the walking dead, glenn, steven yeunIf you watched last night's episode of "The Walking Dead," you've probably already cycled through the five stages of grief once or twice or thrice. But the last stage, acceptance, seems to be where many fans of the show have gotten stuck since then, and according to a couple theories floating around -- not to mention the ambiguous words of the show's producers -- there's a good reason for that.

For the first time this season, I received an advance screener of this week's episode, and was able to watch and write my recap before the show aired on Sunday night. When I saw what happened to Glenn, it seemed pretty obvious to me that he was dead. After all, Nicholas -- who had just shot himself in the head -- had taken Glenn down with him as he tumbled off that dumpster and into the hungry herd below them. Then, there was a fairly gratuitous shot of the walkers feasting on Glenn's innards, pulling organs out left and right and sending lots of blood oozing, as Glenn screamed in horror and pain, his face awash with anguish as he watched himself be consumed.

Except.

Except that, apparently, that maybe wasn't what I saw at all. As I tuned in to "Talking Dead" after last night's episode aired, eager to see what people were saying about Glenn's death, and perhaps to hear from the man who played him, Steven Yeun, I was greeted by a grim Chris Hardwicke, who kept talking about "what happened," never explicitly saying that Glenn had died. Glenn was notably missing from the show's "In Memoriam" segment, and Yeun was suspiciously absent from the guest couch. And then, showrunner Scott M. Gimple sent over a statement about the episode that made things even more confusing.

"Dear fans of 'The Walking Dead,'" Gimple's statement began, "this is a hard story to tell, and when we were planning to tell it we knew our friends over at 'Talking Dead' would be talking to you about it. And knowing you'd all be talking, and feeling, and commiserating, I knew we should say something about it, lest our silence say something we didn't mean to say, or not say. So I will say this: In some way, we will see Glenn, some version of Glenn, or parts of Glenn again, either in flashback or in the current story, to help complete the story."

Gimple's strange statement implies that there were numerous ways to read last night's episode, and that Glenn could, in fact, still be alive. It never once crossed my mind that what happened was ambiguous at all -- it seemed pretty clear that Glenn was dead, especially since the show made great pains to use that clever "dumbass" callback to season one, effectively bringing his character full-circle. But apparently, there's something else from season one that could also be in play here: the use of zombie guts to disguise the smell of humans.

The device has been deployed twice now on the show, first when Glenn and Rick drench themselves in innards to escape from a horde in Atlanta back in season one, and then again, when Carol did the same in the season five premiere. It could, theoretically, be possible for Glenn to have survived his harrowing ordeal if Nicholas's body landed on top of him when they fell into the waiting walkers, and the zombies were feasting on Nicholas instead of him. Then, soaked in Nicholas's blood, he'd go undetected by the zombies; all he'd have to do it wait for them to shamble off somewhere else, then he could slide out and make his escape.

I see a couple problems with this version of events: First, yes, Nicholas killed himself, so he was already dead when he took Glenn down with him. But were those few seconds enough time for his blood to change from human-smelling to (un)dead-smelling, enough so that that would effectively mask and protect Glenn? I'm not so sure. Then, of course, there's the fact that a horde of hungry walkers probably aren't going to stop chowing down on Nicholas's dead body immediately after they reach its end, but before Glenn's body begins -- and there's bound to a few undead folks who continue eating even when Nicholas is no more, right?

If you can suspend your disbelief enough to discount both of those scenarios (and considering you're a fan of a show about zombies, there's a good chance you're already skilled at belief suspension), then sure, it's possible that Glenn's alive. And the fact that he's one of the core characters of the series would certainly indicate that it wasn't quite his time to go yet. After all, we haven't lost a member of our season one gang since Andrea's death way back in season three; at this point, anyone from those early days is considered sacred, and their death would send enormous shockwaves not only through the fan community, but through the rest of the survivors on the show.

Therein lies the problem, though. We as viewers have already started to process, in some way, that Glenn is gone. Pulling a 180 now would cause a lot of whiplash, and honestly, I'd feel a little cheated. Sure, I liked Glenn a lot, and thought what happened to him was just plain stupid. I'll miss him, if he's truly dead. But these characters cannot be completely untouchable; there's no drama if every one of our original survivors is never truly in danger.

But more so, this forced ambiguity has really just put Gimple and co. in the impossible situation of getting fans' hopes up to the point that they're going to be incredibly dashed no matter what happens. If Glenn's death was a fakeout, then they've already shown their hand, and the suspense and surprise of a potential return is ruined. (Similarly, if he somehow makes a Sophia-style cameo as a zombie, again, the drama of that moment is lost and gone forever.) And if he's truly gone, they've just created false hope in an attempt to drum up controversy.

There's been a big show made of the fact that next week's episode is a 90-minute installment, and one of my Facebook friends cynically suggested that perhaps they've been so vague about Glenn because they want viewers to tune in live, and see whether he makes his big return (in whatever form that takes). My friend may not be wrong. As Alan Sepinwall points out, shows like "Talking Dead" make it pretty much impossible for ambiguity on television these days, since everything is immediately dissected and it's demanded that the creators explain themselves. (Uh, not that you should stop reading my recaps or anything, though. That type of dissection is good!) Gimple and co. may be hemming and hawing here because they don't want to discourage people from watching altogether. But their non-explanation explanation is maddening; those who didn't question what they saw now don't trust their own judgment (that would be me), and those who've been desperately searching for an alternative answer are still scratching their heads.

Whatever happens next week (or whenever Glenn's fate is next addressed), I'll still continue to tune in, because I'm invested in these characters and am curious to see what happens to them. But this week's debate may change just how much I enjoy it.

Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC

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