This past April gave Walking Dead fans a season finale to remember. Our heroes were captured by a madman and he chose one of them to die – but who? It was easily the most discussed Walking Dead cliffhanger ever. In October they finally answered us, with the most gruesome and violent episode in the show’s history.
Walking Dead was taking a risk, and the producers knew this. During an interview with Chris Hardwick back in June, Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, said that the Season 6 finale was a hotly debated one in the fan community, meaning the Season 7 premiere had to give fans what they wanted. It would be brilliant or it would crash; there couldn’t be an in-between.
Unfortunately, the season premiere crashed and burned. Apparently, what fans did not want was even more gore. Two beloved characters were beaten to death, and one of them even stayed alive long enough to look into the camera with his eye popped out of his skull. After the Season 7 premiere aired, ratings for Walking Dead plummeted hard.
The show is still the most watched series on television today, but it’s lead has dropped significantly. Episode 2 of the current season saw a significant decline in viewership from the season premiere, more than any other season, and by the midseason finale, viewership was down by nearly half their normal numbers.
Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd credits this sharp decline to the reaction of fans to the bludgeoning of popular characters. She was quoted saying,
“This is not a show that is torture porn. … We don’t cross that line.”
The production team rushed to work on the episodes yet to air and toned down the violence where they could. This was most notably seen in the midseason finale, when three more characters were put on the chopping block. One character was gutted quite violently, but fans have seen enough zombie dinners to not be bothered by this. One character was shot in the head and merely shown with the bullet hole in her cheek. The final character, though, was where the edits happened. He was beaten to death with a pipe, quite similarly to the two deaths in the season opener. This time, however, they took out the graphic shots and replaced them with shots from different angles, to hide some of the immense blood splatter.
High levels of violence are not without precedent for Walking Dead. The original comic has always held itself to an amount of gore simply not allowed on television. In fact, one of the season premiere deaths was nearly panel-for-panel the same as the character’s death in the infamous issue 100 of the Walking Dead comic.
Still, the backlash isn’t universal. There are fans of the television show that have high opinions of and enjoyed the season premiere. There are also fans that claim not the violence but the murderer himself, Negan, as the reason they quit watching. No matter what, Walking Dead still has higher ratings than nearly every television program out there and the producers are certain they can recover from this blow.
Ellie Forder can’t decide between her two great loves of writing and art, but she can say that she is a giant nerd. She likes to combine these three things into blog writing, creative writing, and her Etsy shop. Her life is ruled by her two pet rabbits.
Featured image from ABC.net.au