If you just finished watching The Walking Dead “Heads Up,” let the rejoicing begin and leave the recriminations for later. “Heads Up” resolved the question of Glenn’s survival, while leaving us wondering how the Alexandrians will survive the herd incursion. Season 6 of The Walking Dead has given us series of very unfortunate events taking place over two days. Some days are definitely worse than others.
In “Heads Up,” The Walking Dead gives us a character-driven episode, with some great drama at the start and the finish. With such a large cast, The Walking Dead has been effective at showcasing both old and new characters throughout Season 6. During Season 5 we didn’t feel quite as invested in Tara, Rosita, Abraham, Eugene, and even Sasha, but they’ve really come to feel like part of the old crew during Season 6. With the exception of Aaron and Deanna, it’s taken some time to feel engaged with the Alexandrians. As viewers we are more aligned with the stance of Rick, loyal to our original crew, than Tara, who believes the entire community has equal value. Yet the writers are doing well integrating the newer characters into the narrative, giving us a perspective similar to Michonne’s, where we can see the benefit of increased inclusiveness. Of course, The Walking Dead may just be playing with our emotions and all the Alexandrians could be dead by the mid-season finale. If that happens, who knows if we’ll ever be able to open our hearts again.
The best part of “Heads Up” was the first scene, when we learned Glenn was still alive. Is it farfetched to believe that Glenn could survive? Of course it isn’t. Glenn is a forager, fighter, thinker, and ultimately a survivor. Early on Glenn was responsible for many of the supply runs, which he often did by himself. Glenn is quick, strong, and resourceful. That was how he saved Rick in “Guts,” how he lived through an attack by a walker while tied to a chair, and that’s how he’s survived all this time. Critics may claim that The Walking Dead has sacrificed credibility by letting Glenn survive such difficult odds. Yet we were provided with enough evidence to make much of the audience question if Glenn was actually killed. We never saw him die, the intestines the walkers were eating couldn’t have been his by virtue of their placement and his consciousness, and there was that garbage dumpster conveniently behind him that everyone recognized as a potential escape route. These don’t seem like attempts to fool us into thinking he had died, but rather to leave us wondering if he found a way to survive.
In terms of a device to create suspense and drama, what happened to Glenn in “Thank You” was very effective. It created an extended dialogue in The Walking Dead community and kept us glued to our television each week. It was an exciting collective experience. Moving forward will viewers be more cynical about the risks to the main characters in the show? Perhaps, but we’re already pretty doubtful. More importantly, why kill off characters we love just to make us anxious about losing others? That doesn’t seem like a good way to keep viewers.
Hope and virtue, even in terrible and bloody circumstances, is what makes The Walking Dead different than a show like Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead has lots of grim and scary moments, like the wall collapsing, but also moments of goodness and moral strength, like Tara helping to save Spencer. The Walking Dead may have a horror movie vibe, but what draws a lot of viewers is the character-driven nature of the narrative.
Glenn has survived the walkers by crawling under the garbage dumpster as the walkers feast on Nicholas. He killed the walkers that were trying to attack him as he lay under the dumpster, which created a dead walker barrier around him. After a day and a night under the dumpster, the walkers have finally dispersed and Glenn crawls out. He is desperate for water when he hears, “Heads up,” and Enid, who is standing on the roof above the alley, throws him down a bottle of water. Had she been keeping an eye on Glenn all this time? How did she know he was alive under there? Glenn goes inside the building and asks her what happened in Alexandria, and she tells him, “What happens is what always happens, people die.” Is this regular teen angst or self-protective detachment? Glenn asks about Maggie, and Enid doesn’t respond. He looks for her, but she’s disappeared.
Up on the Alexandria wall watch, Rick tries to reassure Maggie, who is watching for Glenn. He suggests they can take their time to figure out how to clear out the walkers so “they can walk right in.” Maggie tells him that Judith is starting to look like Lori. Seeing Judith grow must give her hope for her own baby. Or else she’s thinking about what it’s like to be a single parent in the apocalypse.
