The Walking Dead is squeezing every ounce of direct cause-and-effect storytelling out of the quarry plan this season, a sensible approach given the sheer scale of that undertaking. So far, it’s resulting in a season that has ping-ponged between the group at Alexandria and the others carrying out the safe zone-saving mission.
As a result, “Thank You,” returns us to the plight of Rick, Glenn, Michonne, and the rest of their troupe, but it may very well indicate this is a group we might not see for another two episodes. And that will be one hell of a while to wait to find out definitive proof of Glenn’s fate.
Yes, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first — Dalton Ross already laid out a good case for why Glenn both may or may not still be alive, so I won’t retread all of that ground. (I will say I’m inclined to agree with him that Glenn is still alive. The way the scene is shot telegraphs that to me, and the mere timing of it within the episode feels off for such an important character’s death. But, yes, it is tough to believe a stray set of walker chompers wouldn’t have at least grazed him in the moment.) But I will say that the focus on Glenn is indicative of how “Thank You” approached following this group as they flee home in the wake of the horn.
Rick takes a back seat to their plan, going off on his own to pick up the RV, but not before he sets into motion much of the strife that will beset Michonne, Heath, and the others as their trip home takes more than a few dangerous turns.
And it’s a journey full of horrors from minute one. The fragility of the group out on the zombie-herding plan, including a mix of familiar faces and lesser-known Alexandrians, is on full display as soon as they make a break for home.
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Rick radios around to alert everyone to the herd. Tobin doesn’t answer. Daryl does and wants to head back to town to help, but Rick tries to dissuade him of it. And the immediate group around Rick is similarly in a panic. Nicholas is having some sort of panic attack, Annie hurts her ankle while following, and there’s some general dissent about whether this is all Rick’s fault.
Luckily, Rick doesn’t hear any of that dissent before telling the group to head home. He offers a bit of warning to Glenn and Michonne — “They aren’t all going to make it.” He wants the two of them to do what they can, but some of them will fall. It’s paramount at least the two of them make it back, a sentiment Heath overhears.
But already one of their numbers, Barnes, falls thanks to a lone walker. It’s a telling moment for the group. The more native Alexandrians look on in some horror as Rick picks their fallen comrade’s body for supplies. It’s a cold, dark world out here, and they’re about to learn what that means.
So Rick heads off on his own while the rest of the group travels in a tight-knit circle through the forest. There’s confusion and concern among them, but Michonne does her best to calm them. “We’re going to catch up with a lot of things, and we’re gonna end them. We’ve got no choice. We’ve got to keep moving forward,” she tells the Alexandrians worried about moving in the same direction as the walkers shuffling toward Alexandria.
And they soon come across a mess of walkers in the forest. Michonne, Glenn, and Heath lead the strike, with a few other Alexandrians doing their best to fight. Except for Sturgess, that is.
NEXT: Michonne finds common ground with a dying man [pagebreak]
The poor guy can’t handle the pressure and scurries off, leaving the rest of them to fight off the pack. Scott, one of the runners, is attacked, and his leg is also injured, while another Alexandrian, David, is bitten. The trek home starts off on the wrong foot, and is only set to become more dangerous as they inch toward Alexandria.
They find their way to an open road, where David tells Michonne about himself. And it’s important because there is a “himself” to describe — he had once given up on being anyone or anything, but meeting Betsy allowed him to find who he was. Betsy was his life raft, and Michonne can relate to feeling like who she was had disappeared in this mess of an existence. All he wants, now that he’s been bitten, is a chance to say goodbye, and Michonne wants to provide him with that opportunity.
The group eventually comes to a cluster of abandoned cars and buildings along the open road. Their investigation of the area gives them little in the way of transportation, and Glenn is worried about its safety. He wants to get home to the group and, more importantly, to Maggie, and this pit stop to patch up Scott worries him.
The spot just so happens to be one of past trauma, too. This is where Nicholas’ runner group lost some of its numbers. But that luckily means he knows the area and how to best make it home. So he takes the lead, only to find Sturgess’ hat alone on the ground moments later on the main road. Nicholas takes them down an alleyway instead, only to find Sturgess being eaten by a pack of walkers, inciting more panic within the group’s current leader.
And their situation doesn’t improve when they head back out onto the main road. Walkers are shuffling by at both ends, so the group decides to hole up in the world’s most-depressing pet shop. Although it may be a safe place from the dangers outside, the shop acts more like an incubator for the tensions within the group. Heath doesn’t quite trust Michonne’s words about patching up and protecting the group, as true as they might be.
“I’m trying here,” she tells Heath, but he’s not so sure she’s trying for anyone but herself and Glenn. Speaking of Glenn, he has a plan to distract the herd by lighting a building on fire. Michonne wants to take his place so that he can make it back to Maggie, but he says Maggie is the exact reason he has to do this. Even if he doesn’t make it back in time, he wants Michonne to take off without him despite her protests. He’ll find a way to show them he’s alive, and, somewhat begrudgingly, he allows Nicholas to come with him after he suggests a certain feed store to ignite.
The plan in place, Glenn takes a moment for himself. He radios Rick, who just so happens to come across a group of walkers, alerted by Glenn’s voice. Rick takes them out as Glenn warns him of the plan and what signs to look out for should he know he’s safe.
(ASIDE: The scene also offers one of the best foreshadowings indicating Glenn’s death is genuine. “Good luck, dumbass,” Glenn says over the radio as a farewell to Rick, a callback all the way to their first interaction with each other in season 1. It’s the kind of knowing line you drop in to signal a character’s end OR, if you refuse to believe it’s the end like me, a nice fake-out. END ASIDE)
NEXT: Michonne tells Heath what Rick really meant [pagebreak]
Back at the pet store, Heath is patching up Annie and Scott, who both want Heath to leave them behind. They’re slowing him down, but he refuses to leave his people behind. It’s not something his group does, a statement he pointedly makes to Michonne, who takes that attempted burn with some indignation. Sick of his anger, she finally confronts him. He tells her about overhearing Rick’s warning and thinks that he can expect the same cold approach from Michonne and Glenn.
