We repeat: this post contains serious Walking Dead spoilers.
Here is a public declaration that I'm willing, perhaps ill-advisedly, to stake my reputation as a Walking Dead expert: Glenn is not dead. The frenzied Glenn-carnage that the internet lost its collective mind over last night was a lie – a clever bit of misdirection, like televisual sleight-of-hand. Do not fall for it. Glenn Rhee is alive.
To briefly recap, for those left dizzy after last night's episode: Glenn, series mainstay, found himself shepherding a group of under-trained Alexandrians. A siege by the Wolves left a herd-distracting truck horn blaring at the city gates. The show's erstwhile pizza boy must get them home. Rick, before taking leave to help keep the remaining walkers on track, offers Glenn and Michonne some familiar advice: don't compromise for these people. They're not all going to make it. Get to safety – even if it means abandoning the weak.
Glenn and Michonne object to on principle, naturally. That leaves Glenn and the hapless Nicholas – that same miserable donut who got Noah killed and nearly beat Glenn to death in the fifth-season finale – to stage a fairly elaborate herd diversion involving flare guns and a dry-goods store in a small town en route home. The plan swiftly falls apart, as plans of any kind on this show are wont to do. And with ten minutes remaining Glenn and Nicholas find themselves trapped and helpless atop a dumpster surrounded by thousands of the rather hungry undead. How will everyone's favorite hero escape?
He doesn't. Nicholas, in an act of either noble sacrifice or cowardly defeat, depending on how it turns out, shoots himself in the head and topples to the herd below – taking Glenn with him. Our final glimpse of the poor guy is the sort of slow-motion musical montage you expect of tragic endings: silent screams of agony, entrails torn up and dragged from hand to mouth. It's a gruesome way for a fan favorite to go.
That is, if he went. Some of actor Steven Yeun's zealous fans have been freaked out this past week after an image of zombies feasting on Glenn surfaced online. (And because I get screeners a few days in advance I've been hounded on Twitter for comfort or corroboration since Thursday morning.) I finished my screener plainly unconvinced.
Note how the show staged the death: Glenn and Nicholas fall together in such a way that the former will almost certainly land directly beneath the latter, so much so that we can assume he's largely covered. The shots of Glenn being devoured, meanwhile, show us only Glenn's face and the entrails ambiguously beneath it. We don't explicitly see his chest being torn open or his guts being scarfed down. Ask yourself this: has The Walking Dead ever seemed particularly shy about bodies being torn apart before? In the next scene Michonne stands watch as an Alexandrian is bitten to death – bitten on the neck, on the cheek, everywhere. Is there any reason we would not see a legitimately dying Glenn suffer so unambiguously?
Suppose the bloodbath we've witnessed is indeed Nicholas being eaten atop a safe-from-harm Glenn. When the culinary delights of that carcass have been exhausted, you might object, where does that leave Glenn? Well, we've known since the show's second episode that the insides of a walker, applied to the skin of the living, is enough to mask the tasty scent and make one effectively invisible to the undead. Nicholas, true, is soaking Glenn in his guts before turning – for now. But isn't it plausible that at some point in the dining process, the viscera oozing out onto our hero becomes infected enough that Glenn could emerge bite-free? He's also still beside that dumpster: could a Nicholas-smeared Glenn not surreptitiously roll his way beneath it and wait out the horde?
There are themes to consider here too. Yes, The Walking Dead takes a certain pleasure in dispatching important characters, and with so little ceremony that the undiscriminating whims of death become the point. A six-season lynchpin like Glenn could be offed to make the point again. But consider the situation that got us here: Glenn spared Nicholas in the woods as an offer of redemption. Nicholas did his best to change his ways; he even enjoyed a moment of self-forgiveness earlier in the episode, sticking a knife into the undead head of a former friend. Killing himself on the dumpster in order to spare Glenn is the ideal conclusion to that season-long arc.
And if it isn't – if the point is rather that Nicholas never could redeem himself and that Glenn is being punished for thinking he could – surely we are entitled to the one luxury of such a fate: seeing the bastard horribly die. For me this is the clincher in the Glenn-is-alive argument: if Glenn and Nicholas are both dead, why don't we see Nicholas eaten too? This is a show that never, ever forgoes an opportunity to indulge in its trademark butchery, and the death of a guy like Nicholas is far too irresistible an occasion. We needed to see the guy torn apart limb by limb and then seen Glenn suffer bravely. The only reason we didn't is that the body needed to be obscured. It needed to cover up the show's most beguiling twist: Glenn Rhee is not dead.
This article was originally published on Esquire.com