THE WALKING DEAD Executive Producer David Alpert “Glenn Will Be Back, But Not As You Know Him”
Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) is dead. Or maybe he isn’t. Or maybe he is, but we’ll see him in a flashback on “The Walking Dead.” Whatever the current state of Schrödinger’s Glenn, the fate of our favorite delivery boy is pretty much all the show’s fanbase — and most of the Internet — is talking about today.
So with that (and several other burning questions) in mind, MTV News hopped on the phone with “Walking Dead” executive producer David Alpert about what Glenn’s final fate really is, whether we should be worried about Rick’s hand — and whether they’ll be going HAM(M) on a certain upcoming villain.
MTV News: So I’m sure you’re having a pretty interesting day today.
David Alpert: Oh yeah everybody’s sending me roses and candy. It’s very strange.
MTV: Then I’ll just ask you straight up and I’m sure you’re going to give me a very straightforward answer: is Glenn dead, or is he alive?
Alpert: Well you know, I didn’t expect that question at all, so I’m going to give you two answers. Answer one is, we’re going to find out what happened to Glenn this season — that is going to be answered. Not directly on this call, but it will be answered.
I would say the more important piece is that Glenn has always been the good angel on Rick’s shoulder, he’s been the guy that’s always ready to go back…
There’s the Rick/Shane debate from season one and two that’s finally been resolved, right? Last night in the car — I promise you I will get back to Glenn — but the Rick/Shane debate has been resolved and Shane has won, right? Last night Rick went full Shane, and when the Wolves attacked him in the RV, he didn’t ask them any questions. He took an assault rifle and shot all of those people outside. He didn’t want to know who they were, or what they were feeling, or try to talk them down. He just straight up murdered them, right? And that was a very Shane thing to do.
I feel like Glenn has always been the guy that’s given everybody that second chance, given everybody the opportunity to improve themselves. He’s the guy who’s never killed anybody in cold blood. He’s always been that guy. So the moment last night — regardless of what’s happened to Glenn — the Glenn as good angel, I believe, is dead.
Glenn saved Nicholas, and brought Nicholas back, and Nicholas did this to him. Nicholas couldn’t actually hack it and copped out in the worst possible way.
There’s a million ways in which he could’ve done the same thing. Nicholas could’ve just jumped off the dumpster, right, and actually tried to help Glenn. That might’ve even given him some space to get away, but Nicholas shot himself in the head and took Glenn down with him. So that was the cost of having been a good guy. So that good guy Glenn, regardless of what has happened to Glenn is gone.
MTV: Given Scott Gimple’s statement during “Talking Dead” last night, would it be fair to say that whatever form we see Glenn in again, it’s not going to be the same Glenn we knew previous to this episode?
Alpert: I would totally back that up.
MTV: Just to step it back a bit, you had to know going into this episode there was going to be a fair amount of discussion around the scene. So what kind of prep do you guys do? What do you guys talk about behind the scenes to get ahead of what the fan conversation is going to be?
Alpert: The first and most important thing that we do is that anytime we’re playing with a serious character and putting that character into real jeopardy, we always ask ourselves is it warranted? Is it earned? Are we doing a stunt, or was this earned? And we’ve had ideas that have been thrown out that have been like, what if we do this, wouldn’t that be cool — and if it’s just cool, but it doesn’t have meaning, we don’t do it. Last night what we did was, we were really calling back — and to us the important thing is ending that arc.
Last night ending Glenn’s arc from the beginning, right? And if you notice, Glenn said on the walkie talkie to Rick, he called him “dumb-ass,” which is the same thing that Glenn had said to Rick when he was in the tank in the first episode. It’s the end of 1.01, the beginning of 1.02… That beat is a direct and intentional call back to the beginning.
Anytime that we do anything big in the show that’s going to have fan reactions, we want to make sure it’s earned. And we think the fact that this is such a clear character moment, that this is the [resolution] of everything that Glenn’s been trying to do for six seasons, that made it a worthwhile story to tell.
MTV: To that point, very much regardless of what form he takes after, this was a Glenn goodbye episode. You hit his story with Maggie through the other character’s eyes. Him connecting with Rick, etc… So when you have a goodbye episode like this, but at the same time you’re saying that his story isn’t quite done — is there any concern about having to eventually have a second goodbye for the character?
Alpert: We try to make sure that everything we’re doing has meaning in the moment, but is also setting us up for where we’re going. And I do have to say that I feel like [showrunner] Scott [Gimple]’s been doing such a masterful job with the show this season. It’s been such a joy to just read the scripts and watch the cuts, I am so incredibly excited for where this season is building. I just honestly can’t wait. If this is a big thing and I’ve gotten the amount of, “hey Alpert, we hate you,” emails and texts that I’ve gotten this morning, I just can’t wait to see how my phone just shuts down come the end of the season.
MTV: Fans have been equating this with the death of Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones,” to the point where they’re saying, “Oh, ’The Walking Dead’ producers are Jon Snow’ing us.” Did you guys look to how the “Game of Thrones” team played that out at all as a sort of playbook, or a way of not doing things when it came to Glenn’s death?
Alpert: Not really. I mean, first of all, I love “Game of Thrones.” I think those guys do a masterful job. There’s a real difference doing something like that in a season finale. I honestly think that this is, if anything — we didn’t really talk about it, but if anything it’s more akin to the Red Wedding type moment, because we’re in season.
That said, we really looked at this and made sure it justified it on its own merits. I think this was important because it’s a character beat that’s expressed through action, as opposed to an action beat that’s just cool.
