As the credits rolled on the latest episode of The Walking Dead, viewers took to social media to express their sorrow and sadness at what was obviously the death of Glenn Rhee. Unless we were specifically looking for it, the scene in which Glenn died contained no ambiguities: He’d fallen into a pit of zombies, they’d pounced on him, pulled out his guts and ate them. R.I.P. Glenn Rhee.
Viewers were crestfallen that they’d lost a fan favorite on the series, but they also understood: This is the nature of The Walking Dead, where anyone can die, even the most popular characters. Glenn’s death was a necessary reminder of that. Our hearts were heavy, but eventually, we’d move on.
Within 20 to 30 minutes of Glenn’s death, however, confusion set in. The Internet had already started rumbling about the possibility that Glenn had not died, that Nicholas had been used as a human shield, and that Glenn would find a way to escape. Because we love Glenn, there’s part of us that wanted to believe that he was still alive. When he didn’t show up on the In Memoriam section of The Talking Dead, and when Scott Gimple left a note saying that Glenn would be back on the show in some form to “complete the story,” that confusion morphed into something resembling both hope and disappointment: Hope that Glenn would come back! Disappointment that The Walking Dead had manipulated and tricked us.
By Monday afternoon, the sorrow, the confusion, and the hope had all metastasized into straight-up anger. We’d been hoodwinked! The Walking Dead had engaged in shenanigans! Critics were complaining that television’s “shocking deaths” were losing their power because no one stays dead. Glenn had been Jon Snow’d! The Walking Dead may have suffered a death more fatal than that of Glenn Rhee, Vanity Fair suggested: It had suffered the death of plausibility. How could Glenn possibly survive that?