Glenn comes across the gate where Michonne and the others climbed over. He finds David has become a walker, so relieves him of that fate. Glenn then finds the note for Betsy and takes it. Little does he know that Betsy slit her wrists when she found out David died.
The Future of Alexandria
Father Gabriel is putting up fliers for a prayer circle. Rick is still pretty disgusted with Father Gabriel and he tears down his fliers. Sure, we all hate Father Gabriel, but still that’s pretty mean, Rick. What a bully. Even Carl protests a little.
Rick is giving Ron shooting lessons, with Carl along to provide patronizing tips. Ron makes suggestions about how they can practice shooting despite the walkers outside the walls, but Rick gives him a withering look. It starts to feel awkward and Ron says he just wants to learn. Carl tells Ron, “You will.” Ron looks at Carl with hate in in his eyes, but Carl is too arrogant to notice.
Dr. Denise sees Morgan outside and asks him what he needs. He seems tentative, acting like he doesn’t need anything. Before she can talk to him further, Rick walks by and suggests to Morgan that they talk now. It sounds like a suggestion, but with Rick, there’s no such thing, only directives.
Rick, Michonne, Carol, and Morgan sit down and talk. Rick calmly explains that there were five wolves who tried to kill him and shot up the RV so he couldn’t lead the walkers away. Carol saw Morgan with the five. Rick asks Morgan if he let them go. Morgan acknowledges he did, saying he didn’t want to kill five people if he didn’t have to. Morgan asks why Rick spared him back in King County after Morgan had stabbed Rick. Rick tells Morgan that he didn’t kill him because he knew who he was. Morgan tells him:
“Back there I would have killed you as soon as look at you. And I tried. But you, you let me live and then I was there to help Aaron and Daryl. See, if I … if I wasn’t there … if they died … maybe those wolves wouldn’t have been able to come back here. I don’t know what’s right anymore. ‘Cause I did want to kill those men. I seen what they did, what they keep doing. I knew I could end it. But I also know that people can change. ‘Cause everyone sitting here has. All life is precious.”
Morgan has thought about letting the idea go, but the philosophy is what keeps him going. When Rick asks Morgan if he thinks he can make it now without getting blood on his hands. Morgan doesn’t know.
As life goes on within Alexandria, the guard tower outside the wall, which was hit by the truck, is cracking. The pressure from all the walkers around it probably doesn’t help any.
Michonne and Rick talk about how they can lead the walkers away. Rick only wants to use their own group, not any of the Alexandrians. He justifies it by saying that they haven’t even had time to catch their breath. Michonne responds, “Really? We’re in here together. We’re catching our breath right now. Anything else is just excuses.” Deanna approaches them with the plans for the expansion of Alexandria. She seems excited. Rick tries to brush her off and Deanna tells him, “These are for what Alexandria can be after this. Because one way or another there’s going to be an ‘after this’.” Seeing her happily handing over the drawings makes us think that either Deanna’s going to die or Alexandria will be overrun.
Rosita is giving machete lessons. Eugene is learning along with the other weapon novices. Eugene seems tentative and scared. When Rosita asks what he’s scared of, Eugene replies, “Dying,” in his sarcastic way. But Rosita knows Eugene all too well and gives it back to him:
“Dying is simple. It all just stops. You’re dead. The people around you dying, that’s the hard part. Okay? ‘Cause you keep living knowing that they’re gone and you’re still here. What you should be scared of is living knowing that you didn’t do everything you could to keep them here.”
Making the Journey
Back at the town outside Alexandria, Enid is hanging at the diner. In another world she’d be sitting here with her friends, making fun of someone. But instead she’s written ‘JSS’ on a check to remind herself she’s got to find a way to survive. Glenn surprises her by coming in the back and tells her that she needs to leave with him. She’s not on board and asks why he insists on taking her. Glenn says that Maggie wouldn’t want him to leave Enid behind. We don’t actually think Glenn would want to leave Enid behind either, but then again, she is kinda annoying. Enid pulls a gun on him. (See what we mean about the annoying?) Glenn doesn’t look like he’s in a mood to tolerate any teenage crap. Seems like she should be a little scared of this tough dude who is desperate to get home to his wife. Knowing that she won’t shoot him, he takes the gun from her. Glenn tells Enid that half the herd broke off and they’re headed towards home. He calls Alexandria home, which is sort of sweet.
