Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday Night's The Walking Dead Season 6 episode, "Thank You."
Well, "Thank You" ended up being the emotional sucker punch no one saw coming. We should all know better. Six seasons into The Walking Dead and the futility of expecting anyone to be safe is just stupid, but with the ongoing bloodbath at Alexandria and the further thinning of the Alexandria residents in this episode, the core characters seemed on more solid, experienced ground ... except they weren't.
Beloved Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), the unassuming pizza delivery guy in the pilot who evolved into one of the show's most stalwart moral compasses and all-around good men, seemingly* lost his life to a horde of walkers when Alexandrian Nicholas (Michael Traynor) shot himself and let his lifeless corpse drag Glenn to his death as well. (*We use the term seemingly because per the ritual on The Talking Dead post-mortem show, there wasn't an actual memoriam for Glenn, and showrunner Scott Gimple released the statement saying, "In some way, we will see Glenn, some version of Glenn, or parts of Glenn again, either in flashback or in the current story, to help complete the story.” We'll discuss our feelings on that later.)
Editor at Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett give their reactions to this emotionally fraught episode.
Tara: For now, let's pretend there's no dithering about if Glenn is actually dead or not and focus on the fact that Glenn being the grim addendum to Nicholas' last selfish act (suicide and leaving Glenn to figure out how to survive their dire situation alone) was one of the most startling and unexpected deaths of the show. After enduring that scene, I was immediately queasy, my stomach clenched in shock, and then I cried, which is rare for me with this show, because of the sheer volume of deaths. To take Glenn, when he was again protecting the weakest and was truly a good soul in this soulless wasteland, felt like a blow even too low for the show to take.
Aaron: Last week ("JSS") was one of my favorites during the show's entire run, and this episode upped the ante. The tension was built up early and never let up. And by putting every character in peril, it was hard to predict who was in the worst situation. But the deaths were plentiful and brutal, and I was left sympathizing with Alexandrians I'd never even met before. The episode set the bar incredibly high and re-introduced real risk to our lead characters. There were also a lot of heartbreaking moments before we even got to Glenn's death. The whole love letter and married man scenario tore me up.
Tara: Agreed. The Alexandrians we lost this week were far more sympathetic than many who were Wolves or walker victims in the last few episodes. Annie had been the rare fighter amongst her Alexandrian kin and she nobly sacrificed herself to get Michonne, Heath and David out of their horde surrounded store. Then David, the new husband with the heartfelt story about finding the unexpected love of his life in the apocalypse that made him relatable and human was lost to the horde so Michonne could climb over a fence. His trampled goodbye note to his waiting wife was a lump in the throat moment for sure. And then there was Nicholas....
Aaron: Nicholas was a compelling character who redeemed himself, and I was sad to see him go. Actor Michael Traynor did an excellent job in showing a man who tried, failed, tried again, and eventually couldn't survive in this world. Sadly his choice to kill himself literally brought Glenn down.
Tara: It's hard to see any value in Nicholas as a character, especially because his actions on that garbage bin led to Glenn's demise. But as a character, there was a lot to recognize. Frankly, Nicholas is what a lot of people would turn into during the apocalypse: weak, overwhelmed, terrified into making horribly selfish choices. We hate him as viewers because we'd like to think we'd be better than Nicholas but the writers know a lot of us would not. Glenn was just forgiving enough to know that people can become better and Nicholas was given the gift of extra life by Glenn and more importantly the knowledge that a better man was inside of him. Traynor's last look of peace before he pulled the trigger was some powerful acting as it conveyed so much with only the words, "Thank you." Potent storytelling and you mix that with Yeun's stunned reaction and together they made a scene that I was left thinking about long after the episode was complete.
And what about Rick? He certainly gave us some emotional catharsis when he machine-gunned the Wolves into tiny pieces, but now he's left in as bad a pickle as Glenn and Nicholas, and Michonne and Heath. There's a horde around his RV and a very pointed injury on his hand that could foreshadow a plot point that happens in the comic book. Does the house in the aerial shot hold his salvation?
Aaron: I liked that the Wolves Morgan spared came to haunt Rick, though it was a little too much a repitition Tyreese in Season 5 with Martin.
Tara: So, let's get back to Glenn. Is he dead or not?
Aaron: I, for one, hate that message from Gimple. It would neuter a really bold move to bring him back, and even utilize him in a flashback. The fan theories will begin that Glenn somehow survived, but I don't buy it. I didn't see him moving away, and if the show did provide an escape, it would be a cop-out. I think the solitary death of Glenn was almost more tragic and romantic because no one was there to witness it.
Tara: I think he's dead, too. Up until now, The Walking Dead has had finality when it comes to death (walker reanimation aside). The show was ballsy to have Glenn's death less lingering, or foreshadowed, than say Noah or even David. Because how Glenn dies is less important than what a Glenn-sized-hole in this world is going to do to Maggie, Rick, Daryl, Michonne and even Morgan. I say Morgan because Glenn was his kindred spirit. They both believed in the potential of people, even when they experienced the worst. Glenn never killed a human. Morgan has been trying desperately to not kill again. Having Glenn as a lost advocate feels like it opens a door to know more about Morgan's own personal philosophy now.
I also give kudos to showrunner Scott Gimple for executing a twist on Glenn's demise that surprised the comic book fans and the TV viewers. In the Season 5 Terminus arc, where Rick and Glenn were bent over sinks with a baseball bat to the head imminent, Gimple blocked out a future comic book moment with Glenn there that gratefully didn't have the same outcome in the series. It allowed comic book fans to exhale and instead look to the horizon to worry about the introduction of "Big Bad" Negan to the storyline as to when we should fret about Glenn's safety again. To pull this now, not only creates a true moment of surprise in the TV series storyline but also sets up the same emotional arc for the surviving characters which will remix the comic book narrative in a fresh way once more. And so, I too, hope the story sticks, much as I HATE to write that, because it earns The Walking Dead a resonant story engine for many episodes to come.
What did you think of this most recent turn of events on The Walking Dead? Are dark days ahead? Let us know in the comments!