‘The Walking Dead’ Executive Producer: What ‘Actually’ Died at the Dumpster
Move over Jon Snow, there’s a new ambiguous on-screen death that has viewers demanding answers.
Last night’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead appeared to have added yet another casualty to its growing body count as fan-favorite character Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) fell victim to the massive zombie herd. However, a fiery debate rages on today as to whether or not Glenn really perished.
As Glenn and Alexandrian Nicholas (Michael Traynor) were racing back to the Safe-Zone, they were cornered by dozens of bloodthirsty walkers and were forced to take refuge on top of a dumpster. After Nicholas pulled out his gun and shot himself in the head, a dazed Glenn fell into the middle of the mob and appeared to be ravaged by the flesh-eaters.
However, many fans believe the walkers might be feasting on Nicholas’ corpse, which landed on top of Glenn, potentially shielding his body from any bites. Others have speculated that the whole sequence is a hallucination brought on by Glenn’s shock at the sight of Nicholas’ suicide.
We spoke to executive producer Dave Alpert about Glenn’s fate, how it will affect the other characters going forward and the severity of Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) hand injury.
So Dave, how has your day been?
I expected people to be sending me a lot of cookies and cakes, sort of sitting shiva, but instead I’ve been getting a lot of hate mail, and I’m a little surprised.
Why are you surprised? Glenn is so beloved!
Look, I love me some Steven Yeun as much as anybody else, but I didn’t actually kill Steven Yeun. Steven Yeun is not dead. That’s what happened with Glenn, but Steven Yeun is alive and well. And very handsome.
So is Glenn actually dead?
We will find out what happened to Glenn. That question will be answered, I assure you.
I cannot answer that question.
The Internet is buzzing with theories about what may or may not have happened. Were you always aiming for this level of ambiguity?
There’s an emotional arc that is coming to a close definitively in this scene. From our perspective, Glenn has always been the good angel on Rick’s shoulder. He’s always been the guy who gives everybody the second chance. He’s always been the guy that goes “Hey, let’s be human here,” as opposed to Shane (Jon Bernthal) or whoever else was on Rick’s other shoulder. That guy, the good angel, is now gone. Regardless of what happened and whether Glenn is alive or dead, that Glenn is dead. Nicholas put him in harm’s way. There are a million different ways that Nicholas could have handled that situation that didn’t involve himself shooting himself in the head. He could have just jumped into the crowd of zombies and been just as dead. He could have done that in a way that would have actually helped Glenn. He could have said, “Hey man, we’re both not going to make it, let me help you out, let me at least try this, and this way I’ll give you a chance.” And the truth is, if he had said that, Glenn being Glenn would have said, “No man, don’t do that, let me figure this out.” Even though it seemed like from the position they were in, there really was no exit. They seem like they were as up against it as anybody has ever been in the show. But Nicholas is only still alive in that episode because Glenn let him be alive. If Glenn had been Shane, if Glenn had even been Rick now, he would have killed Nicholas a long time ago.
How do you interpret Nicholas saying “thank you” to Glenn?
He’s thanking Glenn for believing in him, even though he’s not having been worth it. Because I think in that moment, Nicholas is recognizing that everything that Glenn feared he was, he’s saying he is. And at the same time, he’s thanking Glenn for giving him an opportunity to live a few more days. Ultimately, this whole show is all about morality. Glenn has embodied a very specific way of living in this world. He’s always been the good guy. It’s not saying he’s not a badass, and it’s not saying that he’s not capable of doing crazy things like when he went back to go get Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and tracked her down through the apocalypse. This is a guy who is fully capable and one of the more fearsome of all warriors, but he’s always also embraced a very good guy ethos. And last night, we saw the death of that. We saw Rick go full Shane. He didn’t say to those people outside, “Hey, we can work this out, let’s figure something out,” he picked up an assault rifle and mowed them down. And that Rick is not the Rick that we would have seen in Season 1 or 2, and it’s not even the Rick we would have seen in Season 3 or 4. This is a new Rick, hardened by the realities of this world. And Glenn calling Rick a “dumb ass” over the walkie-talkie was a direct link back to when he called him a “dumb ass” back in Season 1 at the end of Episode 1 at the beginning of Episode 2 when Rick was in the tank. That’s a direct callback linking those two together. And part of it is trying to establish that narrative. This is a conversation we’ve been having for six years as to how do you behave. That part of Rick is dead. Now that part of Glenn is also dead.
How does the death of this Glenn affect the others going forward, specifically Maggie?
The Alexandrians represent to some degree a more innocent version of our group. And I don’t mean innocent in the sense of naïve, but less experienced. These are people that haven’t had to face the realities of this new world in quite the same way. But then you’ve got a guy like Morgan (Lennie James) who we know has been full nihilist and back. He’s very much in the place where Rick was in the beginning of Season 4, where he had buried his gun and said, “That’s not who I am anymore, I’m a farmer now.” So the loss of good guy Glenn is going to be felt not just among Maggie and the rest of our survivors, but everybody on the show is going to feel the implications of that for years to come.
There was also some ambiguity last night about Rick’s hand and whether it was cut by a knife or bitten by a walker. Which is it?
It’s definitely played as ambiguous and I’ve seen a lot of pickup online of people saying, “Hey, is this a nod to the comic where he’s going to cut off his hand?” I would say that if it is zombie blood, either he’s going to have to cut off his hand or he’s going to have to die. Those are the rules of the world. But we’ll see that play out fairly quickly.
Speaking of the comics, Glenn’s comic death at the hands of villain Negan and his spiked bat, Lucille, is one of the most memorable in franchise history. Does last night’s episode affect how you’re going forward with Negan’s possible introduction to the show?
I would love nothing more than to get Negan into the show. I think Negan is one of the greatest villains ever. At the same time, as much as it demonstrates that Robert Kirkman is a sick f–k the way that he wrote that scene because it is still perhaps the most single disturbing image I’ve ever seen in a comic book, and I’ve been reading comic books for a long time. I would say the power of that scene comes from a few things, one of which is the randomness. It comes from playing a game of “eeny meeny miny moe.” And then there’s the humanity that’s instilled in it also when Glenn is trying to communicate with Maggie as his head has been bashed in. So I don’t necessarily think it’s exclusively connected to Glenn to introduce Negan. The same way that we had switched out Hershel (Scott Wilson) having his head cut off by The Governor (David Morrissey); it had been Tyreese (Chad Coleman) in the comics. So I don’t think it would be out of the realm of questions to introduce Negan with a different character being treated the same way.
Next week’s episode is another supersized 90-minute installment and, based on the preview, centers around Morgan. What can we expect?
I think Morgan has been one of the most fascinating characters on the show. We’ve seen him go from a bit naïve out there and trying to figure out the world in Season 1, then he comes back in Season 3 and has gone fully over the edge and embraced nihilism. And when he came back again in Season 5, he’s become the way of the peaceful warrior. To me, the pertinence of seeing those Wolves attack Rick shows that Morgan’s way is not working. And much as we saw the death of the good Glenn, I feel like Morgan is the other guy holding up that flag trying to live that way and be the good guy. Last night, we saw some of the consequences of that. Morgan, if nothing else, is incredibly smart and aware of how his worldview affects those around him. We’re going to see some of that play out not only in the next episode, but over the course of the rest of the season.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.