Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Walking Dead S6x03 Thank You

Photo Credit: The Walking Dead / Gene Page
Last weeks Just Survive Somehow (JSS) took on an even deeper message with this week's Thank You. What was a mantra for Enid has now taken on a new effect for the whole series and the fandom community.

The aftermath of the zombie hoard setting out for Alexandria continues to be answered. We witnessed how a narrow margin the civilians from the safe zone survived from the Wolves last week, but what would be Rick's plan to deter the walkers from the town's walls? What would his and the others reaction be to the atrocious violence that took place while they were gone? We find out!

6. The Beginning
Rick's plan fell apart. He ran all the way back to the RV to bring more of the walkers away from Alexandria. Michonne and Glenn banded up the rest of the inexperienced Alexandrians to start heading home. Daryl strayed away from Sasha and Abraham to help Rick.

Releasing thousands of walkers from quarry was a desperate move to get ahead of the walkers before everyone was devoured by them. Now the fear and misery continued to grow as they tried to break up the rest of the zombies and get home. This was probably some of the worst chaos to have ever happened to the group. They're out in the open more than ever, and yeah they can handle themselves well with walkers and people, thousands of them on hot on their tale in every direction. This was a cluster**** to say the least. They're trying but it's nearly impossible.

We all know Rick's plan was to lead the walkers out of the quarry. Thousands of them were already in the pit attracting more and more. Eventually, the trucks acting as barriers fell, and in fact, it was already falling when the group arrived.

Did anyone else think that his idea to lead them out of pit was to wing them around quarry, so they fell off the cliff and died? Sure, they could've built barriers and tried killing them, but making firebombs or shooting the zombies would've just attracted more attention. Those barriers wouldn't have been sustainable for very long anyways.

I didn't think the plan was to release thousands of walkers 50 or so miles away from the safe zone, as if it wouldn't take them a few weeks or so to backtrack towards Alexandria. I digress.
5. Michonne Ain't Having It
Rick warned Glenn and Michonne to ditch anyone who couldn't perservere and to just keep heading home. Of course when the group separates, they are bombarded by walkers and even more Alexandrians are injured/die. Glenn and Michonne are left to move Heath, Nicholas, Annie, David, Scott onwards. They end up stranded in a pet shop in a nearby marketplace. Walkers are coming in all directions. Glenn decides set one of the buildings on fire for Rick as a marker of how far he's traveled. Nicholas joins him because he knows the five-street names. They're basically sitting ducks, and while Glenn goes out to risk his life for the group, Heath keeps giving Michonne shit about all their failed decisions thus far.

Having overheard Rick's orders, he continually doubts Michonne convinced she isn't going to abandon them, that her and her group's safety is the top priority. Thank God Michonne wasn't having anyone's doubt. Honestly, I wasn't having either. She shut people down because Alexandrians don't know their left hand from right.

4. Nicholas
When it came to Nicholas, and subsequently, Alexandria, I had to have a good long think after Thank You. Because that's not only how I roll but the cowardice of the safe zone kept bugging me.

Deanna doles out jobs to her community members. Because someone needed to make runs, and it seems very few people except Aaron had previous experience dealing with violence on a daily basis, she gave inexperienced civilians this task. Other people were recruited but they didn’t have the skills of killing walkers or assessing threats. Alexandrians didn't even have the leadership to learn how to do secure runs carefully and with tact, like Rick's group learned how to do in the prison (standing in a circle so all directions are covered, or clearing every room of a house they entered).

So what did Alexandrians do in the face of trouble? They turned their backs. When a team member was bit, he or she was just abandoned. This is mentioned at least a dozen or so times by Nicholas to other characters who are still alive and also have a track record for deserting their friends or as a confession from a stream of guilty thoughts. Team members weren't given mercy and killed, they were left to be eaten alive and to turn into a walker. Their M.O. was an unspoken rule to leave when friends got bit and to return home with one person missing action like some big sacrifice was made.

