[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 6, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
In its pre-credits sequence, 'Heads Up' puts to rest any lingering questions regarding Glenn's survival in that zombie horde from several weeks ago. After falling with Nicholas's dead body atop him, Glenn was able to squeeze under a dumpster and survive. Case closed, apparently. While the sequence conclusively confirms that a well-liked character is not dead, it also officially puts The Walking Dead on watch as a show that will jerk its audience around with some onscreen shenanigans and unnecessarily ambiguous after-show interviews with its producers.
What's particularly frustrating about the Glenn situation is that it largely boils down to a matter of pacing. If Glenn's survival had been documented in the follow-up episode, things might have been different. Instead, the series headed off into a Morgan-centric flashback and then two weeks worth of low-stakes stories, setting up a new group of antagonists and watching Rick luxuriate in the admiration of Deanna and the Alexandrians. Neither of which offered enough to rationalize why Glenn's fate had to be drawn out in the manner that it was. Like it or not, The Walking Dead is still a weekly series, so sometimes stunts like that can help build interest – not that this show needs it – as the search for an answer can generate a sustained conversation among the fan base. But these events can also backfire, leading the question at hand to fizzle out after too long, as was the case here.
As nice as it is to finally be rid of the question "Is he or isn't he dead?", the resolution to Glenn's situation lacked tension, and the follow through didn't do much to alleviate that concern. The first few episodes this season featured a through line of characters exploring whether or not there is room for compassion in this incredibly harsh environment. It was actually one of the more coherently explored ideas on the show, which, to a certain extent, explains – but doesn't really excuse – why the Morgan episode (as good as it was from a character standpoint) would follow what appeared to be Glenn's demise.
After Glenn was hit in the face with the end result of Nicholas' suicide, it seemed The Walking Dead's resident moral center – should he survive – would presumably have had his worldview changed. The weak don't deserve the compassion of the strong; such a display will only get you killed. At first, Glenn's encounter with Enid seems to suggest such a transformation took place, that the space beneath the zombie-encrusted dumpster served as some kind of chrysalis and from it emerged a colder, more pragmatic Glenn than the one who gave Nicholas a second chance. There is a brief moment when all Glenn's urge to bring Enid home unscathed is driven less by concern for her safety and more by a concern over what his wife will think of him should he not.
But the sequence between the two goes on for too long, and Enid's characterization is much too familiar, so by the time she pulls a gun on Glenn there's not much left in the way of genuine tension or concern that either one is going to make a rash decision. Enid isn't going to pull the trigger any more than Glenn is going to leave the obstinate young woman to fend for herself, and thus begins the long walk back to where things started.
And that's pretty much what the last few weeks of the show have felt like: one long walk back to the starting point. Because it was so clear the episode was arranging things for the mid-season finale, the hour felt limited in the kind of story it could tell, so it opted to tell snippets of several different stories. This made 'Heads Up' a low-stakes, disjointed affair that focused primarily on how Rick was whipping Alexandria into shape, reinforcing its damaged wall and trying to teach the residents how to fend for themselves. Of course his actions would eventually backfire or prove futile by the episode's end.
Mostly, the hour found it difficult to draw a connection between the various character threads, and so an action would begin only to be halted soon thereafter. The best example of this is Spencer's inexplicable need to help by putting himself in danger. At this point, it seems like the primary motivation of the surviving Alexandrians is to wallow in Rick's radiance or to foolishly try and impress him with a reckless stunt because he refuses to listen to anyone not in his core group. While it gets things moving, Spencer's failed exploit is quickly reset to zero, with no real sense of consequence other than a few people getting yelled at by Rick. It seems like the story is attempting to resurrect the "Dangers of Compassion" through line along with Glenn, but without Glenn interacting with anyone inside Alexandria, viewers are only getting one side of the potential conflict at a time.
The same goes for Ron stealing some bullets before stalking Carl, and Morgan's faltering attempt to get Denise to look at the injured Wolf he has stashed away like some kid hiding a puppy from disapproving parents. Both scenarios build to a certain climax, but it's one that will have to be paid off in the mid-season finale. There is nothing wrong with setting up a series of cliffhangers as the season moves to the midway point, but at this point it feels like another layer of stalling on top of all the stalling that's been going on since Glenn went dumpster-diving in episode 3.
Thankfully, the big cliffhanger on which the episode ends promises to be the sort of shake up that can't be immediately reset. With a portion of the wall down and Alexandria surrounded by walkers, the finale may well afford The Walking Dead a chance to stop wandering in circles and to return to the more kinetic and exciting style of storytelling the season began with. It may also be the first step in restoring some of the faith that was lost with regard to how Glenn's storyline was handled.
The Walking Dead will air the season 6 mid-season finale 'Start to Finish' next Sunday @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC