The Walking Dead 6×03 ‘Thank You’: Nihilism and misery

The Walking Dead 6x03-4

There’s a fine line between a healthy dose of nihilism and misery porn. For those of you unfamiliar with this idea, misery porn is when a storyline is miserable and awful simply for the sake of being miserable and awful. It’s a shock value technique, and while it does rile up viewers and draw people to the story, it’s kind of an empty technique, relying on cheap thrills instead of depths. Now, The Walking Dead tries very hard to straddle this line, dipping as close as possible to misery porn without going over. But occasionally, as in Season 3’s “Killer Within” or Judith’s disappearance in Season 4’s “Too Far Gone”, The Walking Dead dips over that line, to negative results.

The Walking Dead 6x03-1

Source: AMC

This latest episode, “Thank You”, is one that occasionally becomes misery porn, especially in its most controversial scene. The last half of Season 5 was about the different status quos at work, how Rick was trying to get the Alexandrians to understand the brutality of the outside world and how they need to toughen up in order to survive. The first half of this season is a little different. Now, everybody is being thrown into an impossible situation, and Rick’s group has to both survive and help out the Alexandrians, who don’t really know how to fight back. The shining light here is that some of the Alexandrians do survive, most notably Heath, who ends up covered in blood, following Michonne back to town. But he only survives because he does what he has to, leaving people behind and witnessing them getting torn apart.

The Walking Dead 6x03-2

Source: AMC

Because the truth of the matter is that the Alexandrians have no idea how to survive in a world this insane. They either get scared and run off, or end up making stupid mistakes that get them caught by zombies. One woman twists her ankle and is eaten. One man gets bitten and is eventually eaten. Another man is shot in the leg. And, of course, (maybe) two men are devoured by zombies because one of them couldn’t hold it together. You can’t force somebody else to change in order to appease to a new status quo; all you can do is drag them along and hope that they learn before it’s too late. And for many of them, it’s certainly too late. They don’t really get a learning curve to figure out how to survive; they’re thrown right into the middle of an extreme situation.

The Walking Dead 6x03-5

Source: AMC

But this isn’t an idea that needs to be reiterated again and again and again. While the visceral content is a way to keep the audiences awake and watching, this idea of meeting the status quo is something that we’ve seen over and over again. And while Nicholas does say “thank you” as a way to show Glenn gratitude for giving him a second chance, the moral of the story is that a second chance might just get you killed. Better to be like Rick, who we see brutally murdering the remnants of the Wolves without any words exchanged or remorse given. It’s a great moment for Rick, but it’s a reminder that “shoot first, ask questions later” is a smart tactic in this new world. If they want to get this nihilistic and brutal, there needs to be some sort of balance. Of course, this could be achieved through the back half of this half-season, but as of right now, The Walking Dead is in overdrive mode, with no signs of the current narrative slowing down (note that I said “current narrative”, as Morgan is getting a 90-minute flashback episode next week, but it’s doesn’t appear to be a present-day episode). I am all for The Walking Dead kicking itself into overdrive, but there needs to be more to the show than a miserable nihilism. And episodes like “Thank You” don’t do much to remind us of what that “more” necessarily is.

The Walking Dead 6x03-4

Source: AMC

So let’s get to the controversial scene of the night: Glenn’s death. We all know that there’s a chance that Glenn isn’t dead, as we don’t explicitly see that the intestines torn out in front of him are, in fact, his. But, either way, putting Glenn in peril doesn’t accomplish much. If he’s not dead, then this is a huge cop-out and another cliffhanger moment like Judith in Season 4. And if he is dead, then the show is basically saying that this is what helping other people gets you in a brutal world. His meaningless death would be a horribly nihilistic moment in a show that always straddles that line between healthy nihilism and misery porn, and while it would make sense in the context of the show, it’s a lot to handle. Of course, Michonne helps Heath and Scott out and survives, so it could just be a matter of picking the wrong person to help. But it’s still a rough moment for the show.

This isn’t to say that “Thank You” is a bad episode of television. It’s exhilarating all the way through and kept my attention the entire time. But I can’t help feeling that The Walking Dead sometimes feels like bloodsport, that it’s a matter of how violent the show can get and how miserable it can become. Because if you look at the internet today, it’s exploding with articles about how Glenn is dead or about how he’s not dead or some variation of the two. And it goes to show that people tend to watch The Walking Dead for the moments, just like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are remembered for their moments. Season 6 is still off to a fantastic start, but less emphasis on the shock value would elevate it even further instead of making it all about the moments.

So what did you think of “Thank You”? Was it too violent and miserable for your tastes or did you love it? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • Gui

    This was definitely one of the most intense episodes of the series. Michonne was a definite standout here, I couldn’t have imagined her being such a memorable character back when she was introduced but here we are. Her entire talk with Heath was amazing.

