Recap Digest: The Walking Dead 6.7, "Head's Up"

Nov 23, 2015 by Alex Castle

Well, that was lame.

The problem with the reveal that Glenn survived his stagedive into a mass of hungry walkers wasn’t disappointing because we wanted Glenn to be dead. It was because almost everyone on the Internet guessed exactly how the plot was going to play out weeks before the show confirmed it.

Fans guessing about what’s going to happen on their favorite shows is nothing new, but the best shows manage to keep us guessing even as they confound our expectations. Breaking Bad zigged when we thought it would zag roughly 10,000 times; so did Mad Men, Deadwood, The Sopranos, and The Wire. Just this morning, Game of Thrones cannily deflected this kind of disappointment by confirming with its teaser poster what everyone has been predicting: that Jon Snow is not (permanently) dead.

But this thing played out in the worst possible way, and while it’s nice to have Glenn back – he’s always been a favorite character – it feels like the show undercut some of its own rules and badly undermined the very thing that makes it tick: the implacable life-or-death stakes that come with literally every step these characters take in the zombie hellscape. After Glenn “died,” Rick’s predicament – being trapped in an RV with walkers on every side – suddenly seemed a lot more dangerous. If the show would kill a character it introduced in the second episode (or the end of the first, if just his voice counts) in such an offhand way, why wouldn’t it do the same to its main character?

Instead, the show took the easiest possible way out, not even bothering to show Rick’s escape from the RV and now showing Glenn surviving under the flimsiest of circumstances.

Apart from that, the episode was mostly sliding pieces into place for future conflict: Rick, Carol, and Michonne confronted Morgan about his reluctance to kill anyone; Carol figured out that Morgan is keeping a prisoner; Glenn forced Enid to return to Alexandria and managed to signal to Maggie that he’s alive; and Rick made the astonishingly poor decision to give handgun training to Jessie’s son Ron. The same Ron who had his girlfriend stolen by Carl and his father killed by Rick? The very same. What could possibly go wrong?

But in keeping with this whole season, which has ended every episode with a cliffhanger, this one closed on a humdinger, when the church steeple tipped over and took out a whole section of the fence around the Safe Zone. My guess is that the full cast will be reunited in next week’s midseason finale, with Daryl, Sasha, Abraham, Glenn, and Enid all returning to help deal with the breach. And it pains me to say that I have no reason to believe the showrunners will do anything to surprise us, but hope springs eternal.

Vanity Fair’s Elise Taylor laments:

It’s a shame, really. If done right, this is-he-or-isn’t-he gone plot it could have been a superb shot of adrenaline for the show, especially for the storyline of Glenn’s pregnant wife Maggie, who desperately tried to discover the fate of her husband for herself and her unborn child. Yet the moments like that, which should have packed an emotional wallop, were rather blasé—we didn’t feel worried for Maggie because we weren’t worried ourselves. And why should we be, with online headlines like “6 Reasons Why We Think Glenn Is Alive (and Going to Survive!) on The Walking Dead, Walking Dead: Eight Ways Glenn Could Still Be Alive — and One Theory Debunked,” and even our own, The Walking Dead: Is This Really the Last We’ll See of That Character?” What The Walking Dead hoped would be a source of a mystery, turned into almost a bad joke—when a Variety poll asked “How do you think we’ll see Glenn again?,” 62.08 percent responded “Alive—his death was clearly a fakeout.”

Alan Sepinwall of HitFix feels jerked around:

First they spent the next three episodes avoiding showing us what happened to Glenn (and with only one of those three even discussing Glenn’s fate at all), which only drew out this whole concept — and, worse, gave the fans an opportunity to crowdsource the solution. If Talking Dead didn’t exist — and didn’t have a well-established ritual for what happens when characters die, which that night’s episode then avoided — and if the spoiler industrial complex hadn’t additionally conditioned fans to expect showrunner and actor interviews after big deaths, Gimple could have simply gone radio silent for a few weeks, which might have stirred up some debate among fans about whether Glenn was alive or dead, but wouldn’t have put so many of them on the alive scent. What may have seemed clever in the planning stage instead turned into second cousin to the Edward James Olmos season of Dexter, where the audience figured out the twist long before the producers expected them to, but well after it was too late to change anything about upcoming episodes.

As to that solution that many of you guessed, and that the show used? Ridiculous. It requires that A)Nicholas' skinny little body was somehow able to block every zombie from getting a tooth or hand on Glenn, B)Glenn was able to squeeze under the dumpster, staying just out of reach of every zombie trying to claw at him, and, most maddeningly, C)The zombie herd — in a violation of every zombie rule the show has worked so hard to establish — just wanders away over time, despite there being no outside stimulus we’re aware of, despite Glenn being fresh meat they can smell very close by, and despite the rest of this episode reminding us that zombies will stand around forever if they know they’re near meat, and nothing distracts them.

Noel Murray of Rolling Stone is also frustrated:

What makes this all so frustrating is that anyone familiar with the source material knows the comics start getting really interesting around this point, by bringing in new characters and new challenges, based around the idea of what it actually takes to rebuild human society. Last week introduced some of those newcomers: enforcers from another community, sure to come back into play soon. And this week teased Deanna’s plan to start growing crops and expanding the Alexandria Safe Zone. But these have just been reminders of what the show could be doing right now, rather than almost offing folks.

That said, all the recent navel-gazing and near-misses hasn’t been a total waste of time. Morgan gives the proceedings a dramatic boost by answering to Rick and Michonne about his decision to set free a few of the invading Wolves — the same group that nearly killed our leader a few weeks back. The man with the ass-kicking stick skills made some strong points about the vagaries of cause-and-effect, pointing out that because Rick saved his life eons ago, he then saved Aaron and Daryl, in a rescue operation…which ended up tipping off the Wolves. If there’s one theme that has been holding strong this year, it’s the classic one about “best laid plans.”

And the A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen looks at how the episode fits into the season as a whole:

Cliffhangers aren’t new to the show, but at its worst, season six has felt like a lot of empty space between shocking moments. Time that could’ve been spent to make the Alexandrians worth caring about is spent instead repeating the same themes we’ve heard time and again: the world has changed, everything’s awful, you have to keep moving, life goes on, etc. It’s not dire (given how many positive grades I’ve given out, I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t enjoying a lot of this), but over time, it becomes less and less satisfying to watch.

The real problem is how rarely we get resolution, even of the small sort. With so much designed to keep us watching, so much designed to raise questions that won’t be answered till the following week (or the week after that), everything starts to feel like a kind of stall. Watching Spenser try and fail to get out of town is an intense sequence, and the aftermath is as close as this episode comes to making some kind of point (Tara telling Rick they’re all in it together, in direct contradiction to Rick’s “F–k these people if they get themselves killed”), yet it plays less like a contained unit of storytelling than it does a way to pass the time before the really important things happen.

Again, I’ve been enjoying this season, and the parts of it I’ve enjoyed the most are the parts that feel the most self-contained. (“Here’s Not Here” remains a highwatermark for me for a number of reasons, but the biggest is how complete it felt in and of itself.) This isn’t a new development; The Walking Dead has always pushed heavy serialization, and it’s always struggled to maintain the balance between season-long and episode-long stories. But the decompressed timeline of this batch of episodes, the way we keep circling around the same handful of ideas, is tiresome. Of course, that’s always been the show’s main problem: it has nothing to say that isn’t obvious. Six seasons in, it has become surprisingly eloquent, but eloquence alone won’t provide content.

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