Editors React: The Walking Dead's latest twist - brilliant or a bust?

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Jan 25, 2016, 4:21 PM EST (Updated)

Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 6 episode, "Heads Up."

Glenn is revealed to be alive, and he connects with the fleeing Enid, who grudgingly helps him out. Back at Alexandria, Rick and Michonne ask Morgan for a sit-down to discuss his no-kill policy. And Carol is uneasy about Morgan's actions around town. The herd continues to surround the walls, and it makes some Alexandra survivors make some poor decisions.

Editor at Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett give their reactions to this episode, written by Channing Powell and directed by David Boyd.

The Glenn Elephant in the Room

Aaron: Let me just begin by saying how irritated I am at The Walking Dead right now. We were so played. 

We have known Glenn was returning in some form or fashion ever since showrunner Scott Gimple's message on The Talking Dead immediately following the episode he "died." Then we've endured a month or so of episodes that have increasingly made me feel strung along (punctuated by Steven Yeun's name being removed from the opening credits). Now, to have the apparent death scene undone in the same ridiculous way everyone has predicted? Sheesh. You've let me down, TWD. I find it incredibly unlikely that Glenn would be under the Walkers and go unnoticed and unscathed, especially as he's scooting away. More than that, I am quite disappointed that it robs the show of some stakes. 

And let me be clear, I don't want Steven Yeun off the show; he has done a great job with Glenn, the most likable character on the show. But as I said weeks ago, Glenn's death as a result of something so pointless, not witnessed by Maggie or anyone else, and not in a blaze of glory, would have been such an effective gut punch -- and a gutsy move on the part of the writers.

Tara:  I think my reaction to this episode being one of major disappointment says everything about how misguided the creative team's experiment with Glenn has gone this season. I too would never want to see Steven Yeun off the show. Hell, I actually cried over his death scene, which makes me feel even more unjustly manipulated. This was a bait-and-switch scenario that will call into question any future major character deaths on the series from now on.

Why? Because The Walking Dead writers have spent six years reaffirming an unspoken contract with us, the viewers. And that contract is that this show is about death. It's personified in the rotting walkers that roam what's left of the world, and it's reiterated with every sad, surprising, wasteful and sometimes earned death we watch unfold in any given episode. Yes, we the viewers are a bit masochistic coming back for more every week, but we do it because there's a logic and rules about death sticking on this show. Aside from the inevitable rising of a dead corpse, characters die on this show, and we mourn them along with the surviving characters. We watch them get snuffed out in the real-time of the show, we experience the consequences and aftermath, we mourn communally via The Talking Dead, and then droves of us come back to do it again.  What they did with Glenn this season is not only manipulate our emotions with a fake death, but they also strung it along for a month, trying to get the audience to not want an immediate resolution when that's what the show does, and then reward us with a "surprise" happy ending. Except it wasn't. It didn't feel earned, it felt like a "clever" experiment to change up the format of the series that frankly distracted from all of the other stories and performances (some stellar like Lennie James and Melissa McBride) of the season. How am I ever supposed to buy Glenn dying ever again? I won't. I already did. Fool me once ...

Aaron: I think the other lesson here is that, while cliffhangers and misdirects are fair game, this show has shown that it is willing to play into a publicity stunt, and do so outside of its narrative confines. The bait-and-switch, followed by the after-show tease and opening credits absence, really takes us out of the story. This felt like a maneuver made to create a trending topic, and the greatest shame about it is how the show doesn’t need to do that (for ratings or social media impressions).

Tara: Agreed! The first three episodes of this season were stellar. The show didn't need to resort to a stunt death. It's much better than that.

The Rest of It


Tara: I guess it was Morgan getting grilled by Rick and Michonne about his philosophy of respecting every life in regards to his letting the Wolves survivors escape.  It was the first opportunity in the series to have that moral conundrum explored post Morgan's episode, and it certainly was a thought-provoking moment. And then having Sam challenge Carol about what makes a monster was an interesting side exploration of how will the Alexandrians teach their children any moral rules in this new world?

