By Ed Diokno
READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SEASON 7, EPISODE 1 OF “THE WALKING DEAD.”
The only Asian American to survive the zombie apocalypse was killed off last night (Oct. 23).
Yeah, yeah, we know it’s all pretend. Nevertheless, the death of Glenn Rhee, as played by Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead, hurt.
It hurt bad.
Studies have shown that the emotions we undergo for our favorite fictional characters are real but not as long lasting as the real thing, thank goodness.
For seven years we watched Glenn grow from slacker pizza delivery boy to bad-ass zombie killer. The character is probably the best developed and complicated Asian American character depicted on American TV. Yeun was fabulous in the role and introduced the concept of an AAPI heroic figure that the viewing audience of all races could cheer for and identify with.
Glenn was the first Asian American male character to get the girl. Yeah, before Vincent Rodriguez III kissed Rachel Bloom in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Glenn kissed Maggie and don’t think that stereotype-breaker went unnoticed in Asian America.
Together, the lovers represented the hope for the future in a world full of death and inhumanity. Glenn was the last good guy in the show in that he never killed a human being and always held out hope for some of the hopeless people that the group encountered in their journeys, willing to give second chances even if it meant putting himself at risk.
In that sense, it was inevitable that Glenn meet his end since every character on the show that demonstrated an ounce of humanity was killed off.
YOMYOMF: Social Media Says Good Bye to The Walking Dead’s[Spoiler]
In one dream sequence, the group is having a meal and at the head of the table was Glenn holding the hapa son that he never will get to know.
The writers used the Season 7 opener to kill off another favorite, the macho militaristic Abraham. The double death was a change from the comics, the source material for the show and perhaps took the audience by surprise. The gruesome deaths of two key beloved characters prompted the producers to do an extended special Talking Dead, the show for the fans to talk about the goings-on of The Walking Dead.
During The Talking Dead, Yeun said that he didn’t want the big dramatic death that Glenn experiences in the comic to go to any other character. “Robert wrote such a messed up but at the same time incredible way to take something away,” Yeun said. “To make a story as impactful as it is. When you read the comic, you kind of don’t want that moment to go to anyone else. I think I said that, ‘Don’t let that go to anyone else.‘ To do it the way we did it, I think, was brave and super effecting.”
Glenn’s last words as his head was being bashed in, “I will find you,” was heartbreaking.
Lauren Cohan, who plays Glenn’s wife Maggie, and wears her emotions on her sleeve, interpreted that dying promise as: “In this life or the next,” Cohan says. “They’re star-crossed lovers. ‘I’ll find you, I’ll be with you, I’ll watch over you. I’ll be there.’”
“He dies in such a Glenn way,” adds Yeun. “Still not thinking about himself. It’s important that he puts those final words out as a way of saying, ‘Look out for one another.’”
These days when there’s so much talk about the importance of increasing diversity on television and whitewashing of roles meant for Asians, killing off a major Asian American character on a culturally iconic show, is a blow to that movement. I hope that the producers of The Walking Dead and its spinoff Fear The Walking Dead will give more opportunities for AAPI characters to be given a strong presence in our pop culture lexicon. Glenn will be missed.