She bats that idea away immediately. Glenn is risking his life, and Michonne is still there trying to protect their lives. “Rick said what he said because sometimes you don’t have a choice,” Michonne explains, yet Heath continues to protest that isn’t his way of doing things.
“Because you haven’t had to do it any other way,” Michonne says, fighting back in a tremendous speech from Danai Gurira. “You haven’t been through it… Have you ever done things that made you feel afraid of yourself afterward? Have you ever been covered in so much blood that you didn’t know if it was yours, or walkers’, or your friends’?”
She refuses to let her loyalties be doubted, but she also will not let her life experiences be cast aside because someone thinks they know better than her. It’s a powerful moment, one that showcases the Alexandrian way of life was nice in theory, but in practice it may not have prepared them for the realities of the world.
And that lifestyle has certainly not prepared Nicholas for the world outside Alexandria’s walls, but Glenn wants him to know he’s grown into a better person than he once was. They come across a walker pinned down who was a former runner in Nicholas’ party. They left him behind, and so Nicholas wants to be the one to free whatever is left of him from the horrible walker existence.
That moment of personal growth is undercut by the gunfire that rings out from Alexandria. The pet shop group watches from inside as the horde passes by toward the gunfire. They’ll make a break for the feed store as soon as this group clears so they can meet up with Glenn and Nicholas. And Michonne stays true to her word about wanting to see them all safely home. When David gives her a note for Betsy should he not make it, she hands it right back to him. She instead writes him a note back: “You’re getting home.” It’s a promise that will prove difficult to keep, but it’s one Michonne must silently give as they await the zombie masses.
But the plan goes awry, as it so often does, when they hear banging from a door in the back of the shop. Walkers are hidden behind an adorable wall poster of a dog, and the noise alerts walkers outside to their position. The timing couldn’t be worse, as the massive herd heading toward Alexandria is also feet from their door. So they make a break for it. At first they consider the feed store, but instead they follow Glenn’s directive to flee.
Yet moments into their escape Annie falls and is overtaken by walkers, leaving a group of four to fend for themselves. To make matters worse, Glenn and Nicholas arrive at the feed store only to find it already burned down, and two massive group of walkers are closing in on them from both sides of the street.
Michonne and her group find themselves pinned down an alleyway, a fence blocking the way and Scott’s leg issues proving problematic. They push him and Heath over the wall first while Michonne and David attempt to climb with walkers clawing at their feet.
NEXT: Double alley deaths [pagebreak]
Down another alley, Nicholas and Glenn find themselves stuck with nowhere to go. To their backs is a fence where walkers are already clawing, and in front of them the sea of chasing walkers begins to crash down upon them.
The first death comes with Michonne’s group, as David becomes walker food and his note to Betsy lost to the undead masses. The remaining trio runs after a moment of abject horror, watching as he is eaten alive.
And as for Nicholas and Glenn, with no fence to safely scale, they climb on top of a dumpster, standing like rock stars on a stage surrounded by concertgoers. Only these concertgoers want to kill and eat their flesh.
It’s undoubtedly a horrific scene to be caught in the middle of, and the chomping, decaying ocean of undead sends Nicholas into a fit. He’s realized this is the end, and even Glenn trying to snap him back to reality can do nothing.
“Thank you,” Nicholas says to Glenn before pointing a gun to his head, sending himself careening into Glenn as the two fall down into the mass of walkers. Down at the feet of the undead, Glenn watches as blood spills over his body, crying out in anguish at the scene. (Having watched it three times as of this writing, I’m still convinced Glenn is alive, not only for the reasons mentioned above but because the blood appearing to flow over him seems to be oozing out slightly above his own torso. The framing and angling of it all indicates he is certainly not the one being torn open at that moment, but there is certainly enough evidence to suggest this could have been Glenn’s end. And I may just very well be in denial.)
It is at least not the end for Michonne, Heath, and Scott, who find a bit of safety in the forest. There is no smoke in the sky, however, and so they can do nothing but continue on home and merely assume what might have happened to Nicholas and Glenn. But it’s also a moment in which Heath seems to begin to understand the gravity of the world outside Alexandria’s walls, what that world demands and what it is willing to take. He sees his reflection, a face covered in blood. I’d guess he wouldn’t be able to say definitively just whose blood it is.
The long and winding road home is no less bloody for Rick. He’s making his way to Sasha, Abraham, and Daryl, but Daryl has gone off on his own to Alexandria. Rick radios to the three of them that they must keep moving on and not rush home because of the gunfire. Moving forward is for those they care about. Going back home to them now would be a selfish move, he reasons, unaware of Daryl’s detour.
But Daryl is brought back from his solo trip when he hears gunfire over Rick’s radio. The RV has been ambushed, at first by two men who Rick makes short work of, but in that time his radio silence forces Daryl to reconsider his actions.
Rick kills the two assailants, only to discover a jar of baby food in one of their pockets…and several more ambushers sneaking along the side of the RV. He shoots through the van’s walls, felling all of them. He has a much bigger problem to contend with, though, even as Michonne, Heath, and Scott arrive back at Alexandria and Daryl reunites with Sasha and Abraham on the road. The tidal wave of straying walkers emerges from the forest and washes over the road where Rick’s van rests.
Their moaning grows louder, at first mixing in with the faulty engine, yet soon overtaking its feeble attempts to start, just as the walkers themselves begin to overtake the road.