, it shouldn't be this difficult to say whether or not a fan favorite character is being killed. This seems like an impossible situation for him to get out of. His death in this alley has meaning. It continues the show's very pessimistic and nihilistic point-of-view. But it does have meaning. To back out of it now would send the message that basically anyone from Rick's crew (especially any remaining regulars from Season 1, plus Michonne and Maggie) are save in a world that lives in life or death consequences. Glenn somehow surviving this ordeal would be such a disservice to the fans. It is the big event of this episode. Without it, the hour is kind of a muddled mess. If it is indeed a fake out, then this episode will be regarded horribly in hindsight.

One must ask: What's the big purpose to all of this though? Why tease Glenn's death in such a way only for him to emerge still alive later? There doesn't seem to be any upside to this scenario. It's a no-win situation no matter what the show does. The audience will be upset that Glenn has been killed off. It's a change to the character's story from the comic book source material. But again, the show is different than the books and one can't rely on those stories in order to determine what happens here. But should Glenn die here the audience would be able to get over it - like they have done with every other major character death on the show. This world keeps moving forward. People die constantly. That is very much the show's worldview.

But Glenn surviving would be such a disservice to the fans of the character and the show. The drama has teased his death so many times onscreen. He has escaped a fair number of impossible situations before - even at the hands of Nicholas just last season when it came to the revolving door of death that killed Noah. But this situation feels way too dire for there to be any reasonable way out of it. Covering himself with Nicholas' blood shouldn't mask his smell from the walkers. In fact, it should make him a more tantalizing treat since Nicholas was still human. The characters rubbing themselves with walker blood has always been a trick not used enough by the main characters. Why can't Michonne and her gang of survivors do that in order to get back home in this episode? It's unclear. But the option still remains open for Glenn no matter how dubious the situation appears to be.

But again, why tease his death is such spectacular fashion if it's not going to be real? It weakens the show's life and death stakes a considerable deal. Someone from Rick's crew needed to die. It can't just be redshirts from Alexandria who don't make it out of this ordeal. But Glenn's death is left very ambiguous. In fact, the show could very well leave it open-ended for the remaining characters. No one else knows what happens. Michonne could return to Alexandria, tell Maggie what happened, and both refuse to believe he's dead until they have definite proof. He has made it back to them before. He could be gone for several episodes and then come back heroically whenever another character needs a quick save. That moment could be a very rousing success.

Even Gimple teases that this isn't the last we've seen of the character. It just doesn't feel like the show is going to get anything out of this dramatic turn of events though. It could actually lose the trust of the audience if it backs out of this decision in the future. I have been a fan of the Gimple-era of the show. Characterization has always been and remains the show's weakest attribute but he has done a far better job at it than his predecessors in the showrunner gig. But how he and the rest of the creative team are planning on handling this death has left me very worried. It's unlikely the show would dip in audience because of this decision. It's still going to be the behemoth it has always been in the ratings. And yet, it's hard to say if it's going to be worth it or not. That's the problem with doing these episodic think pieces. I took the time to write this whole separate piece about the issue in addition to my review of the episode last night because of how murky the situation actually is. It's a precarious space for the show to be in right now. This season had gotten off to such a strong start too. The handling of Glenn's "death" has the potential to unravel all of that goodwill for seemingly no rewards.

And lastly, why is Glenn such a beloved character in the first place? It can't just be because he has been on the show since the very beginning. His character arc has been so attached to his relationship with Maggie since the second season. On occasion, the show has done interesting things with that dynamic. But more often than not, Glenn is just a reliable character who can slip into the background whenever necessary. His absence isn't all that noticeable. I'm aware of when Rick, Carol, Daryl or Michonne haven't been on screen for awhile. With Glenn, it's hardly important or relevant. Or do people like him because he has been at the center of many great zombie action sequences? Because he's frequently out in the field scouting for resources, he's encountered many walkers over the years and still managed to survive. But this show has always needed to be more than just creative zombie kills. That's not the reason why I watch - even though it may be why the show is so popular. So again, I'm stumped about Glenn's popularity. He isn't my favorite nor my least favorite character. Rick, Carol, Michonne, Daryl, Abraham and Morgan are such vastly more interesting characters. I could even argue that people like Maggie, Carl, Eugene and Sasha have had more interesting character beats than Glenn. And if we're factoring in characters who have died on the show, Glenn is pushed even further down the list. I liked Hershel, Beth and Tyreese a bunch by the time they met their demises. With Glenn, it's hard to muster up much excitement. I know that writing two separate pieces about his alleged "death" suggests otherwise. I'm completely indifferent to his fate but it could still hold major repercussions for the show. Repercussions that the show needs to be more aware of.