Posted on October 26, 2015

“Not Dead!” Glenn’s Fate in The Walking Dead

Dawn Keetley

If you didn’t watch last night’s Walking Dead episode, “Thank You,” you won’t want to read any further. Watch it and then come back.

The big news, obviously, is that the much-loved Glenn died. The big question, though, is did he?

Glenn was not memorialized among the other dead on the “In Memoriam” segment on The Talking Dead, which sent Twitter buzzing and roused many viewers still slumped in shock and disbelief (and, yes, grief) after the apparent demise of Steven Yeun’s character.

I may be writing out of a mixture of wish-fulfillment and denial, but here’s my take on it: I don’t think he’s dead. If he is, though, the writers created a fitting end for him (unlike his death in the comics)—and kudos to them for doing so (even though I hate them right now).

“Thank You” is the third episode of season six, and, like the first two, it tracks the consequences of Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) botched plan to lure the herd of walkers away from Alexandria. At this point, the plan seems to have gone so wrong, I’m not sure I remember what the plan even was.

Glenn and Nicholas (Michael Traynor) run off to set fire to a building near Alexandria so they can distract the herd, allowing themselves and a number of other survivors to get ahead of the herd and back to the safety of their community. This part of the plan goes awry too, as the store they planned to set ablaze is already gutted and Nicholas, who said he knew where he was, seems lost. Trapped in an alley, walkers on every side of them, Glenn and Nicholas climb up onto a dumpster. They are literally in a sea of zombies. Nicholas puts his gun to his head in despair, says “Thank you” (to Glenn, for trusting him), shoots himself, and takes Glenn down into the swarm as he falls. Glenn appears to be ripped apart—and is so overrun with walkers, honestly, it seemed impossible he could have survived.

1. Walking Dead, 6.3 Glenn and Nicholas on the dumpster

However, some crucial fine points (confirmed during two re-watchings!): first, Nicholas definitely falls on top of Glenn, so when we see Glenn in the frame with guts being pulled out of a body, it is most likely Nicholas’s body. Second, Glenn’s face seems more shocked than agonized (as it would be if he were being disemboweled). Third, he’s not bleeding from the mouth (as severe internal injuries like zombies pulling out your entrails would seem to necessitate).

2. Walking Dead, 6.3, Glenn

Finally, Glenn fell close to a dumpster and could have edged himself under it. The camera pans out to a long shot, so we’re not sure if he does—but in one frame, you can see Glenn’s face, in the next, you can’t.

3. Walking Dead, 6.3, Glenn4

What really makes me think Glenn’s still alive, though, is the way “Thank You” began echoing the first episode of season one.

Most importantly, Glenn had, shortly before, ended a conversation with Rick over walkie-talkie by calling him a “dumbass.” Fans know this is what Glenn called Rick when he first met him, before he met him, actually, at the end of “Days Gone Bye.” “Hey you. Dumbass,” Glenn said over a radio, giving Rick hope when he was trapped in a tank in Atlanta. Glenn then went out of his way, risked his life, to save Rick. That’s who Glenn is—that’s who he’s always been.

Tellingly, when Rick gets out of the tank and meets Glenn by an alley, the first words Glenn yells to him are—“Not dead!” as the frantic Rick is shooting everything that moves. (I’m pinning a lot of my hopes on those words!)

Glenn then leads Rick down an alley (like the alley Glenn goes down with Nicholas)—and is able to lead him up a fire ladder and away from harm.

Season 1, ep. 2, “Guts”

Season 1, ep. 2, “Guts”

When “Thank You” begins echoing the beginning of season one, in short, it reminds us that Glenn is a survivor (maybe even that he’s “Not dead”)—that he’s consummately resourceful, adept at “getting in and getting out”—that escape from impossible situations has always been one of his particular skills. If Glenn escapes now, it’s because he knows how to get out of an alley when he’s surrounded by hordes of walkers.

That’s my hopeful side.

My more pessimistic side recognizes the similarities between last night’s episode and the first two episodes of season one—and then recognizes the differences. And they’re different, tragically, because Glenn is a good person and hasn’t conformed to the harsher necessities of survival as some other characters have, notably Rick and Carol (Melissa McBride).

Early in season one, Glenn insisted more than once that he would only go on dangerous missions by himself—it was safer that way. In “Thank You,” when the fateful plan to burn the building is cooked up, he, again, insists on going alone. Nicholas says he wants to come, says he knows the town. Glenn hesitates. He knows he’ll be safer by himself. But he also knows Nicholas is desperate to redeem himself after his cowardice resulted in the death of Noah (Tyler James Williams). And even after he tried to kill Glenn, Glenn is still giving him a second (third?) chance. So Glenn takes Nicholas with him. And it is Nicholas who leads them down the blind alley in a town he claims to know, Nicholas who literally carries Glenn to his (possible) death when his cowardice again takes over and he shoots himself in the head. Nicholas thanks Glenn, but his gratitude is not strong enough to help—rather than doom—the only character who believes he’s worth redeeming.

In the comics, Glenn dies by the completely arbitrary act of a psychopath: he could have been anyone. If Glenn died last night, at least his death expressed the values of his life; it was meaningful; it embodied Glenn’s principled stand against selfishness and nihilism. I, for one, just hope he didn’t!

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