Steven Yeun played Glenn Rhee, one of the original starring roles on the hit show The Walking Dead. He had a six seasons and an episode run on the show but Yeun is not completely satisfied with the treatment Glenn received given his fan favourite status.
Following the critical acclaim of his new movie Okja in which he plays a radical animal-rights activist, Steven Yeun sat down to talk to Vulture. Glenn’s brutal end was widely discussed in the media and many condemned the excessive violence, Yeun was asked whether he felt like it was too much. Here’s what he had to say:
“I don’t feel like it was too much. I’ll be honest with you and put a full disclaimer here: I might not be objective, but I truly feel like people didn’t know what to do with Glenn. They liked him, they had no problems with him, and people enjoyed him. But they didn’t acknowledge the connection people had with the character until he was gone. I look at what happened and I think, That wasn’t any more gory than what we’ve done before, per se. No one got their face ripped in half! People got their guts smashed out and their heads caved in. But this one felt gratuitous because one, it kept going, and two, I think they took away someone that I didn’t realize I had made such a connection with until they took him away.”
Yeun continued on to profess his love for the show but criticised the way Glenn’s storyline was handled. He felt that the character was “rarely alone” and legitimised his presence by being a “part of something”. He further criticised the way his character was marketed; he got his first Entertainment Weekly cover the season his character died whilst others got theirs much earlier. Here’s his full comments on the matter:
“I loved being on that show. Internally, it was incredible. Externally, it was tough sometimes because I never felt like he got his fair due. I never felt like he got it from an outward perception. I don’t say this as a knock on anything. He always had to be part of something else to legitimize himself. He was rarely alone. And when he was alone, it took several years to convince people to be on his own. I’m thankful to EW for that wonderful cover they ran at the end, but we’ve had many covers before then that he never got to do on his own. Not until the last year did they give him his own cover, and then give him the one as he died.
I didn’t think of it as racism, where it’s like, Oh, this is racist. I caught it in a way of Oh, this is how we’re viewed all the time – as part of some glob, some amorphous, non-individualistic collective. We’re like a Borg, and so because of that, they’re like, “Well, we don’t need to give the shine to that character. There’s all these other characters who are so cool!” I’d always hear people go, “I love Glenn, he’s my favorite character.” But the merchandise would go one way. That really might be the market, so I’m not going to sit here and be like, “Why didn’t they make Glenn merchandise?” But there was a disparity. They didn’t know what Glenn was, and only in his death did they realize, “Oh, that’s what he was. That’s the connection I had, and that’s why it hurts me so much to see him die.” A lot of the other characters are awesome characters, but they’re exactly that — they’re awesome and they’re to be in awe of: I wish I was that guy or that girl. With Glenn it was, I think I’m like that guy. You take that guy out of the equation and you do it in such a brutal fashion, there’s got to be some gut reaction to that”
It’s clear that Yeun is trying to tread the fine line between being critical of the some character decisions that the writers made with Glenn whilst appreciating that the show made him a household name. It is a difficult line to tread, and more so for a person of color for whom leading roles are few and far between, you can’t afford to burn bridges, even accidentally.
What do you think? Is Steven Yeun right about Glenn’s mistreatment at the hands of the writers?
Okja is streaming on Netflix right now.