The episode also pointed out one of the show’s inherent storytelling burdens: This is the actual-zombie-apocalypse, meaning all of the Walking Dead characters have at some point or another dealt with post-traumatic stress, which doesn’t always gel with the demands of action, pacing, and character complexity. There’s not a single trauma that characters recover from, but multiple, and everyone’s recovery times overlap with new traumas and intersect each other’s. In this episode, it was nice to isolate one character, especially one played by Lennie James, and to give his mental-health situation the full attention it deserved.
I’ve had more than a week to stew on this, but I still think the show royally messed up the way it handled the Glenn storyline. To believe that Glenn’s still alive would require you to accept the following: That a person can fall into a sea of zombies, have someone else fall perfectly on top of them, have the zombies only eat him and not the person lying beneath, that the still-alive person can quickly squeeze under a dumpster and remain totally out of reach of the zombies ... in time for a big enough distraction to send those thousands of walkers away, so that person can crawl out and to safety. This, whether you think it plausible or not, is plain, bad storytelling. That so many people even think this scenario is possible is a sign audiences have been subjected to too many rotten tricks by TV shows. For me, Glenn’s “death” undoes so much of the genuinely good storytelling the show has done in the last season or so. I truly doubt the payoff will be worth this … but I want more than anything to be wrong.
Sims: This will be fun, since I kinda disagree with you (and many others) on the import of Glenn maybe-not-dying last week. Last week we were convinced he was gone: He fell into a zombie horde, after all, and it looked like he was being ripped apart by it (he was certainly screaming the whole time), but the producers’ equivocation has certainly left me wondering. If the “death scene,” and the subsequent poeticism of Glenn’s silence on the walkie-talkie, was just a simple fakeout that will quickly get reversed, then that’s indefensible: Part of the appeal of the show is that no one is safe, and a bait-and-switch would reverse that notion.
But if there’s some larger story arc at work, or if Glenn’s revival is staged at some critical, shocking moment, then I could roll with it. The Walking Dead is a comic-book story at heart, and comic-book characters come back from the dead all the time! It’s all about execution—and certainly, the publicity side of this has been horribly executed. But I’ll reserve further judgment until Glenn’s (potential) return.
On to this episode, which I thought was a standout—even though, as you noted, it could have easily swerved into really formulaic territory. It’s arguable whether we even needed a look at the redemption of Morgan. He showed up at Alexandria possessed with near-supernatural calm and wielding a bo staff; we get that he’s found inner peace after all his turmoil, and is trying to reject violence for violence’s sake. Do we really need to know how? Maybe not, but since the show went down that road, I’m glad they handled it so beautifully. Eastman was an unusual zen master, but as played by John Carroll Lynch, he was a fascinating bundle of contradictions, and an interesting beacon of optimism in a show that rarely allows for that perspective.