[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 6, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
So, did that really happen? There’s a lot to talk about with regard to most recent episode of The Walking Dead, but, of course, no moment was bigger, more shocking, or more questionable than the apparent death of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), after inadvertently taking the term “dumpster diving” to an incredibly dark place. Glenn’s fall from atop the waste receptacle landed him smack dab in the middle of a hungry horde of zombies, who then seemingly tore him apart as he screamed in agony. Only his screams went unheard, and not just because the zombies were drowning him out. The music reached a passionate crescendo and his vocals were muted to amplify the effect of the scene’s score. It was all heart wrenching and alarming, just as it was designed to be, and yet, as soon as the camera pulled out to provide an overhead shot of this monumentally disheartening moment in TWD history, something felt off.
In fact, something felt off from the get-go. The episode, titled ‘Thank You,’ began with several pointed shots of Glenn and Nicholas, the man with whom the one-time pizza delivery boy would spend his final moments. Glenn is the first person the camera locks in on, seemingly alone and running for his life. This is quickly revealed not to be the case, but just a short time later, Nicholas becomes the frame’s sole focal point. The speed of the shot purposefully slows down, indicating to the viewer the need to pay attention to these two characters.
It isn’t too hard to telegraph potential trouble between the two. After all, Glenn and Nicholas nearly killed one another late in season 5, when the latter lured the former into the woods with lethal intent. But by the season 6 premiere, the two had patched things up to the point Nicholas would turn toward Glenn with a hangdog look on his face, trying desperately to prove that he’d turned over a new, less cowardly leaf. Whatever it was that the episode had in store for the two characters – and it most certainly made it clear that something was coming – it seemed unlikely that it was trouble of the human vs. human variety. Trouble of the recently human variety, however? Well, that was a different matter altogether.
There was a deliberateness to the entire episode – or at least up until the point that Glenn meets his end – that anyone who has been watching the series for even a short amount of time would recognize as an indication of the emotional devastation that is about to occur. It’s not as overt as, say, ‘What Happened and What’s Going On,’ wherein the drastic stylistic change to the series’ typical visual aesthetic was an immediate red flag. Instead, ‘Thank You’ is far subtler in the clues and hints it offers the audience. But it’s really only subtle when compared to an episode that veered so far from the norm.
Along with the focus on Glenn and Nicholas early on, the episode makes a point to deliver as many reminders of who is waiting for whom back at Alexandria as it possibly can. Traveling with a bunch of narratively expendable Alexandrians, one of whom brings up having a wife, Glenn mentions that he too has a wife back in the supposedly secure confines of the community they’re trying to protect. Later, he mentions to Michonne “I need to get home, but I’m not leaving them behind” – the “them” in this equation is the group of injured, nonessential newbies who’ve never been in a situation as potentially dire as the one they’re in now. It is The Walking Dead equivalent of a cop in an action movie announcing how many days until his retirement, or a soldier in a war film being foolish enough to show his buddies a picture of the girl he’s going to marry just as soon as he returns home. In other words, the show sets the groundwork for Glenn’s end early on, reminding the audience just how much the character has at stake every time he steps outside.
Even with all the other threads happening at the same time – i.e., Rick running back to find the RV only to wind up killing a handful of the living, and Michonne unable to keep her promise to lead an increasingly frantic and shrinking group of survivors out of an increasingly desperate situation – ‘Thank You’ plays it cool right up until Glenn is swallowed by a sea of the undead. And therein is where the seed of doubt is planted. The Walking Dead isn’t the kind of show that would normally play this sort of death off as coolly as it did here. Sure, director Michael Slovis went all out and delivered the slow motion shot of Nicholas taking his own life, and the lingering look of Glenn being torn apart. But even with all of those elements in play, it still feels as though the series was looking to have its Jon Snow moment; its epic death that will send fans into a tizzy, but can be undone with a little writers’ room magic.
The most obvious indication that Glenn may still find himself among the living as an actual living person is the death of Nicholas, and the tight framing on Glenn as he becomes a human chafing dish, just laying there keeping those delicious guts warm for any hungry passerby. Just before he hits the ground it’s clear that Glenn is beneath the now dead Nicholas. And as the walkers pull him apart and he screams out loud, the camera stays focused on a tight shot, wherein Yeun’s anguished face, a few walker hands, and some gore are all that fill the screen. On one hand, this makes the moment incredibly claustrophobic and even more emotionally (and literally) gut wrenching. After all, this is the apparent death of a beloved character, one who has been a part of the core group from the very first episode, and the viewer is right in there with him to the bloody end.
On the other hand, though, is that really Glenn’s body being worked over, or is it Nicholas’? And is all that blood coming from Glenn, or is going to act as the camouflage he’ll need in order to inexplicably survive this ordeal? Glenn has had more close calls than almost anyone on the series, so it completely makes sense that his number would be up here, and it’s doubly impressive that showrunner Scott Gimple and credited writer Angela Kang would veer away from the source material this dramatically. But still, there was enough about Glenn’s death scene to suggest it is all a giant misdirect. Either way, ‘Thank You’ will require a reevaluation once questions regarding that singular moment are given more concrete answers.
The Walking Dead will continue next Sunday with ‘Here’s Not Here’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC