Credit: FOX

Today January 13, 2014 marks exactly six months since Cory Monteith, the actor who played Glee’s beloved quarterback Finn Hudson, was found dead of an accidental heroin and alcohol overdose in his Vancouver hotel room.

Six months since our entire world shifted; six months since we realized Glee would never be the same again, that the lives of its actors would never be the same again.

The loss of Cory, an actor we never personally knew, shouldn’t feel this hard to face. But Glee is different than other shows. Fans connect with the actors and characters on a personal level. Glee presents a strong message of anti-bullying and acceptance, a dynamic that helps viewers see themselves in the show.

Fans loved Cory. They loved his real life relationship with co-star girlfriend, Lea Michele (Rachel Berry). During these past six months, we’ve watched eight new Glee episodes, each time wondering if the series can survive without its leading man. We’ve also watched Lea continue with her life, trying to move on in the face of such great pain.

Many things have changed in six months, but some things remain the same. Every once in a while, we still expect to see Cory joining Lea on the red carpet, standing tall and proud by her side as she beams and smiles from ear-to-ear. Then we’re struck with the realization that that will never happen again.

No, this is the new normal for Glee. In these strange post-Cory days, Glee is bringing a message of both pain and hope: of overcoming deep hurt and pressing on tirelessly towards the future. It’s a message of never giving up, no matter how much life gets you down. And, really, in the end, hasn’t that been Glee‘s message all along?  

Lea Michele

At the time of Cory’s death, the actor had been dating his Glee co-star, Lea, for just over a year. The two were on-screen love interests for more than four years, and Lea would later reveal that they’d dated in secret back in Glee’s early days.

After Cory’s death, Lea went to Vancouver to be with Cory’s mother. Upon returning to Los Angeles about a week later, she took refuge in the home of former Glee guest star Kate Hudson, managing to avoid the paparazzi for just over two weeks. On July 30, someone snapped the first photos of Lea since Cory’s death with the Glee star seen wearing her silver “Cory” necklace.

Twenty days after Cory’s passing, Lea went back to work on Glee. Creator Ryan Murphy says, “Lea is obviously very grief-stricken but she’s also one of the strongest people I know.” Just over a week after that, she makes her first public appearance, giving a tearful tribute to Cory at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards.

Credit: YouTube Photo: Watch: Lea Michele's Tearful Speech for Cory Monteith — Teen Choice 2013

While some worried that Lea went back to work too soon, the Glee star later told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, “What people also don’t understand is that going to work is no harder than being at home and being in the house and opening up the closet and seeing a pair of [Cory’s] shoes.”

Lea kept very busy over the next few months, starring on Glee full time and doing the occasional magazine shoot. Five months after Cory’s passing, she buckled down on her music career. Her debut single,“Cannonball,” released on December 10 and her second, “Battlefield,” on December 27. The music video for “Cannonball” debuted January 9 with a third single, “Louder,” released on January 13.

Though Lea has stopped wearing her “Cory” necklace as regularly and her grief appears to have abated (at least in public), it seems clear that she has in now way forgotten Cory. Since his sudden passing, she’s been focusing on her career and surrounding herself with close friends, and, thankfully, making some progress forward after such a huge loss.

Glee Ratings

Credit: Adam Rose/FOX. ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co.

Lea’s music career is moving ahead and so too does the TV show that made her famous. But can Glee really be the same without Finn? Ratings for Season 5, which premiered more than two months after his passing, have been lower than during previous seasons.

Episode 1 5.2 million viewers and a 2.0 demo rating (down 30 percent from last year’s premiere)

Episode 2 4.5 million and a 1.6 demo rating

Episode 3  7.4 million viewers and a 2.8 demo rating (The Cory Monteith tribute brings Glee’s highest ratings since 2011.)

Episode 4 4 million viewers and a 1.5 demo rating (tied for the show’s lowest ratings ever)

Episode 5 4.5 million viewers and a 1.5 demo rating

Episode 6 4.4 million viewers and a 1.6 demo rating

Episode 7 2.8 million viewers and a 0.9 demo rating (the show’s lowest ratings of all time)

Episode 8 3.2 million viewers and a 1.2 demo rating (lowest ever for a non-holiday)

An average of 4 million viewers isn’t great for Glee, but it’s still fairly decent in the world of TV. However, the drop to 2 to 3 million in recent weeks is troubling. As of now, Fox still plans to have Glee continue through the end of Season 6 in spring 2015. But if ratings continue to stay in the low 3 millions, who knows what the future may hold for the show?

How the Show Is Different

On October 10, Glee paid tribute to both Cory and Finn with Season 5, Episode 3: “The Quarterback,” an extremely emotional and by most accounts very well done, memorial episode. Instead of sensationalizing the actor’s death or trying to awkwardly turn the episode into an anti-drugs PSA, Glee paid tribute to a beloved brother with a simple, emotion-filled hour.

No mention was made of how Finn passed. The focus was on remembering his life and his impact. When each character cried, we knew the actors were shedding real tears for Cory. The episode was raw and real, a fitting way to say goodbye to such a beloved friend.

Credit: Ryan Murphy on Instagram

Glee has aired five episodes since the Cory tribute, and while the show isn’t dwelling on Finn’s death, the quarterback hasn’t been forgotten. Rachel wore a “Finn” necklace for a bit. Much like Lea, she got a tattoo to remember her lost love. She, Kurt, and their mutual friends are grieving for Finn, but they aren’t letting grief consume their lives completely.

The show, as a whole, isn’t starkly different. Fan reaction to the series has been positive overall, though it’s worth noting that the Thanksgiving episode and the Christmas special, the two most recent installments, were both received poorly (both in ratings and in online reactions).

To be successful post-Cory, Glee faces an uphill battle, but it’s not down for the count just yet. Glee returns from hiatus on February 25 and a much-hyped 100th episode spectacular will follow soon after with many beloved characters set to return. We see hope in the future, but the harsh reality still exists: Glee has lost much of its sparkle now that Cory is gone.

Beth Douglass is an Associate Editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. She's our resident Glee expert and loves celebrity kids. Follow her on Twitter and Google+!