I was too young to have watched much of MacGyver beyond a three or four episodes as a kid, but I think it’s the idea of MacGyver that has ruined so many of us. When it comes to narrative turns on television, we want to be impressed and/or hoodwinked, but we want it to make sense. We want a twist that we can’t see coming, but we also want it to make complete and total logical sense. We want it to be rooted in science. We all want MacGyver to pull out a pair of panty hose, a stick of chewing gum, some dental floss, and some flint and make a huge bomb and save the day.
For those of us well versed in plot twists, however, what usually happens onscreen ends up feeling anticlimactic. Given enough time to consider it, most of us can figure out the twist, and on The Walking Dead, we’ve had nearly a month to figure out how Glenn survived, and most of us only needed a few minutes: Yes, it was Nicholas’ body, and yes, Glenn did sneak away from the zombies by pulling himself under a trash dumpster, creating a shield by killing a few walkers, and waiting for the rest to leave.
What was almost even more criminal about the predictable twist was the short shrift the reveal was given. The biggest question on television was answered in a three-minute cold open before the episode barreled on as though little had happened. We didn’t even get a chance to properly yell, “Aw that’s it?! This sucks!” before Glenn had moved on to saving Enid, making the suicide of Nicholas and Glenn’s near-death experience an afterthought.
And for what did The Walking Dead betray their viewers’ trust by trolling them with Glenn’s death? A few balloons and Maggie acknowledging that Glenn was still alive. That was the emotional payoff?
I don’t want to write it off as a complete cop-out, though, because I know that viewers who watch this season of The Walking Dead on Netflix a year from now will probably get a bigger kick out of the the episode, because they hopefully won’t have been spoiled, and with only four hours of anticipation (instead of four weeks), their expectations will be much lower.
To those of us who watch the series live, however, the resolution to the Glenn question was a letdown, and unfortunately, the rest of the episode didn’t do much to offset the disappointment. It would’ve been cool if Ron had taken a shot at Carl before that tower came crashing down, destroying the gate and presumably letting all the zombies in. It also would’ve been cool if we’d actually been able to see how Carol reacted to Morgan having a Wolf in his house. Or if Spencer had actually fallen and died. Or if Tara had been killed trying to save Spencer. Or if Enid had been mauled by zombies while running from Glenn.
This week’s episode was nothing but a tease for next week’s mid-season finale, which is what the penultimate episode of a season (or half season) is supposed to do. However, after being teased about Glenn’s fate for a month, some of us simply aren’t in the mood for more “near-death” experiences. We want to see actual deaths. Tonight’s episode, “Head’s Up,” gave us none of that, and it couldn’t even make up the difference with great character moments beyond the brief conversation between Rick, Michonne, Carol and Morgan over Morgan’s “all life is precious” bullshit.
I’m not saying the episode didn’t set up a compelling finale, because it did. What I am saying, however, is that this episode really could’ve used some pantyhose, chewing gum, and flint.