There are spoilers here. If you don't want Walking Dead spoilers, please don't read any further.
The Walking Dead is an equal opportunity murderer. The show has no qualms about offing its most pivotal characters. Good or bad, happy or sad, obnoxious or delightful — The Walking Dead does not discriminate. No one is safe.
On Sunday, the show might have committed its most ruthless killing yet. Glenn (Steven Yeun) appeared to meet his violent end in "Thank You" after falling into a herd of zombies. The beloved character has been a presence on the show since he muttered the words, "Hey you ... dumbass ... yeah, you in the tank" in its very first episode. Throughout the past six seasons, he's grown from a nimble, quick-thinking pizza delivery boy to a husband, leader, and valuable member of Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) inner circle.
Glenn is like a younger brother you've watched grow up. The Walking Dead has invested a lot of time into developing the character, and fans love him. That's why, despite all the evidence of his demise, many are still holding out hope and clinging to conspiracy theories that his death wasn't real.
Here are three of the biggest survival theories — the reasons people still think Glenn is alive.
Glenn's death scene in "Thank You," explained
The most valid explanation for why Glenn didn't die in Sunday's episode is twofold: Not only was he technically still alive at the end of his scene, but even though we saw zombies going to town on "his" guts, it's possible Glenn wasn't actually getting eaten by zombies.
The scene went like this: Glenn and Nicholas were trying to create a distraction when Nicholas, who has aggressively curly hair, decided to commit suicide by way of gunshot to the head and (unintentionally) dragged Glenn with him into an undulating mosh pit of zombies:
It looks like these guys are both dead. But that might not be the case:
Theory 1: Glenn had a human shield that allowed him to avoid being eaten
You can see that Nicholas's worthless body falls on top of Glenn and into the mass of walkers. Glenn pinned down, and doesn't get up right away because he's pinned down by Nicholas's corpse. The scene's final shot has Glenn looking down in horror while the zombies begin feasting on guts — but it's unclear whether said guts are Glenn's or worthless Nicholas's:
It's totally plausible that Nicholas, who isn't pictured, is still on top of Glenn. We don't know what position his body is in. Also the zombies are chewing on what appear to be intestines, which, based on how this scene was shot, appear to be located right below Glenn's neck. That's not how anatomy works.
But ... Glenn is dead: Let's say the zombies are eating Nicholas and not Glenn. What's he's supposed to do when they finish consuming Nicholas? How is he supposed to survive? He's going to die in the next episode, right? Well, there's also a theory that he shimmies his way under a conveniently placed dumpster:
Unless that dumpster can fly, Glenn is toast. And if it doesn't fly, and Glenn still lives, it might be The Walking Dead's worst close call in history. Regardless, let's just take a moment to appreciate the zombie extra on the left who looks like she's eating foie gras–fed lobster covered in truffles:
Theory 2: Glenn has an iconic, different death in the comic books — and the show hasn't yet reached that point in the story
The Walking Dead is based on a comic series of the same name by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore. And one of the most iconic moments in the comic series occurs in its 100th issue, when Glenn is killed in a spectacular, gut-wrenching, painful way.
In that issue, a villain named Negan psychologically tortures Glenn and the rest of survivors before beating Glenn to death, in front of his wife Maggie, with a baseball bat he affectionately calls "Lucille":
It's an act that shows the pure, ugly evil Negan is capable of. Glenn's story in the comics is similar to the one we've seen on the TV show: He grows up, gets married, and even has a son. At the time of his death, readers can't be blamed for expecting him to keep on growing. And his death is reminder of how surprising, fragile, and unsafe this world is. Why would the TV show opt to exclude this emotional, dramatic event?
But ... Glenn is dead: Though Glenn has an iconic death in the source material, that ultimately might not matter. The show doesn't always follow the comics, and there are characters alive in the comic books who are dead on the show and vice versa.
Theory 3: Glenn/Steven Yeun did not appear on Talking Dead, so the character must still be alive
One of The Walking Dead's grand traditions is that when a major character dies, the corresponding actor or actress appears on Talking Dead, AMC's Chris Hardwick–hosted Walking Dead aftershow, immediately following the episode in which the death happens. The character also appears in the show's "In Memoriam" montage. On Sunday night, neither of those things happened — Glenn was not seen in the montage, and Yeun was not a guest.
Instead, showrunner Scott Gimple released a statement that confirms that Yeun will continue to appear on the show, but did not say when, how long, or in what capacity:
"In some way we will see Glenn — some version of Glenn or parts of Glenn — again. Either in flashback or the current story to help complete the story," he said.
There's some misdirection going on here. And Gimple is definitely hinting at the possibility of Glenn coming back to the show as a Walker. Technically he wouldn't be dead, and if Zombie Glenn is killed in a future episode, that would allow Talking Dead to include Glenn in a montage and Yeun to come on as a guest.
But ... Glenn is dead: If Glenn returns as a Walker, he won't be the Glenn we've all come to love. He'll just be a groany, sentimental plot device employed to make Maggie and the other survivors feel really sad. He might as well be dead.