Even if a swarm of walkers threatened other peoples’ well-being, they didn’t know how to react or instinctively have a plan to defend themselves. In season five's episode Spend, Abraham helped David's construction team when they were attacked by walkers. Everyone hid and ran. Francine was injured and they left her to die - except Abraham who fought for their safety. Then when everything was clear, he kept them working. When speaking to Deanna about Abraham's leadership, David was in awe of it - like he couldn't imagine how someone could take charge like he did. It's understandable; nobody has been there to really train them.

Some fans goes all gung-ho when Rick immediately knifes someone after they've been bit in an area that can't be severed like Tyrese or Herschel. But his methods are not an act of murder on most occasions; it's an act of mercy. No one in their right mind wants to be left to turn. This was heavily expressed by Andrea who wanted the choice of how their life ended, and usually it was before they turned. Also, no survivors want to have to deal with another walker, a friend or loved one no less, coming after them. So it’s better to end it before the turning process begins.

Behind their barriers Alexandrians don't have to see or think about walkers. The few who are doing runs don't know how to handle them period. They don’t have guards in the watchtowers. They haven’t comprised ideas on how not to be walker bait, let alone human bait like the Wolves.

The conflict of Alexandrians isn't that they haven't gotten their hands dirty or that they don't know how to defend themselves. The conflict is that they're in complete denial of the post-apocalypse and its bloody, gory, heart-wrenching repercussions. This isn't to say that people haven't lost loved ones or made sacrifices, but this safe zone is really a smokescreen for community/sanctuary.

Even when someone did some heinous act like Pete abusing his family, he was essentially given permission to keep doing it in service of his skills (even though he was drunk and could have killed someone who was severely injured). Jessie didn't receive any support for herself or her sons, yet everyone knew about it. Exile (as far as we know) was an empty threat.

Alexandria is another version of Woodsbury without the militarized front; without people at the walls acting as guards, without using walkers in wrestling matches to unleash pent-up aggression. It's the Pleasantville of the Zombie Apocalypse.

This is a major reason why after thinking about it long enough, I can't fault Nicholas. Ye, he is a grown man. Yes, he ditched Glenn and Noah, and Noah was ripped apart. Yes, he should't have attacked Glenn. But a part of his attempt to survived is what Alexandria nurtured.

Nicholas' plan after abandoning Glenn and Noah was that they would be killed on their own; that even if they managed to survive in the forest beating each other down, he could beat them home to Deanna and tell them that they were killed. Which is exactly what he tried to do.

But the hitch in his giddy-up was that Glenn did make it and Glenn is not an Alexandrian; he doesn't understand their code; to just file it away deaths as freak accidents.

When Glenn showed him mercy, Nicholas stepped up. He's probably one of the few who's ever been given that opportunity. Nicholas saw in Glenn what he wanted to be.

But, in Thank You, Nicholas (obviously) goes into shock. His automatic focus in a time of crisis was to find his exit strategy rather than what the solutions were, which was what Glenn was trying to teach. They probably could’ve made it. They had knives. They could have leaned down just far enough not to get nabbed by a walker and start stabbing them in the head. But Nicholas had to confront his past. He faced every street corner where it seemed another Alexandrian was left to rot, and he manned up to end his one friend’s life. He also saw the results of his choices by leaving every man behind.

The final moments of Nicholas’s choice are really quite poignant. At last, he tried to do the right thing. Standing atop of the dumpsters surrounded by walkers and not seeing any way out, Nicholas could have purposely thrown Glenn off, shimmied over to the wall (which wasn’t that far away) and run out of there, heading home or out to the forest.

Instead, Nicholas chose suicide; he came to a full realization of his own cowardice and was also blinded by a sense of failure. For a brief moment Glenn became his friend and mentor. I don’t think he wanted to see Glenn get ripped apart; a massive difference from the malice he showed in the season five finale. Nicholas mumbles “Thank you” for all things; perhaps one of the fewest moments of a clear conscience he’s had in situations like this where he didn’t just hit the road and not look back. By looking his friend in the eyes in his final moments, if Glenn hadn’t been knocked off, Nicholas killed himself thinking he gave Glenn a sense of appreciation that his effort wasn’t wasted. Also his body could've been used to distract the walkers and let Glenn get out safely. I don’t think he made a cowardly choice; he made an overwhelming one. The only issue with the cliffhanger is that Glenn’s arms were on Nicholas’s arms when he fired the gun, so Glenn toppled over too.

