Ensemble dramas always have a difficult time giving proper due (screentime, appropriate stories, attention in general) to their many characters, but that's even more pronounced in a show where characters are introduced just so they can be eaten or have their skulls caved in with a baseball bat.
The Walking Dead goes through characters like Carl Grimes goes through canned pudding; it's just part of the deal with the show. But some characters have earned special treatment, haven't they? Like everyone's favorite, Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), who wasn't immune to the show's knack for death and got the fat end of Negan's bat in Season 7. As an original character from the comics and books, Glenn found a way into our hearts through his selfless attitude, determination and that face he made when Maggie (Lauren Cohan) agreed to bone him in the middle of an abandoned pharmacy.
But even though he survived much longer than most The Walking Dead characters, did he really get the treatment he deserved? Yeun thinks maybe not.
"Internally, it was incredible," Yeun told Vanity Fair of his time on the show. But when it comes to his character, it was different. "Externally, it was tough sometimes because I never felt like [Glenn] got his fair due. I never felt like he got it from an outward perception. I don't say this as a knock on anything. He always had to be part of something else to legitimize himself. He was rarely alone. And when he was alone, it took several years to convince people to be on his own."
As for Glenn's death, Yeun sounds just as surprised and — reading between the lines — disappointed as you and me. Especially when it comes to how his character was perceived after the death.
"I'll be honest with you and put a full disclaimer here: I might not be objective, but I truly feel like people didn't know what to do with Glenn," Yeun said. "They liked him, they had no problems with him, and people enjoyed him. But they didn't acknowledge the connection people had with the character until he was gone. I look at what happened and I think, 'That wasn't any more gory than what we've done before, per se.' No one got their face ripped in half! People got their guts smashed out and their heads caved in. But this one felt gratuitous because one, it kept going, and two, I think they took away someone that I didn't realize I had made such a connection with until they took him away."
To be fair to the show, one could argue that every character could have a similar gripe. The Walking Dead excels at action, gore and the intensity of survival, but the knock on it has always been its character development and its inability to use characters in meaningful ways. Obviously Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) have had meatier stories, but for the most part, others are marginalized for what pays the bills: zombies chewing on intestines and psychopaths hamming it up for the camera.
However, Yeun points out other issues that went beyond The Walking Dead's normal problems that may have contributed to the outrage surrounding his death and the problems that led up to it.
"I didn't think of it as racism, where it's like, Oh, this is racist,'" Yeun said. "I'd always hear people go, 'I love Glenn, he's my favorite character. But the merchandise would go one way. That really might be the market, so I'm not going to sit here and be like, 'Why didn't they make Glenn merchandise?' But there was a disparity. They didn't know what Glenn was, and only in his death did they realize, 'Oh, that's what he was. That's the connection I had, and that's why it hurts me so much to see him die.' A lot of the other characters are awesome characters, but they're exactly that--they're awesome and they're to be in awe of: I wish I was that guy or that girl. With Glenn it was, I think I'm like that guy. You take that guy out of the equation and you do it in such a brutal fashion, there's got to be some gut reaction to that."
The Walking Dead returns — without Glenn — for Season 8 later this year on AMC.