Two things, guys: 1) This was an especially brutal, infuriating episode of The Walking Dead, so consider this your extra-special spoiler warning (although if you haven’t been spoiled already, you soon will be); and 2), I’m beginning to think Rick’s plan to herd the zombies out of Undead Gorge wasn’t a very good plan at all.

To be fair, Rick had meant to do a dry-run of the Great Zombie Fun Run first, when a chance truck toppling allowed the zombies free, forcing Rick to make the call to enact the unpracticed plan then and there. From a coldly rational standpoint, it makes sense—the zombies would head right for Alexandria, there would be way too many of them, and the town would be overrun. It’s pretty simple math.

But by forcing the drive too early, it put everyone involved in Rick’s plan at risk, although obviously it put the less experienced Alexandrians in more danger than the badasses of Rick’s group. And when the horn at Alexandria started blaring and the zombies split up and the humans split up, things got exponentially more dangerous for each group… but mainly the Alexandrians.

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Rick literally announces he knows this fact, and he’s totally cool with it at the episode’s beginning; he pulls Michonne and Glenn aside, and flatly tells them, “Try to get the others back home, but not all of them [meaning the Alexandrians] are gonna make it.” Michonne and Glenn—who are not dumb, and know how the zombie apocalypse works—are still kind of horrified to hear Rick say it out loud.

But to be fair, Rick is right. In fact he’s right as hell, because it appears that only two of the Alexandrians survive to make it home, and I think one of those guys might have been bitten. Basically, it’s just Heath, the only new guy whose name we’ve learned since the season began.

In fact, it’s almost comical how bad these guys are at the zombie apocalypse, because they’re getting pounced on by unseen zombies left and right, twisting their ankles, failing to get over fences in time. It was almost standard zombie fare 101, complete with a note one poor bastard wrote to his wife in case he didn’t make it, getting trampled in the mud by a zombie who was eating the dude, because he didn’t make it.

Glenn and Michonne do their best to try and save them all, even when the wounded Alexandrians start telling the others to go on without them. Rick, of course, would have left them all behind long ago, but Michonne and Glenn, who know the increased risks, are determined to try and save everyone. When a huge chunk of the herd enters the town, effectively cutting off their escape, Glenn volunteers to set a fire at a nearby feed store in hopes of distracting the zombies. Michonne thinks it’s too dangerous; Glenn assures her he’ll be fine. Nicholas, still trying to redeem himself after his near-murder of Glenn last season, knows where the feed store is, and goes with him.

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And thus we come to the headline of this article, because this works out at well as anything involving Nicholas has, because Glenn is dead.*

It’s heartbreaking, because Glenn was the heart of the group more than anybody; he had found love with Maggie and may have fathered a kid (although impregnating someone in the apocalypse is almost always a sure sign you’re gonna die). It’s infuriating because Glenn’s death was so meaningless; the feed store was already burned, the sweaty Nicholas tried to figure out another building to burn but got them cornered by zombies instead; as they stood on a trash bin, surrounded by a sea of the undead, Nicholas shot himself in the head (after telling Glenn “Thank you,” presumably for not killing him last season), died, and as he fell brought Glenn down into the teeming mass of the flesh-hungry zombies too.

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It wasn’t heroic, it wasn’t necessary, and it was extra-infuriating that Nicholas, after several genuine attempts on Glenn’s life, got Glenn killed inadvertently while committing suicide. Glenn’s death was stupid… but I get it. I mean, it’s effectively like Robb Stark of Game of Thrones randomly getting thrown from his horse while riding down the street and suffering a concussion and dying in his sleep, but if Glenn had died, say, singlehandedly stopping a zombie horde from attacking Alexandria, or shutting down a nuclear bomb, his dead would have been grand, heroic, and satisfying; by making his death so useless, we feel his loss more powerfully.

The fact that he died as a direct result of his mercy, his unwillingness to kill Nicholas after he tried to kill Glen twice makes it all the more horrible, and heartbreaking, and emotional. Because that’s kind of the real tragedy—you know, besides Glenn being digested in a few happy zombies’ tummies right now. This, more than anything else in recent seasons, has proven Rick’s brutal attitude correct.

You can’t give people second chances. You can’t leave enemies behind you. Mercy can get you killed. You can’t protect the weak. It’s all stuff Rick has been saying, living, knowing ever since he left the prison. So when Rick gets back to the Winnebago and drives it to where he’s hoping the others will be coming out of the woods, when he hears gunshots coming from Alexandria, he has no compunction about telling the others they have to stay on their job. “We have to hope they can take care of it themselves,” he says pragmatically. If they aren’t strong enough, they’ll die. But as he said in the premiere, some people weren’t meant to live in this world.

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And then suddenly, a couple of Wolves burst into the Winnebago, including the one who had stolen the gun. Rick, being a terrifying badass, kills them both, as well as using an assault rifle to shoot another mess of Wolves outside through the Winnebago walls. But when Rick does his normal search for weapons—you can never have too many weapons—he finds something strange if one of the Wolves’ pockets.

A jar of baby food.

There’s only one place nearby Rick knows that has baby food, and that’s his house in Alexandria. Where he’s heard gunfire. And ignored it.

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I feel like Rick has suddenly discovered the flaw in his “let the weak fend for themselves” policy. Yes, it’s kind of a stretch that Rick wouldn’t immediately worry about his kids when he first heard the gunfire coming from Alexandria, but Rick’s been turning into an asshole for quite some time, completely convinced of his infallibility, and that has extended a great deal to all members of his original group. The Alexandrians are just zombie fodder in comparison. I think it’s within the realm of believability that Rick would assume that Carol and Carl and the others would protect Judith, no matter how many Alexandrians might die in the process.

