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The Walking Dead - Violence in Season 7 Premiere Sparks Social Media Backlash

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“The Walking Dead” has always been a violent series. Viewers have gotten used to the bashing in of zombie heads – it’s the only way to kill the undead, after all. Finding new ways to personify those zombie deaths has become a challenge the show relishes. But in the season 7 premiere, the show’s creators took the blood sport to a whole new level – with humans instead of zombies. (Spoiler alert: This article deals with events that occurred in the premiere episode.) While sobering to almost everyone, the level of violence sparked a backlash on social media, with some viewers saying they would be boycotting the series moving forward.

After last season’s cliffhanger finale, fans knew bad-guy Negan was about to kill one of the core “Walking Dead” characters. The fact he chose two victims was not anticipated. Neither was the over-the-top gruesome depiction of both deaths. While the bashing of someone’s skull was heard at the end of last season, now viewers saw it in full force – over and over and over again. While many were upset over who was killed, the manner of deaths also incited a social media outcry.

It took 20 minutes to reveal Abraham was the first victim at the end of Negan’s barbed wire-wrapped bat. But before viewers had a chance to take it in, they saw the bat make contact with his head – twice. Then the audience heard horrific smashing sounds while Negan pounded his bat repeatedly. The next time viewers see Abraham, his unidentifiable head is a bloody mess on the ground. Yet Negan still smashes his brains. If that wasn’t bad enough, then came Glenn. Once again, viewers see the bat actually hit his head. As many fans audibly gasped in front of their screens, viewers then heard another smash before seeing Glenn’s bloody face, the front of his skull dented in and his eyeball popping out. He could barely talk before Negan swings the bat across his head, knocking Glenn to the ground. Again, Negan continues to crush his victim’s skull while the audience hears awful sounds. Then viewers see a wide view of Negan hitting Glenn’s head on the dirt – three times in a row, before a close-up shot of his smashed brains.

The deaths alone were shocking, especially Glenn’s. But the extended violence added to the horror. And there was no attempt to shield or hide it; the audience was supposed to see the grisly details. Executive producer Scott M. Dimple told “The Talking Dead” audience, “The hardest thing about it, starting the script, was thinking what would break Rick, and taking it further – but looking for a way to break the audience, too. Not in a way to hurt them. But for them to believe that Rick Grimes would be under the thumb of Negan – that he would go through an experience to do that to him, and the audience would go through the experience, too, so that they would believe Rick could do what this guy says.”

Director and executive producer Greg Nicotero mimicked the idea that the violent deaths were purposefully intended to create a catalyst for future motivation and story. “It’s not just about who’s on the other end of Negan’s bat,” Nicotero said in “The Talking Dead.” “It’s about the aftermath. It’s breaking Rick Grimes, grinding him into the dirt, grinding him into submission, to the point where Negan’s like, ‘Hey, I got a whole new group of people now that are going to provide for me. That’s what Negan wants.”

Neither producer specifically addressed the level of violence in the premiere, nor did the actors. But Steven Yeun, who portrayed Glenn, touched on it at least topically when he told “The Talking Dead” audience about his character’s death in the comics (in which Glenn dies the same way): “[Creator] Robert [Kirkman] wrote such a messed up, but at the same time incredible, way to make a story as impactful as it is. It’s such an iconic moment. Living that out was very wild. But at the same time, that moment happening and being realized on television – and to do it the way we did it – I think is brave. And at the same time super-effecting.”

Not all viewers agreed. Many expressed their dismay over social media. On Twitter, the phrases “TheWalkingDead” and “disturbing” came up together in popular searches; so did “TheWalkingDead” and “violence.” Though some viewers said that kind of violence was expected on a show about killing zombies, others were bothered by the images.

Maura Grierson, a radio host in Toronto, said on Twitter she had to turn off the show because it was “over the top and just too much.” Brian Miggels, a communications strategist in San Francisco, tweeted that the show had become a “celebration of violence without purpose,” while Anthony Stauffer commented that the violence felt “driven by shock value, not story” and was “punitive to fans.” Filmmaker Benjamin To wrote, “TheWalkingDead has become an obnoxious celebration of violence instead of being an interesting commentary on violence and the human condition.”

Some viewers said the violence had pushed them over the edge, deciding not to watch the show any longer. Robyn Stephens wrote, “I will never view horrible, brutal, sickening violence as good drama. No matter what else they show, I will never watch.” Hazel Percy tweeted, “Sorry, TheWalking Dead, I’m done. Only so much nihilistic and relentless violence I can take.” And attorney Grace D’Arcy told producers they’d gone too far, saying, “The number of us that just NOPED out of your show is huge.” She used the hashtag “#boycottTheWalkingDead.”

It remains to be seen whether “The Walking Dead” viewing numbers actually go down in subsequent weeks. But it’s clear the violence was a conscious decision that producers weighed before deciding to move forward. Could that choice carry risky consequences for the series and AMC network? Or will viewers forgive a violent show for upping their violence quotient? Stay tuned. Only time will tell if viewers are fed up or tuning in for more.

Did the violence in "The Walking Dead" premiere bother you? What were the hardest images to see? Do you plan to continue watching? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is an online, print and broadcast journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor and reporter. Now she does everything from hosting to writing. She loves being a part of the SpoilerTV team.

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