We Need to Talk About Last Night’s Shocking Episode of The Walking Dead

Warning: Major, bloody spoilers. 

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There is only one rule in The Walking Dead: People die. They don’t always come back as slouching, groaning zombies, but everyone who’s managed to survive so far in this bloody, chaotic post apocalyptic world of the undead is hurtling towards death. It’s just a matter of time as to when.

That doesn’t make the last shot of Glenn in “Thank You,” covered in cuts and screaming amid a horde of walkers, any easier. Glenn’s been part of the troika of at the heart of his group since the beginning of the series, a leader in his own right alongside Rick and Daryl and often the voice of reason to Rick’s latent rage. In fact, it makes it harder to swallow: it’s a reminder that a horrifying, random death could befall our favorite characters at any turn, regardless of how beloved they are among fans or proven as survivors.

It also doesn’t help that Glenn appears to die in the most unfitting way possible: pushed into a pile of zombies because he was caught in the midst of longtime coward Nicholas’s suicide…

…and then torn apart without  a struggle.

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Of course, Glenn was always supposed to die, and his death probably as random as it seems. In the comics, Glenn is brutally beaten to death with a barbed wire bat by vicious sociopath Negan in front of Rick, his death catalyzing one of the longest and most transformative arcs in the ongoing series to date. His death in the show will likely serve the same purpose, reinforcing the fundamental, pervasive tension between Ricks group and the Alexandria settlers: that the Alexandria crew is too coddled, too soft from living with running water and electricity, to understand the war of all against all raging beyond their reinforced fences — and that they’ll get Rick’s closest friends killed.

We saw this on display in the minutes prior to Glenn’s death, as the Alexandria contingent of the crew sent to lure a herd of zombies away immediately falls apart under pressure. Sturgis panics and shoots a fellow citizen before running away, hobbling the group for the rest of the episode. Nicholas, the rat-faced fuck who had left Glenn for dead in a previous episode, does it again through suicide, sealing Glenn’s fate amid a swarm of zombies. And we saw a backlash brewing, with Alexandria newcomer Heath confronting Michonne about her group’s self preservation instinct.This will not end well.

But the move also ups the emotional stakes not just by throwing the fragile state of affairs even more into hell, but by changing be rules of the game. Since Hershel’s death way back in the fourth season, the core of Rick’s group has stayed the same: Rick. Carl. Daryl. Carol. Maggie. And Glenn. Glenn’s seemingly random death is a gut punch, a slap in the face a reminder to keep watching. You don’t watch to see your favorite characters survive amid brutality and incompetence, as Carol did with terrifying grace during the Wolves attack in previous episode “JSS.”. Now you must watch to make sure your favorite survivor will actually survive.

Then again, this might be a good reason for Glenn not actually being dead. MTV’s Josh Wigler points out that, if you examine footage of Glenn’s death, there’s a slight change that it’s actually Nicholas being torn apart on top of Glenn after falling on him in the first place. Poor craft Glenn, horrified but intact, could have wriggled under the dumpster, not unlike his first encounter with Rick Grimes under a tank in the streets of Atlanta in the pilot episode. It also helps that Glenn wasn’t immortalized in The Talking Dead‘s weekly ‘In Memoriam,’ which bids farewell to beloved characters who bit the dust. Here’s how The Hollywood Reporter weighed the evidence:

The concept of using a body — or covering a human with zombie blood — has been used several times on both the AMC series and in Robert Kirkman’s comics on which the drama is based. The idea that the walkers are consuming Nicholas’ dead body while Glenn hides underneath it is entirely possible. That would give the episode title — “Thank You” — a dual meaning as it could represent both the words Nicholas said as a way to repay Glenn for giving him a second chance after Noah’s death, as well as Glenn morbidly thanking Nicholas for shielding him from certain death.

 This would be some extremely clever storytelling and a remarkable way to, again, up the emotional stakes in our increasingly downtrodden protagonists. It’s also the television equivalent of clickbait — and some damn good clickbait, at that.

On some level, part of me is perfectly OK with Glenn’s death. For a show built on somewhat repetitive themes (will these people survive but, gasp, retain their humanity?!?) and increasingly macabre methods of dispatching the undead, Glenn’s death may prove a storytelling godsend. But until then, let’s pour one out for our dear departed pizza delivery boy — and hope he’ll be back next week.