Can we say that someone from Alexandria gave themselves up to the "greater good" - even if something inadvertently bad came out of it? When he shot himself, his intention was one of sacrifice, even if it’s not the most noble version. The only blood he wanted on his hands was his own.


3. We Need To Get You Home
The last camera pan we saw of Glenn was walkers eating someone's intestines, seeming to be his. And, then that was it. Of course, we were left agonizing over whether Glenn is dead or somehow manages to stay alive.

So, where do I begin? The episode itself lead up to this single, probably most powerful, jawdropping "WTF I can't believe what I'm seeing" moments on The Walking Dead. Ever. I'm not sure any characters' death compares to this (they are excruciating in their own way).

Yet, I called it pretty early on. Why? Because it was so vastly different and apparent that something was going to happen to Glenn. I really appreciated the writers' approach with this episode - to give and link a number of moments of Glenn's life to previous moments. But, other deaths, no matter how ill-justified we felt or how horrendous those deaths were, didn't happen as haphazardly as this one (except maybe Andrea's but even that had a warped inkling of closure).

If you pay attention to the series' details or to specific characters and their evolution, anyone could see what Thank You was attempting. It was powerful but not necessarily subtle. It closely paralleled Rick and Glenn's initial meeting in the first season, and laid out a trail of homages fans could recognize: Dale's RV not working and Glenn knowing how to fix it (the same vehicle that leads Rick stranded at the end of the episode), Glenn holding onto Herschels' watch, Glenn saying "We've all got a job to do", Glenn calling Rick dumbass - does the list go on?

Even Nicholas's suicide paralleled Rick's attempted suicide before Glenn's rescue in season one. The bombardment of walkers. The slow motion of Rick and Nicholas' acceptance to suicide. The jarring of the camera as the bullet ricocheted. The lack of sound in the intensity of the moment.


David and his relationship to his wife Betsy paralleled Glenn and Maggie's relationship. While faced with his inevitable doom after being bit in the back, David lamented about how Betsy changed him after the apocalypse; after everything was lost, he found a new side of himself with her that pushed him to survive for her. Glenn evolved from a teenage pizza driver to a responsible leader. They both have changed each other and been each other's last hope of survival as everything else has gone to hell in a handbasket.

While the close connections helped Glenn's development full circle, they didn't feel natural to me. All of a sudden these moment signifying who Glenn is as a person was thrown into the cauldron and scooped up one by one. This episode just wasn't like Coda - in the way that we felt at least Beth was surviving in her own way, still singing and trying. She wasn't just another dead girl. Or like Tyrese holding onto his father's imitation to listen to the news and take action. No, this felt more like when a minor character who is in the background not doing anything all season suddenly has a monologue about their past or their wounds or their triumphs. You know something is up and it is; they end up getting killed.

Glenn has always been apart of the pack; about making a a family from the community and not counting others out; about having a job to do save others. It was fitting he was apart of the episode but not necessarily the center of it (that belongs to Nicholas). I really did appreciate this episode, but if the big cliffhanger of Glenn's mortality wasn't there, my interest might not be as strong as it is.

2. The Shock of it All
Is Glenn dead? We don't know for sure. I just remember somewhere during the halfway mark of his peril blacking out and calling out that his time was up. I think my exact words and actions was screaming "Oh shit" and then fleeing the room because I couldn't watch.

"No one is safe in the apocalypse" - this is a phrase echoed every time on Talking Dead when a character we love dies. This isn't news, but this also isn't a consolation to fans, as least that's how I feel. We know no one is safe in the apocalypse but if someone's time is up, certainly a longterm character, shouldn't it feel like it was a longtime coming? Shouldn't it not be used as a "maybe not, maybe so" cliffhanger?