Aaron: I agree that Morgan’s little talk was interesting since it is such at odds with how our heroes behave now. It reminded me a little of the talks Dale had with the crew back in Season 2, but with even greater stakes. The conversations about how to remain human, or how to avoid becoming a monster, are still worthwhile on this show, and I’m happy when the writers handle it deftly. As much as I like Morgan, I think Tara is on an equally interesting – if understated -- moral journey.  She went from relying on her family, to being duped by the Governor to become a villain, to being welcomed in by Team Rick. Now she’s willing to embrace the Alexandrians as her own. She is truly fitting in, and remaining humane, without entirely threatening her own survival. She saves Spenser because it’s simply what needs to be done, and she views him as “one of us,” not one of “these people.” She is almost a better figure for Rick to learn from than Morgan.

Oh, and I think the character of Denise is becoming a highlight for me. She feels fleshed out, and I like having another nerd on the show. I would bet she and Eugene could dominate as a team at a nerdy trivia night.


Tara:  Enid, Ron, Spenser ... have officially landed on my "Don't Care" list. Let's start with Ron. Even Carl knows Ron is up to no good with this gun practice ruse. It's at most been a month, maybe two, since Rick killed Ron's dad, Pete. There's no love lost in that kid's face for any Grimes, and it's a particularly dumb move to have Rick not see it. Second, Spenser the coward, water cracker stealer was trying to be heroic for once? No, he was being a gung-ho idiot, and I would have been fine if he dropped and was a memory like his  toad brother. And last but not least, Enid lost all of the sympathy I had for her in "JSS." in this episode, she was just a surly teenager that made me grind my teeth every time she appeared. And I get that she's exactly the kind of person Glenn would try to work his compassionate magic on, but instead she was another delay tactic from getting this Glenn story arc wrapped up.

Aaron: How has no one been noticing that church steeple breaking apart? Everyone has been checking, and reinforcing, the walls, but no one thought to check the structural integrity of the tower overlooking the town – which was hit by a truck? Has there not been anyone on sniper duty?

But yeah, the trio of stupidity was such a distraction this week. I love how readily Rick gives a gun, even empty, to the clearly pissed-off son of the guy he killed. Even with the communication issues between Rick and Carl, it seemed especially dense of the younger Grimes not to give Pop a heads up. Regarding Spenser, did Deanna just raise morons? It was an out-of-nowhere act on his part, and it just felt like weaksauce.

And Enid, oh Enid, I hate you. I would be cool with her being a bit of a rebel, continuing her “JSS” streak, operating outside of the group and remaining on the fringes for a good, long time. She could have become a self-isolated, resourceful, slightly disturbed character (thinking Rousseau from Lost) but instead became another grating teen character.

"Oh S--t!" Moment

Aaron: Is it OK if nothing really moved me to that this week? I guess I thought, “Oh, snap!” when Carol caught Morgan. The falling steeple ups the threat for everyone, and I’m guessing the living population of Alexandria is about to significantly drop – but I don’t think the survivors are clearing out of town anytime soon.

Tara:  The last scene with the church steeple toppling into the Alexandria wall was a surprise for me. I'll admit, all of the wood rotting and falling pieces distracted me into thinking Father Gabriel was up to something stupid in there. Or that some Wolves were plotting inside. When it was simply the pressure of a zillion walkers taking its toll and going "Timber!", I jumped and feel concerned again for the survivors inside.


Aaron: This would have been a fine, but not spectacular, episode on most weeks – had it not been for the Glenn fake-out. Even if this aired the week immediately following his death, I think I’d feel a little better about it. But overall, “Heads Up” was a weak point in the series for me. Not the weakest point, but maybe the most manipulative.

Tara: I have to agree. The character beats with Morgan, Denise, Tara and Carol worked. Even Father Gabriel remaining the town pariah added some color to the episode. But the Glenn reveal colored everything in a far from rosy way. That moment wasn't the huge exhale the creative team was expecting. In fact, for me it severly impacted my trust in what I'm supposed to emotionally invest in from now on, and that's not something I expected from this show. 

And by the way, I think we can confirm that that wasn’t Glenn calling for “Help” over the walkie last week. So that is yet to be revealed.

What did you think of “Heads Up” and the great Glenn controversy of 2015? Are you just happy he's back?