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There have been a few key themes this season on The Walking Dead, but none more important than fear. Time and again throughout the past seven episodes, we have heard about how characters are afraid, seen how other characters have harnessed their fear (with Morgan as our best example of both how this helps and hurts someone), and seen how some characters have let fear control them, thereby leading to their downfall (mostly nameless Alexandrians in this category). Fear has, historically, made people do some really stupid things that, depending on their outcome, lead to those individuals being branded heroes or cowards.
You might be wondering why I’m going on about fear in an episode that brought us the return of a very much alive Glenn. After all, haven’t we all been waiting for that confirmation for the past month? Don’t worry, I have plenty to say about the miraculous survival of Glenn Rhee. But I think the concept of how fear affects these characters has been what the show has been driving at so far this season and thus warrants some discussion. After all, with the horde of walkers about to storm the keep, fear is going to have a really important part to play in this latest fight for the safety of Alexandria.
Within “Heads Up,” we see the difference between having a healthy fear of the dangers of this world and what happens when you ignore that little voice inside your head that says something might just be a bad idea. First up, we have the Alexandrian who helped Rick out with his rebuilding project (I think it’s the same guy who tried to lead the raid on the pantry, but I’m not 100% sure). After realizing that Alexandria needs Rick’s brand of law, he’s come on board. He even has the chance to give a really solid speech asking Rick to give Alexandria a minute or two to get with the program- which is great in theory, but their minutes are almost up in light of that gaping hole in the wall. Naturally, the series points to this kind of fear (reasoned fear in the dangers of the world that Rick Grimes can protect you from) as healthy. Trusting in Rick to save you really is the only viable option in this situation. Which is what makes Spencer’s stupidity all the more galling.
Alexandria is under the command of a number of capable individuals who have proven their ability to protect the town when necessary. Sure, their planning skills might be suspect (Rick’s lead the walkers away plan was really only a partial success, if you can even call it that), but I would certainly trust them to come up with something to get the walkers away. Crawling across a shaky rope dangling precariously above a pit of walkers is definitely not the best plan. And forcing Tara and Rick to risk their lives to save you when you fail? Not cool. Yes, Spencer gets some credit for crawling out of the bottle and not just sitting on his hands, but still. All his recent screen time along with his stupidity in defying the rules of the Ricktatorship make him a clear option for death in the coming walker raid (Tara, unfortunately, seems like another prime candidate thanks to her increased amount of screen time, although I really hope that isn’t the case). To be fair, Spencer is only the most recent in a long line of dead or maimed bodies that indicate ignoring Rick isn’t the smartest idea in the world (Spencer’s disappointment at losing a shoe when he easily could have died was pretty disgusting as well). But the show pretty clearly drove home the importance of listening to Rick in this latest instance.
Now let’s get to the important part of the episode. As I (and many others) predicted in my review of “Thank You,” Glenn survived Nicholas’s attempt at a murder-suicide and is still with us. I dealt with a lot of my issues with the show going this route in the “Thank You” review, so I don’t want to simply rehash those old points. Having seen Glenn’s survival tactics, I still believe it was the wrong choice all around for the series. But, to be fair, a great deal of my disappointment with the storyline stems from the way the series, Scott Gimple, and AMC handled things from the get-go. I realize that by having Talking Dead exist, it means the show can’t really have effective cliffhangers dealing with potential character deaths. The show has set a precedent of having dead cast members appears immediately following their demise which backed Gimple into a corner with this situation. However, the best course of action for all involved would have simply been to remain silent on the topic. The cryptic statement issued by Gimple only inflamed things more, which may be great for ratings, but took away a lot of the impact of the episode.
Holding showrunners and their writers responsible for their story choices is important, but I don’t like the idea of showrunners having to immediately explain or issue statements when something jarring happens on a series. We don’t need reassurances that we will see a character or actor again when they have been seemingly killed off, especially on a series where death has been treated with as much finality as it has been on The Walking Dead. I trust that the writers of a show won’t simply leave a character’s fate ambiguously hanging for the rest of a series. I just wish Gimple and AMC had trusted the audience a bit more to keep watching for the pay-off on this storyline rather than start spoon-feeding them information.
The aftermath of the cliffhanger aside, I don’t really buy Glenn’s escape. I would have been more inclined to accept that Enid caused a ruckus that drew the walkers away rather than simply seeing that they got bored and left. I did like that Glenn tracked down Enid and tried to get her to come back to Alexandria, although couching it as something Maggie would have wanted him to do was odd. And, it also reminded me of how disappointed I have been in the show’s inability to see Glenn and Maggie as separate characters since they got together. Their inability to go more than five sentences without mentioning the other is grating and serves to only make the characters so indelibly linked that one would lose his or her identity without the other (which might be a problem should one of them actually die). The show should have done better by Glenn (and, by extension, Steven Yeun) than they have so far this season. Glenn deserves a defining arc like Carol has had. Yet, once again, he got shortchanged.
— How great was the Carol-Morgan confrontation moment? Those two are such incredible characters and I’m excited to see them clash, even if it’s only for a moment.
— Speaking of Carol, that scene with little Sam was incredibly powerful. Sam’s fear in the aftermath of the Wolf attack has been one of the stronger elements of the season. It’s completely understandable that a kid who has been through what Sam has would have such a reaction. And Carol’s comment that killing is the only way to avoid becoming a monster (along with the pained, then resolute, expression on her face)? Chilling. Kudos to Melissa McBride.
— Ron remains a dangerous, no-good character. I can’t believe Rick and Carl are trusting him.
— Someone else dealing with a lot of fear? Morgan. While he won’t admit it, he’s desperately afraid of losing himself to violence. While that is certainly a valid fear (perhaps he should chat with the town’s resident shrink, Denise, about it), it doesn’t excuse that his actions help compound this disaster.
— Now we know that the voice on the radio Daryl has is someone in Alexandria. It sounded to me a lot like Aaron’s voice. Either way, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha need to get there with their big tank of gas ASAP.