The trouble with The Walking Dead is that when I can’t watch it on time, everyone on the Internet sees fit to spoil literally every single event of every episode. You can argue that I should just stay off the Internet when that happens, but at this point, my life is so rooted in the process that asking me to step away from the Internet or my phone for an evening is akin to depriving me of sleep. I don’t need a lot of it. but it sure feels good when I finally get to it.
I guess this is my way of beating around the bush and trying to avoid spoiling things for you too. Though if you managed to make it this far without last night’s big “event” spoiled for you, then congratulations. But unfortunately, like everyone else, I’ve got to spoil the episode here to talk about some things. It’s big picture stuff mostly, so I won’t spoil the “how” but we need to talk about the “why.”
TWD has been through quite a few shake ups the last few seasons, but it’s never quite changed enough to warrant the huge audience it’s got. It’s got a loyal audience to do with whatever they like, but despite many fake outs, there never really has been any big change to the core of the series. As such is the case with most long form storytelling, the stories from episode to episode don’t really matter as they all still boil down to the same core formula. Despite all of the writing problems the show has, it’s managed to build a good foundation of questionable morals. Thematically, each season will always be about the struggle between humanity, the ever present need to devolve into violence to save yourself, and the acceptance or non-acceptance of what you’ve become. That’s why characters like Rick, Morgan, Carol, or even Merle from a few seasons back are interesting figures in the dog eat dog world that TWD has created. They’ve manged to stand out from the bowels of the story because they’ve distinctly chose between humanity and inhumanity and thus strengthen the show’s theme overall. But six seasons in, and TWD is still afraid of taking risks.
Through watching these seasons, I’ve realized that while death can come to technically any character, it’s still a TV show hindered by its fans and future plans. There are four tiers to any program like this, and once you identify which characters land in those tiers you’ll understand the course of the series’ deaths. Though the events of the show may still surprise (especially if it’s sweeps week), no television show will ever make a decision that’ll potentially cripple it and potentially deter its viewers. In those tiers you have:
- Main Characters: One to three characters so integral to the show’s overreaching arc, they’ll never be in actual danger. Stuff may happen to them, but they’ll never be removed.
- Secondary Characters: Characters related in some way to a main character that can be removed the show without damaging the overall arc. Their removal may beef up a secondary or main’s plot, and their removal will still get a big reaction, but ultimately don’t illicit any major changes.
- Tertiary Characters: Ancillary additions that can be removed without any real issue. They’ve been developed enough (or have visual quirks) so we know who they are before they’re removed. Their removal may even illicit a response from the audience.
- Quartenary Characters: Commonly referred to as “Red Shirts” thanks to Star Trek, these characters are removed all the time to establish a harsh environment and build tension.
That brings us to this episode’s big event. Glenn’s dead, but it’s not as big a deal as you would think. Although Glenn was one of the remaining original characters, he’s been a secondary character from the beginning. And Glenn’s archetype was even more egregious since he’s been the designated “blank slate” for the audience to project themselves onto since Rick’s been devolving after season two. The episode made it out to be a big deal, sure. And after reading online reactions yesterday, it definitely feels like a huge event, but his death doesn’t really change the plot in any real way, so it’s not as important as we’re meant to believe. Just think, what was Glenn doing before now? His plot the last two seasons has really been leading to his death, and his way of death, while infuriating, serves to end his plot well enough thematically. It’s a death in service of the show’s theme of humanity, and for the first time, the show has actually reached the grey area it’s been attempting for a long time.
Thinking on his death he was essentially punished for wanting to do the right thing, which the show’s been saying for some time, but as Rick slowly drifts away from that mentality (showing in this episode that he’s willing to sacrifice Alexandrians in order to save his real family and to survive) he might finally realize that it’s not so black and white. It’s a neat dichotomy between the two as Rick’s simultaneously punished for his “survival of the fittest” mentality. While the writing is still terrible and TWD will never truly take a huge risk and kill off one of the main characters (who’ve been established through the seasons as Rick, Carol, and Darryl), the fact that it’s finally playing with its theme means the showrunners know where to take the show going forward. Besides, Glenn’s death may be the opposite of what we normally get in the comics and Maggie may finally get something to do. In the comic, Maggie became a badass as his death served to give her more purpose.
- Kudos to The Walking Dead for not killing a single black character this episode. I hate that I need to point that out, but it’s been a real problem lately. The fact that this seems miraculous is one of the major flaws this show’s been carrying since the beginning.
- Knowing that Glenn died going in made the series’ penchant for heavy foreshadowing all the more insufferable. They really don’t know how to surprise anymore.
- I like Heath as a character, but his design does not translate well from the comics. Corey Hawkins has been pretty great so far as the group’s true foil, but his hairpiece is super distracting.
- Next week is dealing with Morgan’s origin story, so I’m pretty curious as to how he becomes the super judgmental monk he is today. Lennie James has been great, so I’m sure he can anchor an episode just fine.