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The Walking Dead season 6, episode 7: 5 things even dumber than you-know-what

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Lots of people have really stupid ideas in this episode.

The handsomest fellow in an episode full of 'em.
The handsomest fellow in an episode full of 'em.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

There are Walking Dead spoilers in this post. You probably realize that already, but here's a warning anyway.

Glenn's alive!

In terms of stupid things The Walking Dead has done, this one is right up there. It requires us to believe that while Glenn was lying amid a throng of zombies, covered only by another man's corpse (which was lying roughly perpendicular to his body, not parallel to it), not a single one of those zombies so much as took a tiny nibble of his pinkie, even as he was pulling himself under a dumpster.

Then we're supposed to believe that he managed to kill a bunch of zombies that reached beneath that dumpster in pursuit of him, without incurring any bites, so that he was sufficiently blocked and protected by dead zombies. And after that, he somehow survived long enough beneath the dumpster for all the remaining zombies to wander off (drawn away by what, we don't know). He wasn't even the guy saying, "Help!" on that radio last week — that was probably someone from Alexandria, which seems likely to be overwhelmed by zombies after the events that end this episode.

What's sort of amazing, however, is that Glenn's survival is far from the stupidest thing that happens in "Heads Up"! Maybe it's been long enough since the scene in "Thank You" where the character appeared to die that I'd simply become resigned to his survival. But there are a lot of dumb moments in this episode that almost seem to exist just to distract from the dumbness of Glenn's survival. Here are just a handful.

1) Spencer tries to crawl along a zip line above a horde of zombies

Spencer tries to climb a zip line over some zombies.
Spencer's no good, very bad idea.

This is the episode's single stupidest moment, a scene that has no real foreshadowing — unless you count Rick briefly mentioning that if someone could get past the horde, that person could get a car to draw the horde away, maybe. Spencer isn't in that scene. He's nowhere near that scene. He's not in the episode until he's spotted crawling across that zip line.

So this is a scene that asks us to get invested in a) a character we're not sure we care about, b) doing something recklessly stupid, and c) risking the lives of other characters we do somewhat care about. In and of itself, that's a terrible idea. But because it arises out of nowhere, with no foreshadowing, it becomes an even worse one.

A silver lining? Ultimately, I think the scene is meant to show that Rick is a little softer than he comes off in various other scenes, where he rants about how, say, Morgan needs to be harder and willing to kill people. Even though letting natural selection take care of Spencer is arguably the smart call, Rick and pals risk themselves to save his life. They might play at being tougher, but they've still got elements of the notion that every life matters.

2) Enid pulls a gun on Glenn at a moment when the show cuts to commercial

Glenn lives!
I'm betting Glenn will be just fine. That might be just me.

C'mon, Walking Dead. You can't believably put Glenn in danger this way, not right now. We know there's no way that Enid is going to kill Glenn. We also know there's really no way that the two of them don't become traveling companions on the way back to Alexandria.

On the one hand, this is just a weak commercial break. On another TV show, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But in the wake of Glenn's unlikely survival, it only underlines how unlikely The Walking Dead is to kill off anybody more important to its central core than a handful of bland Alexandrians we don't particularly care about. Glenn's non-death is slowly eroding any fear we have for the main characters — and it will be incredibly difficult for the show to reestablish that fear.

A silver lining? It's been kind of fascinating to watch The Walking Dead try to develop Enid into more of a character. I think this will inevitably reveal that she's working with some of the show's many villains, but I'm not intrinsically opposed to more character development for some of the Alexandrians. It just has to be done in non-clumsy fashion.

3) The episode mostly boils down to discussions of philosophy

Morgan is the philosopher.
Morgan: philosopher king.

This is one of those "good in theory; weak in execution" ideas that so bedevils The Walking Dead from time to time. In theory, I love the idea of Morgan refusing to take anybody's life and Carol, in particular, becoming suspicious about just what he might be hiding, while Rick insists that when push comes to shove, Morgan must violate that code. There are some rich interpersonal conflicts to mine there.

But in execution, the show mostly squanders this potential in scenes where characters sit around a table and talk about their opposing viewpoints. I'm not entirely sure why we need this, either! We've seen Morgan, Rick, and everybody else in action. We know how they feel about these things — and we've heard lengthy explanations for why they feel that way. This feels like so much padding.

A silver lining? Let's be real: The idea of the characters building a new society is the most interesting one The Walking Dead has come up with in quite some time. I don't think it'll come anywhere near close to making it work, but this is a show that occasionally snaps abruptly into focus. I'm hoping that happens here.

4) Ron walks up behind Carl with a loaded gun, possibly meaning harm

Carl and Ron, out for a stroll.
Look out, Carl! He's right behind you!

Since Ron took such an interest in learning how to use a gun, it's been obvious that he'll probably use said gun to hurt either Carl or Rick. So when he loads it and walks up behind Carl toward the end of this episode, it made me groan. There is no way you're going to make me care about a weird little tiff between these two teenage boys.

I actually don't mind Carl. I know a lot of Walking Dead fans despise him, but I like the idea of following this kid who grew up in such a horrifying landscape and seeing how he is and isn't like other kids. But involving him in an incipient love triangle isn't a great idea, to say the least.

A silver lining? It's hard to find one here. I guess there's the thought that a story of a society in which most everybody needs to have firearms would naturally lead to the question of how to deal with those who shouldn't be trusted with them. But I'm not sure we're going to get at that with dumb ol' Ron.

5) Everybody thinks Rick has great ideas

Rick's plans involve tools.
Ol' Ricky Saws-a-lot.

Of everything on this list, I think it's the notion that Rick knows what he's doing that keeps me from fully embracing this half-season of the show. In almost every way, the first portion of season six has been The Walking Dead's most ambitious stretch so far, from a storytelling perspective. Choosing to focus entirely on Rick's plan to move the zombie horde, its abrupt beginnings, and the fallout when it fell apart has been a bold stroke, and the variety of perspectives the show has provided on the story has been exciting to see unspool.

But I also can't escape the feeling that none of this is going to change anything fundamental about the show. Rick's plan was terrible. His follow-up plans have been almost as bad. And nobody seems to mind — not even Maggie, who may have lost her husband, so far as she knows, simply because Rick had such dumb ideas. I get that this show is about the burden of leadership most of the time, but it's hard for me to invest in Rick as a leader when his ideas seem not only bad but also poorly intentioned.

A silver lining? For Rick, at least, the silver lining is that Glenn isn't dead — a fact announced to the Alexandrians via a lovely image of green helium balloons (launched by Glenn from some distance off) floating through the sky. For us, the silver lining is that chaos is about to erupt, with the church steeple toppling and pulling down a section of the wall. Maybe in the aftermath, everybody will realize Rick's chasing his own tail. Or ... nah.

Join me for the weekly culture chat. Ask me anything you like in comments.

Glenn under the dumpster.
Glenn drags himself under a dumpster somehow. How many dumpsters have this much room beneath them?

Due to other things I have to attend (and the momentous nature of this episode), I'll answer questions throughout the day, rather than during a set time. As always, you can ask me about this show, other shows on TV, or any other culture questions you have. I'll answer 'em!

And please answer my question as well. This week, I'm asking: What piece of pop culture are you most thankful for this year?

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