The Walking Dead: No Exit

Everything goes wrong as Rick, Michonne, and Glenn try to deal with the zombie horde.

Gene Page / AMC

Each week following episodes of season six of The Walking Dead, David Sims and Lenika Cruz will discuss the adventures of Rick Grimes and his group as they try to rebuild in the zombie apocalypse.

Sims: Every so often, The Walking Dead likes to remind its audience that it has the ability to shock. After two episodes of carnage, from pit zombies to an ambush by the Wolves, “Thank You” kept up the pace and delivered the show’s most shocking twist in a while—and be warned, if you’re reading without having watched the episode: Turn away now, because you won’t want this to be spoiled.

“Thank You” jumped back to the zombie-pit reconnaissance mission after last week’s focus on Alexandria, where a surprise attack by the Wolves left a horn blaring and diverted the group’s massive horde of zombies off the road and back toward the camp. It was a crisis some could have predicted, which made this week’s death toll that much harder to bear. Rick’s plan to open up the pit of zombies, a bizarre phenomenon that had kept the citizens of Alexandria safe, and lead them 20 miles away was fraught from the start, and this week it all came crashing down as his team scrambled to recover.

The themes of “Thank You” were familiar, with the episode focusing on Rick’s efforts to toughen up the Alexandrians, and their resistance to his “only the strong can survive” ethos. A new character, Heath (Corey Hawkins), was stunned to overhear Rick tell Michonne that not all of the party will make it back to Alexandria as they try to outrun the horde. By the end of the episode, he understood that Rick was being pragmatic rather than cold-blooded, having watched some of his friends die in no-win situations. I’m wary of the show’s continued endorsement of Rick’s leadership style, but there’s no doubt as to its flaws, especially considering that he lost one of his top lieutenants this week.

It’s hard to know what to say about Glenn’s death, except that it felt profoundly shocking: Outside of Rick and Carl, he was the longest-running character on The Walking Dead, a steady source of levity and level-headedness no matter how bad things got. It helped reinforce a rule audiences already take for granted—that no one is safe—but it’ll still be hard to get over the pointlessness. Glenn had worked to rehabilitate Nicholas after his cowardice in the previous season and seemed to be making some headway. As the walkers closed in on a town near Alexandria, Glenn went on a run with Nicholas to try and divert them by setting a building on fire, only to be cornered on all sides by zombies. Even then, I figured Glenn would find a way out—but instead, Nicholas realized the futility of their situation and shot himself in the head, whispering “Thank you,” and leaving Glenn to be consumed. It was infuriating to watch Glenn die so needlessly with a character nobody liked, but The Walking Dead is all about the pointless loss of life.

Even Rick looked to be in tough shape, nursing an injured hand, fighting off some stray Wolves, and cornered at the end of the episode by the approaching horde as he tried to start his RV, with his attempts to radio Glenn meeting silence. “Thank You” almost felt like it was pointing toward Michonne as a more stable leader for the group—she kept the panicked Alexandrians in line as Rick and Glenn went off on separate missions to divert the horde. Still, she encountered the same brutal loss of life that everyone else has in the sixth season, and defended Rick’s methods to Heath.

Think of all the chaos that’s erupted in only three episodes. Will the rest of the season maintain such a tight focus on a brief series of events? Or will the conflagration of the zombie pit and the Wolves serve as the painful impetus for the heroes to move on to a different location? Lenika, how do you feel about Glenn’s departure, and the overall plot so far? Is Rick being positioned as a tragic hero, or a fool on a hill?

Cruz: As you noted, the episode ended with Rick sitting helplessly in a vehicle with a walkie-talkie, as a horde of zombies approach, signaling his almost certain doom. But doesn’t that sound familiar? It took me a while to see the direct parallel to the end of the very first episode of The Walking Dead, when Rick was trapped alone in the hull of a tank as walkers swarmed toward him in the streets of Atlanta. All seemed lost before the story had even begun, until a voice rang out from a walkie-talkie next to Rick: “Hey you ... Dumbass ... Yeah, you in the tank ... Cozy in there?”

It was the first in a long series of improbable deus ex machinas on the show. The voice, it turned out, belonged to a chipper young man in a baseball cap named Glenn Rhee, who promptly saved Rick’s life. Compared to the others, he seemed out-of-place: Physically small and oddly cheerful given the circumstances, Glenn didn’t look much like a survivor. But he defied all expectations and underwent one of the show’s most significant transformations from a pizza delivery boy to a competent fighter. For a long time, he was the closest thing the show had to a moral center.

And now he’s gone. Now, Rick’s left sitting alone, as the undead descend upon him, and on his walkie-talkie, there’s no friendly voice telling him exactly how to survive, only empty static. I haven’t felt this devastated by an episode of The Walking Dead in a while. The deaths of Beth, Tyreese, and Noah were awful and tragic and brilliantly depicted by the show, but those characters had been around since seasons two, three, and five, respectively. Glenn belonged to the group of survivors that most show viewers largely considered safe thus far, alongside Rick, Carl, Michonne, Maggie, Carol, and Daryl.

I love this idea you raise about the kinds of survival ideologies passed down over the course of the show: There are pragmatists like Rick and Carol, the pacifists like Morgan and Father Gabriel, and then the pragmatist-humanists like Michonne and Glenn, both of whom lost their sanity before finding themselves again. With Glenn gone, there’s one less person who’s strong enough to help protect the group, but also risk his life to save the most vulnerable.

I have no idea how the group will respond to this loss. Remember, literally no one alive saw him die. Will the survivors go out looking for him? Will viewers get a repeat of season two, when everyone dropped everything for half a season to look for Carol’s daughter? If not, will the group ever come to terms with his absence, or will closure elude them? I hope the show’s able to grapple with Glenn’s death without jeopardizing the action too much, because the last thing I want is another episode where everyone wanders around glumly, talking about how bad loss is. I want to see the way Glenn’s death changes them, and I want it to happen in a way that doesn’t involve everyone becoming one-dimensional balls of grief.

My thoughts have been less and less on Rick in season six—and I think the show feels the same way, considering how it’s recently moved its focus to Michonne, Carol, and Morgan. These last two episodes have been terrific in a way that makes me eager for the rest of the season, and fairly confident that the show will be able to handle the burden of killing off one of its most beloved, long-running characters. It seems all but certain more will die in the coming weeks. After all, the Wolves are still out there.