I didn’t blog yesterday as usual because I was at my first (American) football (not soccer/football) game, which coincidentally took up the whole day due to stoppages for television. I’m glad though because now I get to talk about something that happened on TV last night. WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BLOG POST IF YOU ARE NOT UP TO DATE WITH THE WALKING DEAD OR ARE PLANNING ON BINGEING THE SERIES IN THE FUTURE (UNLESS YOU TEND TO FORGET TV DRAMA CHARACTERS AS IF THEY WERE CONTESTANTS ON THE BACHELOR).
On Sunday’s The Walking Dead, everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic pizza delivery boy – with the possible exception of Fry from Futurama – Glen Rhee apparently died. I say ‘apparently’ because while visually we seem to have seen his demise (and intestines), the storytelling, which continues intertextually in post-show discussion program Talking Dead, left Glen’s fate ambiguous, despite the unlikelihood of his escape from a throng of hungry, handsy walkers. In a series where every character is already to some degree dead, the writers and directors are obliged to be specific about what character is in which state of death. Moreover, the emotion surrounding certain leading characters, including Glen who has been there from the start, means there is an unwritten rule that they be killed visibly and memorably, so as to not play with or minimise those feelings.
Last night, when it came to ‘killing’ Glen, The Walking Dead did neither. Add this to the absence of the character death rituals on Talking Dead of having the actor appear as a guest and a slow-motion replay of their death on the mock-mournful ‘In Memoriam’ section of the show, and it appears that either the producers are playing a dangerous game with Walking Dead fans or floating the possibility that we didn’t see what we think we did. A note read out on Talking Dead by producer Scott M. Gimple hedged their bets even further, saying that ‘a version…or part’ of Glen would return to ‘complete the story’. Lost creator Damon Lindelof was a guest on the show – which is perhaps another clue that in a show where everyone is already dead anything is possible (OH YEAH DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN LOST) – and found it hard to believe that The Walking Dead would pull a Dallas and have Glen return from the dead against all conceivable odds.
Not that it will surprise anyone who suffered through all six seasons of Lost but Lindelof may be overstating the case here. The Walking Dead is rather fond of melodramatic cliffhangers, as the final ‘how do we get out of this’ moment of Season Four nicely illustrates. The show is not above waiting off on spoiling the death of a character if it helps heighten the drama. In Season Five, we didn’t know Bob had been bitten for nearly a whole episode until he finally revealed it to the cannibals who had just eaten his leg for dinner. The quality seal of the Mad Men network (which is also a guarantee of having to watch crappy action and horror movies back-to-back) sometimes makes us forget that what we’re watching here is popular genre television – quite literally a televised comic strip – in which such matinee-style twists and turns are not only possible, but rather their stock-in-trade.
No-one doubts the class of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories yet the author had the Great Detective return from the dead in implausible circumstances. More to the point, I can see about three or four different ways Glen could have escaped from the pile of walkers he was crowd-surfing on. A couple of those have already been tried and tested in the series, so while the Talking Dead panel saw the callbacks to Glen’s earlier episodes as signs of his impending death, they may also spell the solution to his survival. All of this rhetoric might be my way of deflecting deep-seated sadness about seeing Glen depart The Walking Dead, and of course I’d rather all this conspiracy theorising be true rather than false (as anyone who purports a conspiracy theory does). But don’t underestimate the extra-textual games that TV producers in the digital age are willing to play to maintain interest in their program. One day we might be talking about the ‘Glen hoax’ in the same way we talk about affinity-based publicity stunts like ‘new Coke’. On a story level, if Glen does survive the unsurvivable, it’s a sure sign he’ll be the last man walking.