Why I believe Glenn has to die (for real) in The Walking Dead

There’s a moment (opens in new tab) in Misery when Kathy Bates’ character, the self-professed “number one” fan of James Caan’s kidnapped author, loses her shit. In a rant that earned Bates the Oscar, Annie Wilkes grows hoarse yelling about the injustice of storytellers who con audiences. “This isn’t what happened last week!” she screams about the sudden change to a chapter play she saw as a kid, “He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!” Little does she know that the same problem will frustrate real-life viewers 25 years later. Her observation mirrors something that occurred last year, when The Walking Dead refused to let Glenn stay dead. That’s why I think Glenn has to die. For real.

I know what you’re thinking: after all that heartache inflicted on fans, and on his wife Maggie, how could I want to see Glenn die? Everybody loves Glenn, he’s a stand-up guy whose moral compass seldom falters. I agree, and hence, Glenn needs to be the sacrificial goat on the altar of honest television – his demise would see a return to order.

His first “death” came as a surprise. Nicholas shoots himself, his falling body catches Glenn and they both tumble to the floor of a zombie-infested alleyway. The last shot of the episode zooms in on Glenn screaming, zombies tearing at his skin and yanking free coils of intestines. We hear nothing of him for three episodes, and actor Steven Yeun’s name is removed from the credits. People were angry that he was given the short shrift. When the show eventually flashed back to that pivotal scene, showing Glenn as he rolls out from beneath Nicholas’ ravaged corpse and finds sanctuary beneath a dumpster, people grew even angrier.

The show messed up by not killing him. The Walking Dead strayed into Supernatural territory, to the immortal world of Sam and Dean whose frequent deaths have no lasting consequence. What makes a show about the hopelessness of apocalypse grab us from the get-go is how it embraces the uncertainty of its perilous circumstance, by offing characters and letting us know that nobody’s safe. It’s a shock, and a heartbreak, at first. But over time it becomes ingrained in viewers; there’s a natural order to a story anchored in such a dangerous situation. Hordes of zombies trying to source their next meal means that at some point, amid the crumbling chaos of civilisation, people will get eaten. They will die. We’ve come to learn and begrudge this fact over the years, watching beloved (T-Dog!) and loathed (Shane) characters perish. With Glenn’s fake-out death, the show squandered the faith it spent its entire lifespan accruing. I lost my trust in the show. Whatever next? Might Lori return, hand-in-hand with Sophia?

Game of Thrones gets much of its buzz for executing this concept perfectly. Nobody is immune to the chop. That’s why we love it. At any given moment a character can get burned, skewered, bludgeoned, decapitated, drowned… you name it. As the show takes such liberties with its source material, readers of George RR Martin’s novels can get in on the shock-horror action too. It doesn’t matter that you’ve read the grisly happenings at Walder Frey’s abode – watching the Red Wedding unfold onscreen is a hellish thing to endure. But it remains true to the show’s ethos – the citizens of Westeros live in a world rife with violence. This is what happens. Which is the same for The Walking Dead‘s band of survivors, who, until the point of the Glenn incident, were subject to a similar continuity.

Warning: potential spoilers for The Walking Dead season 6 ahead…

I don’t have anything against Glenn personally. I really like him, he’s got heart and soul and I’d want him on my side in an apocalypse. If the showrunners had singled out a different main character for the same treatment, I’d simply replace his name with theirs. But that would never happen because Glenn was specifically targeted on account of what happens to him in the comics: he’s senselessly slaughtered by season six’s upcoming villain. Negan’s been around on the page for a while now, his brand of leadership – a mash of ego-driven sanctimony and unflinching brutality – at odds with Rick’s. There’s a tussle between the two and Negan bashes Glenn’s brains in with Lucille, a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. It’s awful. When I read it, I couldn’t take my eyes from the panel because I couldn’t believe it was happening. That’s the reaction I want when watching the show. Incredulity at the horror bestowed upon the innocent, and the narrow scrapes afforded the guilty. It’s what makes The Walking Dead… well, The Walking Dead.

Clues to Glenn’s rendezvous with Lucille started in season five, a couple of instances that seem too obvious to be anything other than winks from the showrunners. A Terminus thug nearly brained him with a baseball bat and he then discovers a baseball bat in Noah’s home several episodes later. Throw in Robert Kirkman blurting out Glenn’s fate on live TV and the evidence pointed toward that moment from the comics. And then that all fell to the wayside, as everyone got distracted by his fake-death. Let’s get back on track. If there’s a way to restore my faith in this series, the former delivery boy needs to meet his end in this final batch of season six episodes. Glenn might have escaped the cockadoodie alleyway, but with Negan on the horizon, I hope he doesn’t escape the wrath of Lucille. Not out of loyalty to the comics, and not because he deserves it. But because we do.

Images: AMC

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