Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” episode 607, titled “Heads Up.”
You probably had one of two reactions to the opening minutes of “The Walking Dead” this week: either Glenn’s miraculous (and, let’s face it, completely unrealistic) survival filled you with relief, euphoria and satisfaction, because one of your favorite characters made it through another seemingly untenable situation unscathed when the show is ordinarily pretty trigger-happy, or said beloved character’s unlikely return filled you with frustration and resentment, because of the ridiculous narrative contortions the show had to go through in order to explain Glenn’s escape. Count me in the latter camp — and not because I have any lack of affection for Glenn, who has been a consistently compelling character, and a vital moral center for the show.
Fans have been climbing under dumpsters for weeks to prove it’s possible, but I have a harder time accepting the simple physics of Nicholas falling across Glenn at the perfect angle to stop him from being bitten or at least scratched by the dozens of walkers surrounding him on all sides. It’s pure, self-indulgent silliness, which the show, for all its foibles, is not usually guilty of — and that disappoints me more than the producers’ reluctance to kill one of the last surviving original cast members.
I’m having a hard time seeing the narrative benefit of keeping Glenn alive after faking his death. Contrary to what producer David Alpert told us following episode 603 (“I feel like, regardless of what happened to Glenn, he paid a tremendous price for having been human to Nicholas, and that, to me, from an emotional point-of-view — whether or not Glenn is alive or dead or something else — the Glenn that we knew, the one that believed in the better side of humanity, I think is dead”), nothing about how he behaved in “Heads Up” gave me any indication that he’s any less hopeful, any less inherently good than he always has been. There’s little character growth to be gained from yet another near-death experience after five seasons of constant near-death experiences, and because he has a baby on the way, Glenn arguably has even more reason to believe in humanity’s better angels than before.
So what was the point? Why remove his name from the credits, why even make it a mystery? Theoretically, I’m not opposed to shows manipulating their audience, as long as the producers are willing to acknowledge that they’re manipulating us — because there was no real justification for this mystery beyond toying with the audience. After six seasons, they’re certainly within their rights to misdirect viewers, but the choice will make me less willing to buy into the relative reality of the show in future, now that the producers have proven willing to stretch credulity to suit their cliffhangers.
Or, as Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall succinctly put it, “They’ve put Glenn — who, remember, already survived seemingly overwhelming odds (albeit not this overwhelming) last season, also in circumstances involving Nicholas — in a position where there is no plausible way for him to survive, entirely to generate false suspense and false angst among the many viewers who care about Glenn.” As the Wall Street Journal‘s Paul Vigna pointed out, “That isn’t just a cliffhanger. It’s a logic destroyer.”
And that’s unfortunate, especially because “Heads Up” was an otherwise solid episode after last week’s detour through the woods, during which Daryl encountered The Saviors, but not a lot else of note happened.
Enid remains another whiny cable teenager who is too sullen to drum up much audience sympathy (and we’re still mad about that tortoise), Spencer is still too dumb to live (trying to climb over the walkers, seriously?), and Carl was being so condescending during Rick’s shooting lesson with Ron that it’s no wonder Ron wanted to kill him — but Enid’s interactions with Glenn at least offered a contrasting perspective on how people deal with loss. After losing so much — and seeing his wife lose even more — Glenn has every reason to be bitter, resentful and closed off, and yet that unassailable optimism still shines through, even when the odds seem impossibly stacked against him. While I’m displeased by the way Glenn survived, I’m certainly not unhappy that he’s sticking around, which is pretty much the only compensation for an otherwise needlessly frustrating story arc.
The episode also — finally — gave Rosita a chance to say more than two lines, and it was refreshing to see her put Eugene in his place and point out that dying is easy — since I’m counting the minutes until he, Spencer and Father Gabriel become walker chow. Tara, too, got to steal a scene after rushing to save Spencer (much to Rick’s disgust), since she hilariously got to flip our fearless leader the bird. It’s also a nice change of pace to see the rest of the group speaking their minds and reminding Rick that he’s the only one (aside from Carol) who still sees their living arrangements in Alexandria as an “us vs. them” situation. As much as Rick is fighting to maintain his distance to protect his own, everyone in his group aside from Carl was a stranger once, and it seems short-sighted to try and keep any potential allies at arm’s length, especially now that he’s finally won their trust.
But the real standout moments of the episode — besides that heart-stopping final scene, with Glenn and Enid’s hopeful balloon signal juxtaposed against the devastating sight of the watchtower falling to destroy the fence — came courtesy of Morgan and Carol, who continue to test each other’s boundaries through a delicate dance of mutual suspicion. Morgan’s sit-down with Rick, Michonne and Carol was eerily reminiscent of a kid being called into the principal’s office, but the interaction also provided a nice touchstone for where everyone’s boundaries currently lie. Michonne seemed the most sympathetic to Morgan’s dilemma, as we’ve been seeing her steadily acclimating to life in Alexandria and trying to be a little slower to reach for her katana, but she was also as practical as she’s ever been, sensing (as we all have) that something’s got to give between Morgan’s pacifist ideology and the limitations of the world they now inhabit. Morgan’s tentative attempts to find an ally in Denise were also strangely sweet, but now that Carol knows he’s hiding something in the cell, Morgan’s probably pretty lucky that a whole mess of walkers are about to spill into Alexandria to serve as a distraction from the wolf in the basement.
I just feel sorry for Deanna, who bounced back from her devastation over Reg just in time to see her hopes for Alexandria dashed by the collapse of the fence. There may well be “an after” on the horizon, but it certainly won’t be as idyllic (or well-labeled) as her plans. It’s safe to say we’d better prepare for bloodshed in next week’s midseason finale.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
Are you disappointed by Glenn’s survival, or are you just happy to see him survive? Weigh in below!