Few shows enjoy the luxury of fandom The Walking Dead has. Certainly, the series is inconsistent about referencing its source material, so fans are often on edge for moments they do expect just as much for the moments they don’t. The latest episode, “Not Tomorrow Yet,” reveals The Walking Dead is fiendishly toying with its audience’s expectations, at the expense of their heart rates.
“Not Tomorrow Yet” will be a fan favorite for a few reasons: It’s mostly a Carol episode and Carol rocks; it has enough action to make John Wick jealous, and it’s The Walking Dead rewriting the playbook on TV adaptations. Glenn’s “death” last fall and how he died in the books — brutally beaten by the unhinged Negan with his barbed wire bat — doesn’t matter anymore. The show has confidently established that Negan will take someone’s life when he debuts, and The Walking Dead is dangling every precious character like helpless mice.
That fear was very present during Rick’s raid, a sublime sequence that oozed fear and tension. Anyone could have died and it would have been devastating — but it was exacerbated because Negan could have been literally anywhere. This is his lair, and Rick marched his troops right into the heart. When everyone escaped, it felt unreal. Something is supposed to go wrong, you maybe thought, because something always does. And, of course it did: Carol and Maggie captured by the Saviors. But until that moment, it felt as though our heroes achieved the impossible.
It’s not just Glenn in Negan’s sights. No one is safe — except Rick and immortal ratings juggernaut, Daryl. If Glenn survives Negan, someone else is likely to get the bat: Maggie is pregnant, Abraham is taking charge of his life, and Carol has found serenity with Tobin, happiness she rightfully deserves. In hindsight, Glenn’s survival-by-dumpster was a risky, but brilliant, chess move that’s now paying off in gut-churning anxiety whenever Glenn is in frame and Negan feels ever closer.
It’s unbelievable, almost unfair, how innovative The Walking Dead is with storytelling. This is not a luxury a show like Better Call Saul, and even the ultimate genre fantasy, Game of Thrones, should follow The Walking Dead’s examples. Is this really the same show that avid TV watchers were ready to abandon a few years ago? There are two winning strategies, and I can’t tell which The Walking Dead is using: Is it the genuine immersion of the stakes? Or is it the meta-textual teasing from knowing its fans — who surf Wikis and share theories on Reddit — to understand exactly the kind of monster Negan is — before he’s even appeared?
Honestly, I don’t care to know. I just want to know if Glenn is going to die again. I don’t know if I can handle it.