MTV: So you’re saying that Jon Snow is still alive?
Alpert: I want Jon Snow to still be alive, but honestly they keep telling me at HBO that he’s dead. And I’m just like, “I don’t understand. It’s Jon Snow. Why isn’t he back?”
MTV: Same! Let’s talk about the direction of the season in general… The promos in the beginning set it up so it was almost this Civil War between Morgan’s point of view and Rick’s point of view, but we seen pretty clearly — like in the interaction between Michonne and Heath — that it isn’t as simple as that, down to, it’s almost shades of variations. That said, are we heading for a split? Or is it just part of the constant discussion of how to handle the world the way it is now?
Alpert: What makes our group successful on the road is the fact that they have these discussions, right? Even when we live under the quote-unquote Ricktatorship, it’s never just, “Hey, just go do this.” And he doesn’t expect blind obedience. Even the most obedient of his gang, Daryl, last night broke ranks with him for the first time. That’s a huge thing.
So yes, I think we’re going to have conflicting views and conflicting philosophies continually expressed because the rules of the world are being continually rewritten. And I think our group, because they still have humanity within them, don’t want to live in a world where “might makes right”. They want something more. They want something human. They want something deeper than, “might makes right,” but every now and then it has to come down to that.
And that dynamic, and that moment of the Michonne/Heath dynamic where they’re going back and forth, like…. Heath’s right, right? Heath doesn’t really know, yes he’s done a couple of runs, yes he knows a little bit of what’s out there, but has he ever been in anything like what Sasha went through last season? No, he has no idea what that’s like. Has he seen anything, just a touch of what Michonne has seen? No. That doesn’t necessarily make Michonne or Rick or Daryl more capable of making decisions, but it does give them information and insights that the rest of the Alexandrians simply just don’t have.
MTV: What about Rick himself? I think publicly he’s been confident. He doesn’t even hesitate for a second to take out Ethan Embry, or anybody else. But then we get these private moments with him where, potentially it could be exhaustion, but I certainly read it as, when left to his own devices he starts shaking a little bit… This pressure to push himself forward is breaking him down. Am I reading that right?
Alpert: I think you’re reading it 100% correctly. I think that Rick knows the public face of leadership, right? He’s seen what happens when he expresses his doubts to a broad audience. It doesn’t engender smart intelligent debate, it just sparks dissent. So sometimes the best face to put forward is one of absolute confidence. And he’s living that lesson and living that publicly because when he doesn’t, it just creates tension and problems.
We don’t want our leaders to come forward and be like, “You know, we don’t really want to go to war, but we think it’s the right thing to do by a slight margin, maybe 52/48. You know, we have some real reservations, but we’re going to put people’s lives in danger, we might kill some of them. I’m still not 100% convinced this is the right thing to do, but it’s more right than wrong.”
You don’t want to hear that. You’re like, “No, this is the thing. We’re going in. It’s black and white. That’s what you’re doing.” That’s how leadership motivates followers to work, right? So I think Rick is really grappling with that because it’s life or death decisions for him every day. And honestly the amount of pressure and tension that we put him under, I think is pretty amazing to see that he’s still being resilient.
MTV: What about that scratch on his hand? There’s some speculation that he got a little walker blood on it — and given what goes on in the comics, a lot of people are saying, “Oh no, Rick’s going to lose his hand.” Are people reading into it too much?
Alpert: No, I think that’s out there. I certainly think that was an implication from that. I think in the comics, you remember The Governor cut his hand off; and we certainly didn’t do that here. But the show from the very beginning did something different, because we had Merle, and Merle cut his hand off on the roof to escape… So I’m not sure we ever really want to go all the way there. But if he’s infected with walker blood, he’s either going to die or he’s going to cut off his hand.
MTV: Same scene, Rick pulls the little thing of baby food out of the bag. Should we be worried about baby Judith? Have the Wolves taken her?
Alpert: From a realistic point of view, I look at that as a tie to Alexandria. That’s the thing that ties this group of Wolves to Alexandria. As opposed to being Judith… I don’t like what they would make of her. It’s not very Wolf-like to take a baby and keep her alive, is what I would say, so from that perspective it’s going to be more of a referendum of what I would call the Carol/Morgan debate.
What is the culpability that comes out of that discussion, out of those two different perspectives on how to handle the Wolves? Morgan clearly knows them, and clearly has a connection to them, and clearly lets them go. And Carol, she came in as Assassin’s Carol. That was pretty f–king awesome. That debate of, “No, no, these guys messed with us. Put them down. Just put them down.” I think that’s really the way in which they go here.
MTV: We know Negan is coming down the road. About two years ago, I floated the idea by Robert Kirkman, “Hey, what if we got Jon Hamm to play Negan?” He seemed into it, so we floated it by Jon Hamm, and Jon Hamm was interested. And certainly it seems that the rumor’s gotten out there. I’ve heard that Scott Gimple is into the idea as well, so… What do we gotta do to get Jon Hamm cast in the role?
Alpert: I think you should start a petition, and I’d be one of the first people to sign it. Are you kidding me? Jon Hamm? That would be amazing. We love us some Jon Hamm. And Jon Hamm being Negan… First of all, Negan’s hard. Like, you need someone who’s physical, who’s imposing, but also who is funny. It’s a hard thing to pull off where you need to be able to be really funny, and then at the same time you need to be really physically violent, and pull off both of those things believably.
There’s not that many people who can do it. I think Jon is certainly one of them. You know, the other thing is how we’re going to throw all those f-bombs… But we’re working on that too.