I want to say up front that I have not read any spoilers for the season six finale of The Walking Dead, which is due to air tonight. But I have read the comics, and I don’t think there’s anyone out there at this point who isn’t anticipating the appearance of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) on tonight’s episode—along with his trusty bat Lucille. Not least, Negan and the bat have featured in the most recent trailer for the finale.
Speculation has been rife that a major character will die tonight at the hands of Negan—or, I should say, rumors are flying about which major character will die tonight.
Having absolutely no insider knowledge, I want to (very reluctantly) argue that I think it’ll be Glenn (Steven Yeun), and that I think the show’s writers have told us this moment is coming. Specifically, the season 5 episode, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” gives at least three clues that it’s Glenn we’re going to lose tonight to Negan’s bat.
-1. Glenn spends pretty much all of this episode carrying a baseball bat. The group has gone back to where Noah (Tyler James Williams) lived in Richmond, to find his mother and brothers (of course they’re dead), and, early in the episode, Glenn picks up a baseball bat from the floor of a garage (right after Michonne [Danai Gurira] picks up a baseball jersey—safer choice).
That Glenn is then seen in virtually every subsequent frame carrying this bat seems to send a message: subliminally, we are being asked to connect Glenn and the bat.
-2. The entire episode, moreover, centers on the death of a beloved character—Tyreese (Chad Coleman)—and it’s an elegiac episode. So, as we’re asked to link Glenn and a baseball bat, we are also confronted with the protracted, tragic death of a major character.
The episode is not only about Tyreese’s death, though, but about the murder of Beth (Emily Kinney), which happened at the end of the prior episode, and which all of the characters are still grieving. Indeed, when Glenn reaches for the bat, in the frame above, he is saying to Rick (who is trying to move on): “Losing Washington, losing Beth, right after finding out she’s alive. I just hadn’t caught up with you yet.” It is exactly when he says the italicized words that Glenn grabs the bat and stands up with it. These words are significant not only in that Glenn and the bat are associated with the death of Beth, but with the death of a character whom they had thought for a while was dead. Now who else have we not that long ago believed to be dead? There’s not only the infamous dumpster scene that ended the third episode of season 6, “Thank You,” but also the subsequent moment in Alexandria when Glenn was swarmed by walkers (“No Way Out”).
-3. Lastly, this beautifully-written episode contains some refrains that I can’t help but read as telling us something about the set of linkages the episode is setting up: Glenn, a bat, and the death of a major character who was found alive after everyone thought they were dead. As Tyreese dies, he hallucinates several key (now dead) characters, and they each repeat words to him that serve to explain what’s happening and why. Bob reappears and says at least twice, “It went the way it had to—the way it was always going to.” And The Governor makes a reappearance, telling Tyreese, three times, “You have to pay the bill.”
Bob’s words suggest an air of inevitability—of fate catching up with you—and certainly we’ve had enough intimations of Glenn’s fate, which he has so far miraculously (some would say, too miraculously) escaped.
The Governor’s words anticipate the need for payment. And hints have been mounting throughout season 6 that someone is going to need to “pay the bill” for the group’s newly savage and preemptive brutality.
Sadly, I think it may be Glenn who pays the price, and I’m preparing myself. Tellingly, by the end of the episode, Glenn’s bat is covered with blood.
NOTE: Both season 5, episode 9 and the season 6 finale are directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Scott Gimple. (The latter is also co-written by Matthew Negrete.)