Rick is adding support to the wall and Tobin comes to give him a hand. Tobin suggests they could build a brace. Tobin’s cool. We hope he doesn’t die. As Tobin and Rick work on the wall, Tobin tells Rick how much he frightened people when he first arrived in Alexandria:
“The way you looked around like you were seeing things we weren’t … hiding around corners. Turns out you were. Things moved slow here. And then things just started moving fast. Too fast. But don’t give up on us.”
Glenn and Enid are walking towards Alexandria, and she’s still being sulky. They arrive at a place where some green balloons are tied to the side of the road. The balloons were left here as part of the walker herding plan, to be used as a signal. Enid goes to collect them, suggesting they can use them to distract the walkers. Glenn isn’t the only survivor here.
As they fill up more balloons, Glenn asks Enid where she lived at home. Enid is quick to point out that Alexandria is not her home. She lived at Olivia’s place but was pretty much on her own. When she says she was orphaned by walkers, Glenn responds, “Me too. Probably.” Enid responds in her goth manner, “It’s just what happens.” Glenn calls Enid out on being scared, which she denies.
Glenn: “Yeah you are. You don’t want to lose anything again, so you give up and you say, ‘That’s just what happens.’”
Enid: “I don’t need a lecture.”
Glenn: “Yeah, I think you do. You honor the dead by going on. Even when you’re scared. You live because they don’t get to. You think your parents wanted you waving around a gun because you’re afraid?”
Enid: “We don’t have to talk. We don’t have to talk.”
Glenn sounds like he’s giving a Rick speech, and we like it. Glenn is already practicing being a dad. Perhaps Glenn and Maggie will take on the task of raising Enid. They could use an older sibling figure, like Carl, to help with the babysitting. Isn’t that what older kids are for?
Glenn and Enid arrive outside of Alexandria and find it’s surrounded by walkers. Enid starts to walk away and Glenn stops her. She tells him, “The world is trying to die. We’re supposed to just let it.” Glenn tells her she’s wrong, and he’s not going to let her die either. He points out the wall and the houses are still standing, and they can find out the rest. It appears that Glenn’s brush with death hasn’t changed who he is. He remains compassionate and altruistic.
Not in the Plan
In Alexandria, Ron distracts Olivia so he can sneak into the gun closet for some bullets. Hmmm. That’s what you get for teaching him how to shoot, Rick.
Rick and Tobin discover that Spencer has thrown a grappling hook over to a building just outside the wall, and is climbing across the line as the walkers below wait for a snack. Rick yells for him to come back, but Spencer ignores him. Before Spencer makes it across, his line breaks and he falls to the ground amongst the walkers. Rick tries to pull Spencer up with his rope and Tobin comes to help. Tara tells Eugene to tell Rosita and Maggie to fire their guns from the posts, presumably to try to draw some of the walkers away from Spencer. Tara climbs onto an outside support beam of the wall and begins shooting at the walkers around Spencer. When she runs out of bullets Michonne helps her back over the wall. Morgan arrives to help Rick and Tobin and the three men are finally able to pull Spencer back up.
Once Spencer is safe, Rick lets out his frustration on Tara, yelling at her, “Tara! You almost died once for these people. …What the hell were you doing?” Tara gives Rick the finger while Michonne glares at him. Seems like Rick still doesn’t see them as one community. Spencer tells Rick he was trying to help by climbing across to get a car so he could lead the walkers away. Rick tells him, “You want to help? Don’t make us come running to save you. You got an idea, you come to me.” Rick makes a good point, but Spencer does as well when he responds, “Would you have listened to me?”
Morgan comes back to see Doctor Denise. Denise assumes he doesn’t have faith in her, but he tries to give her some faith in herself. He explains that he’s reluctant to involve her in his secret. He tells Denise, “It’s not my wound.”
