The Walking Dead's Anti-Cliffhanger

Spoilers ahead for season six, episode three

The Walking Dead is literally a show about millions of people dying and then rising up again. All this said, if AMC brings one of the show’s characters back to life, I’ll be furious.

Sunday’s episode “Thank You” ostensibly marked the violent end of a beloved character, Glenn Rhee. Another character, Nicholas, realizes the pair have no way out after they’re trapped by zombies on top of a dumpster and shoots himself in the head, knocking Glenn into the horde below. The camera focuses on the agony in Glenn’s face as his intestines are gobbled at the edge of the frame; a crane shot reveals that he’s completely disappeared beneath the zombies. It was heartbreaking and awful, but the episode had a grace and narrative symmetry that made it tolerable, somehow.

When David and I watched and discussed the episode, it didn’t seriously occur to either of us that Glenn could have survived; nothing about the episode itself would support that interpretation. (I cried accordingly.) So I was surprised to see my Twitter feed last night exploding with conspiracy theories, even flat-out declarations that Glenn is not dead.

Why? Most significantly: He wasn’t on The Talking Dead, AMC’s post-episode talk show where actors whose characters were killed return to chat about their demise.

For many, that tidbit was enough, but this fueled other speculation: The actor who plays Glenn, Steven Yeun, was spotted on set in Georgia! Maybe Glenn was using Nicholas’ body to protect himself so he could hide under the dumpster! You never actually see that those are Glenn’s intestines being eaten! It didn’t help that the showrunner, Scott Gimple, released a vague statement:

Dear fans of The Walking Dead, this is a hard story to tell and when we were planning to tell it, we knew our friends at the Talking Dead would be talking to you about it and knowing you’d all be talking, and feeling and commiserating, I knew we should say something about it lest our silence say something we didn’t mean to say or not say. So I’ll say this: In some way, we will see Glenn, some version of Glenn or parts of Glenn again, either in flashback or in the current story to help complete the story.

To make matters even more frustrating, next week’s episode will focus solely on Morgan, meaning it will be more than two weeks before any ambiguity is cleared up for good.

This circus feels like an abuse of the entire narrative concept of the cliffhanger—to create suspense and tension and momentum—because viewed alone, “Thank You” seems unambiguous about Glenn’s status. AMC retroactively turned the episode into a cliffhanger, which will play badly whether Glenn is alive or not: If he’s indeed dead, many fans got their hopes up for nothing. If he’s alive, “Thank You” will go from being a beautiful, tragic farewell to a bait and switch.