But that belief completely falls apart when he sees the baby food, because he knows this killer has not just been in Alexandria, but possibly been in his house. Somehow, neither his people nor the town’s inhabitants were able to stop this monster, and Rick has no idea how much damage this guy did, or who he may have killed. All he knows is that when he heard the gun shots, when he knew for a fact the town was in trouble, he left the Alexandrians to fend for themselves. And now he may have paid a very dear cost for that lack of empathy.

And yet Rick’s realization that having basic compassion for others can actually provide a benefit comes in an episode where Glenn’s compassion gets him killed. This is what keeps me watching The Walking Dead; whether intentional or not, I see The Walking Dead as an immensely moral show that shows us how morality can be an incredible liability.

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If Glenn had killed Nicholas either of the two times he tried to kill him, Glenn might be alive now. Whenever Rick has tried to do the moral thing, it has inevitably come back to bite him in the ass, hard. But when he turned off his mercy—lured the Termites into the church to butcher them, murdering Pete in cold blood, even just telling Michonne and Glenn that not all the Alexandrians are going make it back to town—people have been horrified.

But the reason we mourn Glenn today is because he was so compassionate. We cared about him because he let Nicholas live, because he sacrificed himself in an attempt to help the others get home. Michonne tries desperately to save everyone, although she fails. Even Daryl veers wildly off Rick’s dumb Zombie Drive plan, all because he’s worried about others. These people care. Yes, sometimes caring gets you killed.

But I think when night comes, I think Michonne, Daryl, and the few surviving Alexandrians will sleep better at night because they tried to do the right thing—or at least they’ll sleep better than Rick will, knowing that he pretty much got Glenn killed (and god knows how many others) and abandoned his baby for a plan that didn’t even work right.

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On the other hand, Glenn will never wake up at all. But if Glenn’s death helps Rick regain some of his lost humanity, then I don’t think he will have died completely in vain.

*But Is Glenn Really Dead?

Obviously I have written this review as if he is. This is because I think it would be incredibly shitty for the show to troll us in this fashion, although when I watched the scene I did notice that Nicholas’ body seemed to fall on top of Glenn, meaning it was possible that the zombies were eating the body on top of him and not Glenn himself. In fact, because I didn’t really want Glenn to be dead, I reminded myself that if you cover yourself in gore the zombies down’t notice you, so technically Glenn could have gotten coated in Nicholas juice, and, if he stayed quiet and got very lucky, the zombies could have left after they finished eating Nick.

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Then last night, showrunner Scott Gimple released this statement on Glenn’s death after the episode’s end:

“In some way we will see Glenn — some version of Glenn or parts of Glenn — again. Either in flashback or the current story to help complete the story.”

Also, Glenn wasn’t on The Talking Dead’ “In Memoriam” segment. Also also, Steven Yuen didn’t appear on TTD last night either, when it’s traditional for deceased characters to appear on the episodes immediately following their TWD deaths.

So is Glenn dead? I still gotta think yes, mainly because I think it would be terribly, cheap and shitty for TWD to have done this as a fake-out. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I’ll be way more infuriated if Glenn pops back up and is fine, than by his death.

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I’m guessing Glenn will come back as a zombie, possibly to give Maggie one horrific farewell scene and/or to make sure Herschel’s watch ends up in someone’s hands (which is why the show took a moment last night to remind us that the watch existed). I assume once someone puts Zombie-Glenn out of his undead misery Yuen will make the customary TTD rounds. A flashback would also be acceptable, but if I had to guess between the two scenarios I’d put all my money on Zombie-Glenn.

Assorted Musings:

• Honestly, I really don’t know where everyone was going when they split up. Obviously Daryl and Abraham and Sasha were supposed to continue leading the herd, but I don’t know where Daryl was trying to go when he broke off, given that he just ended up back with the herd at the end of the episode. Obviously Rick was heading for the Winnebago, but I don’t know why Glenn and Michonne and the others were trying to walk back while Rick was heading to the Winnebago; if one option was preferable, shouldn’t they all have gone that way? Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

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• Rick cuts his hand during one of his fights with zombies, because a zombie had a knife sticking through its torso, and accidentally grabbed it. In a realistic zombie world, that blade would HAVE to be covered with zombie juices, and thus totally fatal to Rick, right?

• Obviously Rick is going to be fine, unless The Walking Dead has something absolutely insane in mind. But TWD is making some serious bank, though, so I imagine Andrew Lincoln is there until he’s bored, and he’s getting some pretty juicy stuff to work with.

• I knew Glenn was dead the moment he ended his walkie-talking call to Rick with “Good luck, dumbass.” That’s such a weird, uncharacteristic and yet utterly final thing for Glenn to say, especially since Rick was busy fighting zombies and couldn’t answer. It was obvious the show wanted that to be Glenn’s last line to Rick for extra emotional impact.

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• I was almost hoping that after the lengthy, slow-motion scene of Glenn’s death, set to heartbreaking string music, it would be followed by a peppy commercial for The Talking Dead with “Yakkety Sax” played under Chris Hardwick, just for old times’ sake.

• Next week, looks like we’re getting Morgan’s origin story. I’m excited, not just because Morgan received his bo staff training from Donatello—seriously—but it looks like he’s being turned into a warrior-monk to bring peace into the zombie apocalypse. I’ve enjoyed the way The Walking Dead makes me think about the spiritual pros and pragmatic cons of morality, but I also would love to have a few more characters that were unequivocally good… or as good as the zombie apocalypse allows them to be. Especially now that Glenn is dead.

• Don’t feel too bad about Glenn. He died so that all three of The Walking Dead’s four African-American characters could survive. That’s not just impressive, that’s a miracle.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com.