Heads up, indeed. Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead begins with a confirmation of almost everything you likely suspected about Glenn’s fate. Hasn’t every episode since “Thank You” constituted a form of advanced warning—a wink of sorts that one of the show’s most beloved characters had yet to reach his sell-by date? This, at least, explains the anticlimactic tenor of the opening minutes. Yes, it’s Nicolas’s (Michael Traynor) corpse, after falling atop Glenn (Steven Yeun), from which a group of zombies pulls out a string of entrails. And, yes, it’s in the ghoulishly agonizing heat of the moment that he inches backward and beneath the dumpster from which he fell.
“Heads Up” only briefly basks in Glenn’s survival. As the zombies situated around the dumpster disperse, toward the gunfire at Alexandria, the sentimental score commemorates our relief. The show, even though it’s explicitly trolled audiences since “Thank You” aired, has never led us too far astray from the truth—it’s always been lying there beneath our noses—for Glenn’s reemergence to merit further fanfare. And so it gets down to business almost right away. From the roof of a nearby building, Enid (Katelyn Nacon) throws Glenn some water, after which her trajectory away from Alexandria is complicated. She ran away from the safe-zone at the end of “JSS,” and for reasons that are still unclear—though they may have something to do with either the Wolves or the new characters introduced in last week’s “Always Accountable.” Glenn, glad to be alive, is eager to keep her that way too.
From there, the episode proceeds to efficiently, if predictably, tie up a series of loose ends. Glenn stumbles upon the zombified David (Jay Huguley), putting him out of his misery before finding the note he wrote for his wife, Betsy. A distraught Maggie (Lauren Cohan), still holding out hope back at Alexandria, is clearly on his mind, and by the end of “Heads Up” she comes alive as a bundle of green balloons is seen floating in the sky above. Running toward Rick (Andrew Lincoln), she understands it as a sign from Glenn. Rick nods in quiet affirmation, and the moment speaks poignantly to how these survivors have come to intuitively understand one another. Actions speak louder than words for this group of survivors, as similarly evinced by the stern manner with which Rick earlier asks to speak with Morgan (Lennie James) and, later, the passive aggressiveness with which he pulls down Gabriel’s (Seth Gilliam) adverts for a prayer circle.
Later, as Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carol (Melissa McBride) stand by, Rick questions Morgan about why he didn’t kill five Wolves during the raid at Alexandria. The scene confirms that, when Rick was attacked while sitting inside the RV at the end of “Thank You,” he made the connection between the jar of baby food he pulled from one of his victim’s bodies and a likely attack on Alexandria. (If you failed to connect those two dots, it’s because the Wolves who charged into the RV were barely glimpsed by the camera.) More purposefully, the scene allows Rick and Morgan to exchange ideas about the ethics of responsibility. “All life is precious,” says Morgan, and by the end of the episode, The Walking Dead reveals that Rick has taken the line to heart.
Pity that the rest of the episode is so conventionally portentous and beholden to more of the wearying table-setting maneuvers that have plagued the last few episodes. Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), now a fragile shadow of her former self, brings Rick her plans for the safe-zone’s expansion—because, one way or the other, there will be an “after this.” That Alexandria will need to rewrite itself is hinted at through perpetual cutaways to a nearby structure outside the safe-zone’s gates that ominously threatens to collapse. There’s also the blood that continues to spill through the hole in the wall surrounding the community, now unmistakable as a sign that the zombies are pushing so hard against each other that they’re juicing themselves to a pulp. Something, the series says, is going to give, and soon.
As Glenn and Enid make their way back to Alexandria, as Rosita (Christian Serratos) instructs the citizens of the safe zone on how to efficiently drive a blade into and out of the human body, and as Tobin (Jason Douglas) helps Rick to fortify the wall, Spencer (Austin Nichols) decides to go over it. It’s one of the least convincing moments—at least the most random—of a character going rouge in the show’s history, perhaps because it exists so transparently to remind us yet again that Rick, in swooping in alongside Tara (Alanna Masterson) to rescue Spencer, as opposed to letting him die and exploiting his death by leading the zombies away from the safe-zone, isn’t as nihilistic as he might often seem.
“Heads Up” culminates with no less than three cliffhangers. The first partially ties up yet another lose end, strongly confirming that Morgan has been caring for the Wolf who still remains within Alexandria—the same one he refused to kill at the end of “Here’s Not Here.” As Morgan presumably leads Denise (Merritt Wever) to the wounded man, Carol senses something is awry, but before she can investigate, she runs to hand off baby Judith to Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge). This leads to a tender exchange between Carol and Sam (Major Dodson), still too frozen by the horrors of the outside world to make it down the stairs of his house. “What happens if you can’t live with it?” he asks, to which she tries to usher him off the ledge of despair, not unlike the way Glenn reaches out to Enid when she, upon seeing the zombies surrounding Alexandria, hauntingly says, “The world is trying to die. We’re supposed to just let it.”
These two scenes depict adults who knew the world before the zombie apocalypse trying to give the young a sense of purpose, to instill in them a belief in the world that isn’t rooted in annihilation. It’s a lesson that Ron (Austin Abrams) seems far from learning. After stealing bullets from the ammo closet and ominously following Carl (Chandler Riggs) toward the wall, one senses that, maybe as early as next week, Rick’s son might meet the sort of fate that would, in part, finally give real purpose to his long and mangy head of hair. Just about the only thing that “Heads Up” doesn’t reveal is the identity of the person who uttered “help” from a walkie talkie at the end of last week’s episode, but as the building adjacent to Alexandria falls to the ground and brings down a portion of the safe-zone’s wall, it might as well have been this community’s collective cri de coeur.
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