    I do think Glenn is alive. The way it was handled in both the series and during Talking Dead (including that really vague statement Gimple made) just make it seem fitting, and I think I can see what they’re going for. So far, only redshirts have fallen to this herd, so they probably wanted to amp up the stakes. Plus, they had that callback to Glenn’s first meeting with Rick in the very first episode through the walkie-talkie, and we do know that Rick survived being devoured by a herd that episode because walkers got distracted eating his horse, giving him enough time to get under the tank. So it’ll be similar with Glenn, I’m guessing, just that with him getting under the dumpster and being covered in blood and guts that will also be a callback to season 1 to let him escape. And then there’s the situation of people expecting a certain event from the comics with him, if they switch that around they probably are aiming to still give a shocking situation with Glenn to ensure his safety in the future.
    There’s also Maggie’s development. She’s a character who never looks at the past and always focuses on the future, but putting her in a situation for at least a few episodes where for once she’s completely alone will make her finally face what’s happened, which will probably be heartbreaking but a big moment for her. And of course, that’ll make revealing Glenn alive all the sweeter. Still bugs me that there’s a fake-out like that, but I can see why they’d do that.

    One of the taglines for this season that I can clearly remember is “Beyond Fear, Find Hope”. My guess is, they’re trying to bring us to the lowest possible point now before turning it all around. If anything unifies the survivors of this community and our group, this is it. They’ll manage to deal with the herd, survive, there’ll be some powerful reunions and for once, after that huge dip into darkness, things will start heading properly upwards for the group again. Even during their first arrival to Alexandria, they didn’t exactly head upwards, considering how they couldn’t really trust anyone. But if they can get through this seemingly hopeless situation and unify, that’ll change everything.

    • Michael St. Charles

      Yeah, the whole Glenn situation here is kind of a tough one. If he is alive, I agree that the best way to proceed is to focus on Maggie, rounding out her character a bit before Glenn comes back. I almost prefer that he’s dead here, because even though it’s so relentlessly bleak, at least there will be some sort of thematic emphasis behind it (sometimes you can’t help people and you have to let go, etc etc). But I do think he’s alive. We’ll see how that plays out. I’m going to try to reserve too much judgment on it until it’s resolved, but you know, it’s tough, haha.

      And I feel the same way about the season so far, that it’s trying very very hard to bring Rick and the Alexandrians extremely low so they can work towards some sort of unified, hopeful existence. I really hope that the emphasis is eventually on hope and resilience (and, since next week focuses on Morgan, I think we’ll see some of that). It’s just tough to portray those low points without getting gratuitous and nihilistic for the sake of it. But I do appreciate that Gimple is getting controversial and pushing hard at audience expectations. For a TV show to be this exhilarating in its sixth season is nothing short of a miracle.

      I love this season so far. It’s easily the most intense of the series, and I think it has so much potential to get even better. I wonder how this extended flashback episode is going to go. I’ve got a good feeling about it.

  • George Liapes

    Great review as always, man. Personally, I think Glenn’s alive and that they just ate Nicholas’ body instead (.the scene where he gets ripped into, you can see that Glenn’s “chest” is just a little too high up). I don’t know whether or not I prefer him actually dead or alive because it’ll just make the episode emotionally manipulative if it’s the latter. As for Glenn s death being meaningless, I kinda actually like how low key he “went out”, since not everyone in the world goes out In a blaze of glory.

    I loved the scene where Rick killed the remaining Wolves, but was also disappointed that in the end, the Wolves, like the Terminites, existed as really nothing more than to reinforce Rick’s newly hardened survival ethics.

    I think Maggie might start an uprising with some of the Alexandrians when she finds out about Glenn and become the season’s Big Bad (the producers mentioned that she would take a leadership role).

    With Morgan being the main focus next week, I can’t wait to see how the episode is.

    Keep up the good work, bro!

    • Michael St. Charles

      One thing that I didn’t mention in my review was Rick seeing the baby food, which made it apparent that whoever who shooting was in his house, potentially near his children. The Wolves did seem to reinforce his survival ethics, but I think Rick’s despondency at the end of the episode has a lot to do with how the failure of his plan ended up putting his family in danger. Hopefully, they’ll show Rick trying to figure out how to balance that viciousness with an understanding for others.

      As for Glenn, I can understand how the meaningless nature of his death reinforces the nihilism of the new status quo. I do like that idea. But man…maybe it’s just me, but the episode is just so relentlessly dark. I’m going to have to reserve too much judgment on it until we get through the herd conflict and see what happens next. I do think he’s alive though, which is going to make that scene kind of a manipulative tool.

      And I really hope that Maggie does get more of a role. I feel like she’s never in the spotlight and could use an episode to herself.

      Thanks, man! You’ll have to let me know what you think of today’s Fargo as well!

  • ListenToReason

    TWD has become misery/torture porn.

    Even Max Brooks’ WWZ (the greatest and most realistic portrayal of a Zombie Apocalypse ever) had rays of sunshine in it. It wasn’t just about death and misery. There was a point, there was Human spirit, there was goodwill, there was hope. THERE WAS A FREAKIN’ STORY!

    The first season of TWD was fine, it had a nice balance. There was a healthy mix of hope and goodwill among the horror. Now? It’s just going out of it’s way to be shocking. It’s lingering on like the legless crawler from the first episode… It needs to end!

    Jenner was right from the very beginning, he described their fate perfectly, like a prophet. There was no reason to continue the show just to SHOW people that he was right.

    This is a perfect example of something outliving and losing it’s good qualities for the sake of profit.

    • Michael St. Charles

      TWD has a pretty tenuous history with the idea of misery porn, and while they still cross that line on a regular occasion, I’m still hopeful that we’ll get more episodes like “Here’s Not Here”, which really is one of the best of the series. I’d say that, more than anything else, TWD has higher highs and lower lows. It’s far less consistent than Season 3 or 4.