This is another post I wrote for comicommand.com– https://comicommand.com/2016/04/07/glenns-role-in-the-walking-dead/
The Walking Dead comics are now on issue 152, and one of the comic’s most iconic moments came in issue 100. The character of Negan, the leader of the Saviours, appeared for the first time and beat Glenn to death by bashing his head in with a baseball bat. Not just any baseball bat, but a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire that is affectionately referred to as Lucille.
The season six finale of The Walking Dead is now behind us and AMC’s decision to leave the identity of Negan’s victim a mystery has already been the subject of heavy criticism from numerous fans, myself included. The decision appears to have been motivated by a desire to maximize the ratings for the season seven premiere and is a prime example of greed trumping art. Thinking about the dissatisfaction of the premiere also got me thinking why Glenn’s death is such an iconic moment in the comics. The Walking Dead featured the deaths of numerous main characters, so it is not the death itself that shocked and saddened audiences.
A key theme of the comics is the loss of innocence. This is most salient with Carl Grimes, who is seven when the events of the comics begin. Once reunited with his father, Carl quickly learns how to shoot a gun and soon displays a level of emotional strength and callousness that frightens his father at times.
While Rick’s group is on their way to D.C, one of the children, Billy, kills his twin brother. Billy doesn’t realize the impact of what he’s done, he simply reassures Andrea that his brother will come back since Billy didn’t ‘hurt his brain’. Through Billy, we see what can happen to an impressionable child trapped in this world. This fact is further driven home when Carl executes Billy while the rest of the group is sleeping. When Carl admits to Rick that he was responsible for Billy’s death, he is quick to argue that none of the adults would have been able to do it.
In many ways Glenn was one of the most innocent of Rick’s group. Despite their post-apocalyptic circumstances Glenn was one of the few members of Rick’s group that never killed another human being. Of course, this was not due to an outspoken moral objection on his part, but circumstances simply never presented themselves for a kill. As depicted in the show, Negan ambushes the group while they are on their way to another community. While Rick planned the trip in order to recruit more muscle, Glenn and Maggie were going in order to start a life together at the community. For Rick, Maggie and Glenn’s relationship was a sign that “…something good could still come out of all this.” Rick remembers Glenn as someone who saved him from being killed in Atlanta and repeatedly risked his life to get supplies for the group. Simply put, “Glenn was just…so good.”
The second and arguably more important aspect of Glenn’s death is the crushing realization that the group is not as powerful as they thought. After meeting another community, The Hilltop, Rick’s group learns of the protection racket that the Saviours run. In return for clearing the area of walkers, the Saviours take half of The Hilltop’s supplies. The deal is also the only thing preventing the Saviours from attacking The Hilltop. Rick is quick to offer his group’s help to get rid of the Saviours, in return for setting up a trading relationship with The Hilltop. Some fans were quick to write off the offer as poor writing in the show, since it seemed like a rushed decision on Rick’s part. However, Rick’s offer seems like an obvious one considering their circumstances. Their community, Alexandria, is running low on supplies such as food and medicine but Rick has confidence in the manpower he can offer. By this point in the comics, the group has defeated The Governor, cannibalistic hunters and several other threats that the world threw at them. After over a year together, thwarting these threats, the group came to Alexandria: a community that was literally and figuratively sheltered from the horrors of the outside world. Surrounded by numerous people who had never killed a walker or another human being, it became too easy for the group to see themselves as nearly invincible. Rick even refers to Negan and the Saviours as “hot air” prior to meeting them, arguing that he and his group have dealt with their kind before.
Rick’s outlook on the world isn’t poor writing, it is hubris. Like Icarus, Rick’s hubris is followed by a fatal fall. Once Rick and his group are on their knees, surrounded by Negan’s men and waiting to see who Negan decides to kill, it is made painfully clear that they do not have the world figured out as well as they thought. Once Negan makes his choice, Rick can only sit and watch while Glenn’s head is reduced to a messy pile. Negan lets them know that their way of life is over: “Might have even been a long time since the last person died before we came along”.
While the group stay on their knees crying over Glenn’s death, Negan lets them know that their first supply offering is due in a week. As Negan says “Ta Ta” we see Glenn’s body lying on the ground while the group cry a few feet away. That is how you do a cliffhanger.