Rick Grimes. Daryl Dixon. Carol Peletier. While “The Walking Dead” may be an expansive show with an equally-expansive cast, these are the names that are most remembered. They are the ones blowing up social media, the ones that receive the greatest amount of screams at Comic-Con, and the ones who may have the most fanfiction about them. They are genre icons.
In many ways, Dixon and Peletier were proclaimed main characters by the fans. If you look back at season 1, Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus were technically only recurring characters. Daryl was not even a presence in the Robert Kirkman comic; Carol, meanwhile, was a completely different woman. If fan response had been different or if the mood towards them in the writers room was somewhat cold, neither one be in this position. AMC could have lost them with a shrug and a “who else can we cast?”, and odds are we would be remembering them right now about as much as Otis or Randall from season 2.
Fans have deemed these three utterly untouchable. In a recent interview, Robert Kirkman admitted that he would have a hard time imagining the TV show with Carol dying given how amazing a creation she is, one that far surpasses his own work. Meanwhile, you’ve likely seen the Facebook groups and petitions about what happens if Daryl becomes walker chow. But should it be this way? Should we have fans have the power to play God on our specified Holy Trinity of zombie TV characters? It’s a fascination question to ponder, especially through the lens of one of what may be either the most-shocking or the most-desperate move in “Walking Dead” history: Working to convince us that Glenn Rhee, a character from the show’s pilot onward, is actually dead.
What the Glenn move means
You have to look at the Glenn situation in a vacuum, one separate from every other character that the show has ever killed off. Sure, you can cite statistics that say the show is not afraid to kill off characters, especially given that Steven Yeun, Andrew Lincoln, and Chandler Riggs are the only main cast members from the first season still listed as such.
Here is where that claim gets complicated: Jon Bernthal was gone by season 2. Jeffrey DeMunn was gone before him. Sarah Wayne Callies and Laurie Holden departed in season 3. It has been more than two years since the show has dispatched of a character with deep nostalgia attached to them. Instead, they chose to bring back Morgan Jones, who last played a prominent role in the season 3 episode “Clear,” arguably one of the greatest contributions to the show’s overall canon to date.
In taking the research about lead “Walking Dead” characters even further, Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) is the only character to die officially from the past two seasons who was around in a major capacity since season 2. Therefore, the notion of “this is a show unafraid to make big moves” is a little bit of a misnomer … until Glenn.
If Kirkman and showrunner Scott M. Gimple have the guts to eliminate someone who may be one of the franchise’s most-beloved faces — even if he may lie outside of our aforementioned Holy Trinity characters, they deserve all the credit in the world. There was great irony in AMC inviting “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof to appear on “Talking Dead” this past episode, given that he may be one of the most well-known showrunners in the business for killing off main characters and having it stick. This is a man who let Charlie drown in season 3, and let the John Locke as we knew him vanish into the wind, only to have his soul replaced by a dark one.
Would Glenn be gone if “The Walking Dead” was “Lost”? We’re inclined to believe so, and who knows? Maybe if the ABC show existed entirely in the age of Twitter and panic-attack hashtags, maybe ABC would have resisted so many shocking deaths. Yet, they didn’t. Bringing back Glenn accomplishes something if you are a believer in his relationship with Maggie, or if you love his work. However, it also represents that someone behind the scenes may be afraid of change in the same way as a resident of Alexandria. Keeping Glenn alive, especially given the manner in which the character’s story ended in “Thank You,” will represent giving every original character at this point an invincibility star from “Super Mario Bros.” to do whatever they want without real fear of losing anyone.
For Daryl, Carol, and Rick, that means TV immortality.
Is this a good thing?
The argument should be no, and categorically so. As a matter of fact, there was an interesting theory, prior to a denial from Gimple, that Rick’s beginning of the end had arrived when zombie guts found their way in an open wound during “Thank You.” Killing off Rick would be the gutsiest move the show could ever make; we entered the world through this lens, and not even “Lost” was able to do this with Jack until the series finale. An interesting idea would be to see Rick perish at a result of his own brazen leadership and ideals as to how the world should be run, and then bring in someone like Morgan in his place. His worldview, which will be explained further soon, has brought him to a place where he feels like non-violence is in some ways the answer to violence, if possible.
It’s important to note a distinction here. “The Walking Dead” should not kill Rick merely because it wants to; it should just not be afraid of making such a big play if the opportunity presents itself and it feels organic, as it has here with Glenn.
In regards to Daryl or Carol, killing one of them could be an albatross hanging over the show until its end of days. Yet, the same possibility has to present itself to the writers. What could be accomplished by killing a beloved character? Start with mass emotional reactions, and then transition into a sense of urgency for the characters, a sense of unease for the fans, and then more storytelling possibilities. There are few holes in “The Walking Dead’s” zombie-protection armor at this point, but its biggest one may be that when it comes to the Trinity, the edge is gone. They are unstoppable killing machines with awesome weapons and grimaces. Plus, everyone totally wants Daryl and Carol to hook up.
What is the endgame? Sooner or later, the series has to start to ponder it, and also what characters it wants to make it there. It is possible that someone decides to actually give this tale a hopeful end; meanwhile, it’s also possible that “hopeful” means simply that someone builds a better mousetrap, and finds a way to live in a zombie-infested world while feeling safe most of the time.
This is a series now in its sixth season, and while the ratings are still in another stratosphere, a point will come when even AMC decides that enough is enough. Maybe making a big move now is what helps to propel the story in a direction where the final season is one where the wheels comes off; or, you simply decide to save all of these moves for that time and hope that everyone is still with you. The latter is asking a tremendous amount of the modern TV audience, which grows bored very quickly and lives in a constant state of cynicism.
No matter what “The Walking Dead” decides to do, it is hard to dispute the claim that it is a great show. It may be the best horror-suspense title in television history. However, there are certain moments that transform a commercially successful show into a critical powerhouse like “The Sopranos” or “The Wire,” which AMC has borrowed from heavily when it comes to its cast. How it handles Glenn will be one of these moments; how they allow the trinity to rise or fall is another.
There are still thirteen episodes left in season 6, which is still plenty of time for the series to drop the hammer … and also plenty of time for viewers to once again be terrified of this zombie apocalypse.
CarterMatt Extended is a feature, comprising of in-depth articles on various TV topics posted every Wednesday night. If you want to sign up for news sent to you every week, you can do so on our Newsletter page.