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The Walking Dead (Finally!) Reveals Glenn's Fate — But Does It Even Matter?

Why the show's choice could do more harm than good

Adam Bryant

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]

At long last, The Walking Dead let the audience in on exactly what happened to Glenn (Steven Yeun) after Nicholas' suicide dropped them at the feet of several dozen hungry zombies.

And to anyone who has Googled "Is Glenn alive?" since that fateful Sunday a month ago, the answer was probably relieving, but also a bit... anticlimactic. Yes, Glenn is alive, and he escaped sure death on the zombie buffet by sliding himself under the nearby dumpster while the walkers feasted on Nicholas' entrails -- just exactlyhow eagle-eyed viewers who held out hope that the pizza delivery boy with nine lives would one again cheat certain death said he could. (Not sure I buy that only a few zombies would try to reach under the dumpster and grab Glenn or that the hungry herd eventually dissipated because a tiny can went rolling by. But, who cares, right? Glenn is alive!)
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Leaving aside issues of plausibility, I've already made it pretty clear how I feel about this twist. (Short version: I think the show gambled a lot of credibility just to mess with their audience's emotions, and I believe it's a losing bet in the long term. In other words, a show that used to be very straightforward and non-sentimental about character deaths will now have every controversial death questioned.) But to that chief complaint, I'll add a new wrinkle. Since I'm (probably foolishly) choosing to believe that the producers didn't spare Glenn once more just so that he could be on the receiving end of (the recently cast) Negan's brutality, the story executive producer Scott Gimple wants to tell with Glenn's character from here on out must be super-important to take this risk. Except that, on this night, it didn't feel like anything special at all.

Once Glenn scurries out from under the dumpster, he receives some much-needed water from Enid (Katelyn Nacon). Despite the kind gesture, however, she spends most of the episode being the worst type of TV teenager -- the moody, silent type who wants no part of Glenn or the help he's trying to offer her. While the audience is still curious about Enid's motives (she left Alexandria right as the Wolves were attacking, and said some things that made it seem she might have been spying for that, or some other, group), the always heroic Glenn spends the entire episode proving over and over that he's just too much of a good guy to leave a young girl out in the zombie-infested streets alone.

Now, this is all very much in keeping with Glenn's character. Add to that the fact that he's doing this because his pregnant wife Maggie (Lauren Cohan) would expect it of him, and he pretty much has no choice. But here's my problem: We just spent a half season or so exploring that very aspect of Glenn's nature as he spared Nicholas (Michael Traynor) and rehabilitated him from a selfish, reckless coward to a guy who would stay in the fight to protect his fellow man. Or at least that seemed to be what Glenn had done until Nicholas reverted back to being that coward and blew his brains out, almost killing Glenn at the same time. Man, what a vicious circle.

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In truth, the main benefit of having Glenn alive in this episode is that argument he and Enid have. "The world is trying to die. We're supposed to just let it," Enid finally breaks down and says. But as Glenn had already pointed out earlier, he has a much different take on why humans have to, to borrow a phrase from Enid, JSS -- just survive somehow. "You honor the dead by going on, even when you're scared. You live because they don't get to."

Again, I like the character of Glenn, and part of me is relieved that he is alive, even though I feel totally robbed of the emotional reaction his "death" caused in me earlier in the season. But to hear him and Enid basically reiterate the key debate that's been at the center of the show since Day 1? Tell me there's more reason for Glenn to be alive than that.

That same debate was raging on back in Alexandria, where Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carol (Melissa McBride) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) confronted Morgan (Lennie James) about the Wolves he let escape after the attack on Alexandria. And again, the merits of life and death were debated, as Morgan insisted that he felt he didn't have to kill those men, even though he acknowledges not doing so allowed them to almost kill Rick in the RV. Then again, Morgan says that Rick once spared Morgan when he was dangerous enough to be put down, but because Morgan lived, he was able to save Daryl and Aaron.

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"I don't know what's right anymore," Morgan says. "I also know that people can change cause everyone here has. All life is precious. That idea changed me, it brought me back, and it keeps me living." And while Rick seems to sympathize with Morgan's point of view, he's not convinced it's sound. "Making it now - do you really think you can do that without getting blood on your hands?" Rick asks. Morgan doesn't have an answer, but Carol certainly seems to. As she later tells Sam, who remains too afraid to come down from his bedroom, in this world, "the only thing that keeps you from becoming a monster is killing."

The truth is, there is no right answer to this debate. It's the narrative engine the show is built upon, and it's one that clearly is meant to repeat itself as often as the show gives its characters a little bit of hope and happiness and then rips it away from them. Need more proof of that? Just as Maggie catches sight of the balloons Enid and Glenn send into the sky to let Alexandria know that they're out there, a huge tower falls through the walls that Rick spent the entire episode reinforcing, which surely sets up an all-out war with the hordes of zombies just outside the walls in the finale.

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"One way or another, there's going to be an 'after this,'" Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) told Rick earlier in the episode in a moment of pure optimism. She will probably change her tune in the finale, but even if this means the end of Alexandria as a safe haven, some of these characters will live to fight another day. And they'll have other near-deaths and some real deaths and maybe even some more fake-out deaths. There will surely be moments of safety that then turn treacherous. The problem is there's ultimately nowhere for this show to go but in circles. Glenn is alive now, but he will someday have to die. No matter how much his nature makes him want to fight, he will ultimately lose because that's ultimately all there is in this world.

But one way or another, there's going to be an "after this," because this show's a monster hit that has to keep going. And while I am willing to give the show the chance to prove me wrong about "killing" Glenn, I'm not certain I will ever be able to watch The Walking Dead the same way again. Like Morgan, I just don't know what's right anymore.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Are you glad Glenn is alive? What did you think of how the show handled the reveal?