One of the reasons Glenn died seemed strangely out of character, if not the circumstances of how but also the whys.

Obviously, Maggie is pregnant and he wanted to get home to her. So, why would he follow Nicholas who was far beyond saving or bringing back to reality into a war zone? Why didn’t Glenn wait at the pet shop? Why didn’t they just radio Rick again that they were going to be late, they were stranded with people hurt and walkers at them? that they were still trying? Rick's plan didn't necessarily count on Glenn's signal because they would be heading home regardless.

Glenn was brave but he was also reasonable. The five streets they attempted to venture were blocked from walkers and they were coming from every direction. He wouldn't have made that chance. Everyone has a job to do, but wouldn't Glenn's had been to stay put for a little while longer until the coast was clear? To me it wouldn't have been to squeeze out logic and go for the big bravado.

A main construct of the episode was about not leaving others behind, and that's exactly what he did. That's exactly what Rick did. That's exactly what Daryl did. But their jobs were different than his. Glenn's job was to push through to get home, and like Glenn, he wouldn't have left others in peril. But by also clearing the path, he put himself in peril - the last risk he wanted to take.

But, the writers took that chance. And, they did leaving us in peril too.

Among the many consolations available and debated, perhaps the biggest one is that Glenn's name was not listed on the Talking Dead In Memoriam. Steven Yeun also didn't make an appearance as a special guest. The show took a huge risk of leaving us on a cliffhanger, but is it one that paid off?

1. Thank you Glenn.
Somewhere in season four, I contended that Glenn could die. Because he's the last of the core group that isn't necessarily a hardcore bad-ass, who isn't an anti-hero, who isn't always in the midst of some big conflict. He's a well-rounded supporting character that is up for grabs, but his death shouldn't have been literally treated that way.

Glenn has been one of the most profound and effective characters - like Tyrese, Dale, Beth, Glenn, Herschel. They all provided us with a different kind of bravery, optimism, and hope.

Not everyone has gone over the deep end like Rick, or Michonne, or Morgan. Not everyone has had that transformation of losing themselves and coming back, or not coming back.

Some characters have found the humility, patience, kindness, and grace to survive. Some of them do it differently. Some of them are seen as weak by Talking Dead standards - “nobody is safe in the apocalypse” excuse is a cop-out that “weaker” characters don’t survive or know how to.

But they do - because they don’t lose their sanity; they push forwards; they learn; they teach; they protect; they sing; they make mistakes and try to bring communities together; they lead with ease rather than inner conflict boiling over at every turn. They also know how to kill when it's necessary, and not to always be "shoot threats and ask questions later". These heroes may not have to push all the buttons and take all the slack like Rick does, but they finds ways to survive somehow.

I hope Glenn has found a way to survive. If the parallels are true to season one, perhaps the walkers are eating away at Nicholas, and Glenn has just enough time to protect himself from being snacked on too. Maybe he'll use some of what's left of Nicholas (sorry) to cover himself and get away. Maybe there will be another distraction to break away the crowd and he'll be spared. All we have is hopes because that's all we're left with and that's what Glenn was about.

Perhaps the most redeeming quality of the episode was that its title was Thank You. It does have negative connotations with Nicholas’s suicide/death but it has to be said, at least for now: Thank You for all the episodes we had with Glenn and Steven. Thank you for the amazing evolution and growth we’ve seen with one of The Walking Dead's underrated leaders. Thank you for Glenn’s kindness, patience, and forgiveness. Thank you Steven Yeun.

Last Thoughts:
  • If Glenn is dead, it's heartbreaking. If Glenn is alive, it's great. But, if Glenn is alive, do we really want him to survive only to be killed by Negan comic-book style?
  • Nicholas and Glenn's outfits were nearly identical - so we really don't know whose guts is getting ripped out.
  • One of the saddest things is that Glenn probably could've fixed what was wrong with the RV

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