Since “The Walking Dead” premiered in 2010, non-fans have often asked fans about the appeal of the show: “Who wants to watch people constantly on the run from zombies?”
They mistakenly equated the show with feature films about zombies. Zombie movies almost always have the same underlying theme: survival. From “Night Of The Living Dead” to “28 Days Later” to “World War Z,” there is only one question viewers pose to themselves: “Will the characters survive?” There is never enough time to go beyond the theme of survival and really become invested in the characters.
In “The Walking Dead,” survival is part of the show. But it is not a show about survival. The walkers serve as a plot device, but overall the show is about people and what happens to their humanity when they face such situations. Viewers get to invest in the lives of the characters, allowing us to go beyond the circumstances they face or the world in which they live. This dynamic enhances the story.
“The Sopranos” is an example of another wildly popular show that is far more involved than the initial premise. People often assume the show is about the mafia. Yes, Tony Soprano is a mob boss, and there are plenty of episodes that revolve around those activities. But the show is ultimately about the characters of Tony and Carmela Soprano. The show is, in essence, about them and their life, their marriage, their role as parents, and how they cope with the same everyday struggles of ordinary people while living a life that is anything but ordinary.
“The Walking Dead” follows a similar structure. Outside all of the battles with walkers and the confrontations with other groups of people, the show is ultimately about the characters, the changes they go through, their humanity, and the relationships they form along the way.
Losing Glenn Emotionally Walloped Fans
The way fans reacted to what seemed like the series’ biggest loss—the death of main character Glenn Rhee—demonstrates its popularity and broader importance. What many people think is just a dumb television show about zombies is actually about humanity—our strengths and weaknesses, how we react in life-and-death situations, and how we deal with relationships.
Glenn’s death ironically was due in part to an Alexandria character Glenn had refused to kill in season five: Nicholas. Nicholas was a selfish coward, and his actions (or lack thereof) resulted in the death of five people in season five.
He performed one final act of selfishness and cowardice when he and Glenn were trapped on top of a dumpster in an alley with walkers surrounding them. Not willing to face death at the hands of walkers, Nicholas takes the easy way out, committing suicide by shooting himself in the head. Unfortunately, the momentum of the shot causes him and Glenn to fall into the waiting zombie horde. The final image we see is of Glenn appearing to cry out in agony as zombie hands tear him apart.
Immediately, however, viewers began to wonder if Glenn was truly dead. Certain signs gave viewers hope. First, it appeared that Nicholas was on top of Glenn when they fell, and that it was actually Nicholas we saw being torn apart by the walkers. Thus, it was possible that Glenn was not screaming out in pain but in horror, convinced he was next.
Second, the show “The Talking Dead,” a live broadcast that airs immediately following the latest episode, always features a retrospective following the death of any major character, displaying clips from when the character was introduced until their death. There was no retrospective for Glenn.
The producers kept fans waiting for nearly a month to learn the truth of Glenn’s fate. Finally in episode seven, it was revealed to fans that Glenn did survive. As many had hoped, Nicholas’ body shielded Glenn, who was able to crawl under the dumpster to safety. After waiting for the small horde of walkers to disperse, Glenn finally crawled out from underneath the dumpster, to the relief of fans everywhere.
The reveal met with a wave of glee on social media. A search on Twitter of “Glenn is alive” yielded the following results:
Everyone Can Identify With Glenn
Many characters have been killed off on “The Walking Dead,” but Glenn’s apparent death sparked a visceral reaction from fans unlike any other. Over the course of the series, Glenn became the most beloved character on the show. Glenn is smart, resourceful, brave, and quick-thinking. These traits are part of what has kept him alive for so long. Glenn is also compassionate and shows great humanity. He has an optimism for life only enhanced when he met Maggie, who he later married and is now expecting their first child.
Glenn is the only character who has not been “corrupted,” in a sense, by the events that have transpired. Through all he has experienced and seen, Glenn’s character arc has seen growth, but his principles and character have remained steadfast.
Of the original five characters on the show, Glenn is the only one who has not killed a human. He has had opportunities, to be sure. In fact, he came close when he nearly killed Nicholas in season five. But he didn’t. Doing so would have marked a new era for him and completely changed who he was as a character. This clip reveals Glenn’s nature as he tells Nicholas what he feels about him:
Some may write off Glenn’s inability to kill another human as a weakness—one that will ultimately get him killed. Although Glenn sees killing as the easy way out of a situation, he recognizes that such actions will ultimately haunt him. Clearly, Glenn would have no issue killing a human who was a true threat. He would not hesitate to kill anyone who threatened Maggie and his unborn child.
It is for this reason and his unwavering commitment to uphold his values that the audience connects with him unlike any other character. We not only want to see Glenn survive, we want to see Glenn remain true to who he is.
There is no telling when “The Walking Dead” will end. I, like many others, have not read the graphic novels upon which the series is based. Anything can happen. Glenn’s fate is ultimately in the hands of the producers and writers.
The best hope fans have is that, no matter what happens—whether Glenn survives or dies—he will remain true to the person he has been.