Carol is ever vigilant, even when she’s babysitting. She sees Dr. Denise follow Morgan. She is one smart cookie monster. She follows them and watches as they go into the basement holding cell.
Carol brings Judith to Jessie, but Jessie needs to put her art materials away before she can take the baby. Sam, who still will not come downstairs, hears Carol, the bravest adult he knows, and calls to her.
Carol. “What, Sam? Sam?”
Sam: “What happens if you can’t live with it?”
Carol: “I told you, it eats you up. Can you come down here? I can barely hear you.”
Sam: “The people who came, were they the monsters? Did my dad turn into one?”
Sam: “If you kill people, do you turn into one of the monsters?”
Carol: “The only thing that keeps you from becoming a monster is killing.”
Jessie comes back out and takes Judith, and Carol leaves. Wonder what Jessie would’ve thought of the advice Carol is dispensing. Doesn’t seem like it will lead to anything good.
Carol goes to the basement cell, using her own key to get in. Morgan meets her at the door and Carol says, “Who the hell do you have in that cell?” We love the tension between these two killers with opposing ideologies.
As Ron follows behind Carl, he takes out the gun he’s carrying. It sure looks like Ron is going to shoot Carl. But that seems silly. If he wanted Carl to die he could have just let him go over the wall to find Enid and never tell anyone. There was a very good chance Carl would’ve died and they’d be no repercussions for Ron. Who understands how these teenagers think?
Meanwhile, Michonne looks at Deanna’s plans for Alexandria. Deanna has developed a plan to build a mill as well as to plant crops.
Rick apologizes to Tara. He tells her that she didn’t have to do that for Spencer, that she could have died. He asks why she did it. Tara tells Rick, “That’s how it works with us. We’re stuck with each other, right?” We love Tara for her comic relief, but she’s pretty great in earnest moments like these too.
Deanna approaches Rick and thanks him for saving Spencer. He explains that he could have used Spencer being attacked by the walkers as an opportunity to get past them and get a vehicle himself. Deanna points out that he didn’t, that instead he helped Spencer.
Rick: “I helped save him because he’s your son.”
Deanna: “Wrong answer.”
Maybe there’s a part of Rick that is coming to see them all as one community. It could be that as he’s changing Alexandria, the community is influencing him as well.
They see the green balloons flying over Alexandria! Maggie runs to Rick and says, “That’s Glenn. That’s Glenn.”
Just then they hear a noise, and turn to watch as the guard tower falls right through the wall.
“Heads Up” had some illuminating moments between characters. We would have never expected Glenn to so easily read Enid. It was entertaining to see a teenager on The Walking Dead act like a real teen—a very badly damaged teen, but still a cranky, rebellious adolescent. We have missed seeing more of Eugene, and the moment between him and Rosita gave us a lot more respect for her. It’s hard to believe that Rosita hasn’t been a weapons trainer her whole life—she’s a natural. Tobin has been one of the Alexandrians who’s been more supportive of the new group. As they worked together you could see the different leadership qualities of both men. The scene with Rick, Carol, Michonne, and Morgan hinted at how the philosophies of these very, very dangerous people merge and diverge, with Carol and Morgan at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The strong character development in “Heads Up” grounded us while also promising a lot to look forward to in the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead.
I’d have to disagree about Glenn’s survival being effective. Yeah, it was an easy to spot fake-out, but that’s partially the point- it felt like the show creating false drama when a. Glenn’s death wasn’t witnessed by anyone, Steven Yeun didn’t appear on Talking Dead after his supposed death, as Emily Kinney did, and that dramatic music played when the walkers ripped apart Nicholas framed this all like some big moment, when it was just contrived. Yeah, Glenn’s time wasn’t supposed to happen yet, but there’s no reason to string along susceptible viewers even though, again, there was no real reason to think the show would kill him off without someone knowing. That said, Glenn must have had luck on his side for the walkers to eventually ignore him or not claw at his legs while he got under that dumpster. Contrivances aside, the highlight may have been Tara giving Rick the finger. Rick may be a practical thinker, but even he needs a reality check once in a while.
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