Warning: this post contains spoilers.
In the ever-colorful exclamatory words of Abraham, “B!tchnuts.” The moment that fans of the comic book series have long dreaded – the “Red Wedding” of The Walking Dead – finally happened: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his barbed wire-wrapped slugger named Lucille made their debut in the last fifteen minutes of the season finale. But the real moment fans were afraid of – the moment when a favorite character dies, and dies ugly – kinda didn’t happen. To be certain, someone got killed, but the camera angle left the victim’s identity a mystery.
Before we dive into that mystery, here’s a quick rundown of virtually everything else in the episode leading up to that moment: Morgan found Carol; Eugene found courage and vainly attempted to stage a diversion; and the Saviors found Rick, Abraham, Sasha, Maggie, Aaron, and Carl and promptly delivered them (and Eugene, too) to Negan.
Glad that’s out of the way. Now, on to the big question: who was on the receiving end of that brutal beatdown?
SPOILERS! Just look at the cookies if you don’t want to know.
It’s 100% certain that Glenn died.
How do we know this? Let’s break it down, starting with a lineup of all the possible contenders:
From left to right, we see Glenn, Rosita, Daryl, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Rick, Sasha, Aaron, Carl, and Eugene (and Negan, standing in the foreground); it’s basically every principal character with the exception of Carol, Morgan, and Father Gabriel, all of whom wisely sat this scene out. Theoretically, any one of these eleven characters could have been the unseen victim, even Rick. But immediately before Negan begins to beat one of the eleven to death, he threatens, “Anybody moves – anybody says anything, cut the boy’s other eye out and feed it to his father, and THEN we’ll start.” Thus, neither Rick nor Carl can be Negan’s victim, given that one would have to be alive to chew said eye and one would have to still possess one non-pulverized eye for the other to chew.
That leaves nine.
From a storytelling outlook, at one point Maggie seemed like a leading candidate to suffer some horrible punishment. After all, she did strike the deal at Hilltop with Gregory that caused the strike on the Saviors’ compound for which Rick’s crew endures this punishment. But Negan also says something to Maggie that, like Rick and Carl, makes her ineligible. Regarding her visible sickness, Negan tells her “Jesus, you look shitty. I should just put you out of your misery right now.” Having demonstrated himself to be a sadistic, merciless killer within this episode, it would not follow if Negan were to kill someone for whom he deems death to be a mercy.
Negan’s reason for killing a member of Rick’s crew is both to punish Rick for the attack on the Saviors’ compound and to intimidate Rick and the survivors into working for him. Negan is blunt in his motivation: “I don’t want to kill you people – just want to make that clear from the get-go. I want you to work for me. You can’t do that if you’re dead, now can you?” For this reason, it is presumable that Negan would want to keep alive the bravest, most dutiful people to work for him. In particular, two men have proven to Negan they fit the bill: Eugene and Abraham. Eugene, for driving the RV alone on what amounts to a suicide mission straight into Savior territory, and Abraham, who all but volunteered himself Katniss-style to save the rest of Rick’s people. It may be mere conjecture, but it seems extremely illogical for Negan, if he values able workers, to kill either Eugene or Abraham.
Rick is the last character whose face is shown before Negan begins his batting practice, and the camera lingers on him for a bit while the audience hears Negan’s footsteps walking away. Returning to the order of the lineup, to Rick’s left are Sasha, Aaron, Carl, and Eugene. Carl and Eugene having been previously ruled out, that leaves only Sasha and Aaron, both of whom are too close to Rick to account for the number of footsteps (approximately eight) the audience hears. Buttressing the speculation concerning Maggie and Abraham’s likely survival, both are similarly too close to Rick to account for that many footsteps. Thus the victim is somewhat far to Rick’s right, a conclusion further supported by the direction toward which Lucille exits the frame in the shot of Carl immediately preceding Rick’s face.
The final four.
The title of this finale is “Last Day on Earth,” and for one character in particular it is the last day on earth. As previously noted, this is the character from whose blood-streaked vantage point the audience watches Negan’s assault before the screen fades to black, signifying that character’s death. Though seemingly a sudden shift in perspective, throughout the episode the audience has unwittingly shared that character’s point of view: just as the episode closes from the victim’s point of view, so too does it open.
These blurry, disorienting lights are the very first image the audience sees during the episode, and they come without any explanation. Toward the middle of the episode the lights return, more sharply defined; it’s obvious that sunlight is seeping in through small holes.
Each time this image appears it gradually sharpens until a figure can be seen.
Rosita, Michonne, Glenn and Daryl were captured in the previous episode, “East,” and Daryl was shot in his shoulder by Dwight the Savior, whose life Daryl had saved in the first half of season six – a demonstration of the adage that no good deed goes unpunished. Then, after Rick & Co. are captured and brought before Negan, Dwight opens a nearby vehicle’s door to reveal the four prisoners. The head and the hand at the bottom of the image belong to Daryl. The thin slivers of light were the only things visible to Rosita, Michonne, Glenn and Daryl while caged. Returning to the episode’s title, this is how the victim spent that titular last day on earth. The perspective from which the lights have been observed throughout the episode does not change, yet it’s clear that Daryl is in this character’s field of vision, thus Daryl is not the victim.
Furthermore, Daryl is weak from the gunshot. Midway through the beating, after the victim has seemingly remained somewhat upright (based on the camera angle), Negan remarks “Look at that – taking it like a champ.” Strong though he may be, Daryl is in no condition to put up much of a fight, so you can officially cancel the riot.
Rosita, Michonne, and Glenn could each have been the victim based on their distance from Rick (relying on the footsteps theory), their shared experience seeing the lights from the cage (relying on the perspective symmetry theory), and their physical strength (relying on the champ theory). But, by these criteria, Glenn is the most likely victim. He is physically farthest from Rick and from Negan’s last known location before the audience heard Negan walk toward the victim. Glenn is the last to emerge from the van and would have been in the best position to view both the lights and Daryl’s head. Glenn is also the only character out of all eleven to be shown staring directly at Lucille from an objective viewpoint; every other character was seen strictly from Negan’s point of view during the eeny, meeny, miny, moe piece. Regarding strength, Glenn is also the only character to challenge Negan, to try anything at all; thus we may conclude that his will to stand up to Negan is the strongest. He is the character most likely to have kept fighting even in his dying moments.
The final piece of evidence solidifying Glenn’s place as the victim of Negan’s demonstration of force is the simple fact that the character’s death was not shown. Considering that viewers already watched Glenn seemingly die earlier in season six, it would be anticlimactic to show his death a second time.
Sadly, there were no dumpsters in the woods to save him this time.
The Walking Dead won’t be back until October, but season two of Fear the Walking Dead premieres Sunday, April 10 at 9pm ET. To prepare for the show’s return, check out the season one recap below.