Last week, after months of backlash from fans on the premiere episode of season 7 of The Walking Dead, executive producer Gale Anne Hurd said that the show had changed its approach to violence. The season started off with the extremely graphic loss of both Glenn and Abraham at the hands of Negan and Lucille. The scenes were undeniably two of the most graphic of the series to date, but with good reason.
Negan is a relentless leader and he had to set the standard in which he would take command. This was a meeting unlike any other that the group had come across before and unlike any other they’ll come across in the future. However, this didn’t stop fans from voicing their displeasure with the episode.
“We were able to look at the feedback on the level of violence. We did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later on in the season.” Hurd said of the comments that took over social media in the days and weeks following the premiere. According to statistics on the following episodes in season 7, comicbook.com says the loss of viewers, nearly 7 million, may have prompted Hurd to make that statement during the NATPE conference.
That statement also received a very vocal response from the dedicated fans of The Walking Dead who have kept up with the series since day one. In fact, the response from those fans has challenged the response of outraged fans since the episode aired in October. There was, and still is, a clear divide between those who thought the violence was justified and those who found it unnecessary.
If you read the comics, there was likely an existing picture in your mind of the way Glenn would meet his demise. His death in the comics mirrored his death on the show almost exactly and Steven Yeun said he wouldn’t have wanted any other death, he was happy that he got to bring that to life after dedicating so much of himself to the character over 6 seasons.
Abraham’s death on television differed from his death in the comics, and while graphic, it was no more or no less impossible to watch than that of Glenn’s. The two carried a spirit and soul of the show that has left a void with the fans, one that will always exist. If you ask Michael Cudlitz about the way Abraham died in the series, he’ll reply much like Steven did, and say it was an honorable way for his character to have to meet the end.
With a cast and crew as dedicated to the show as that of The Walking Dead, their opinions obviously matter deeply to the creators of the show. Steven and Michael, as well as the rest of the cast, understood why the deaths were portrayed the way that they were, and many fans felt the same way. There wasn’t another way to truly make fans understand the wrath of Negan.
“The violence in the premiere was pronounced for a reason. The awfulness of what happened to the characters was very specific to that episode and the beginning of this whole new story. I don’t think like that’s the base level of violence that necessarily should be on the show. It should be specific to a story and a purpose, and there was a purpose of traumatizing these characters to a point where maybe they would have been docile for the rest of their lives, which was Negan’s point. But I will say again, the violence in the premiere was for a specific narrative purpose and I would never say that that’s the baseline amount of violence that we would show on the show. If we’re ever going to see something that pronounced, there needs to be a specific narrative purpose for it.”
Gimple and Nicotero spoke with EW.
“As brutal as that episode 1 was, it’s still part of our storytelling bible, which is what the world is about. I don’t think we would ever edit ourselves, and I think — even after looking at that episode 1 again — as tough as it was for people to watch, I don’t think we would have done it any differently. I don’t think we’ll ever pull ourselves back. There is definitely a difference between violence against walkers and human on human violence, but truthfully, we’re serving our story.”
The truth is, Gimple and Nicotero are serving their story. While the most graphic scenes are a bit hard to watch, it shows the true breakdown that one not only experiences but is forced to live through after their lives change forever. The zombie apocalypse didn’t just happen and allow space for life to return to normal, it happened and made even the most sound people realize that life is a battle, the world they live in now is in a constant state of war.
There were scenes where the violence was directed in a different way in the episodes after the premiere. Specifically Joey’s death and the scene with the hot iron. Gimple also spoke on that.
“Greg Nicotero is the greatest makeup special effects guy in the world, but… what you don’t see sometimes can be so much more horrible than what you see, what you imagine. And with the iron, that’s a really good example. That’s something that I think the audience should do a little bit more of the work on. Also because as far as that kind of moment, the reality of what that would look like is strange looking. We’ve been in fist fights when we were kids on the playground and there are amalgams to that violence, but that kind of strange burn, the audience doing that in their head, even hearing it, it’s just a different moment.”
Gimple leaving that scene to the audience to ‘work on’ allows them to channel themselves into the experience which also makes it more real for viewers at home. If you’d been in the room with Negan and the hot iron, how would you have managed? What would you have seen? Would it have been as graphic as you anticipated, would your emotions have matched those of Daryl and the rest of The Saviors?
In some instances, there is a certain emotion that demands to be felt, but in others, there is room for interpretation. What would the worse of the apocalypse look like to you? What could you survive?
For now, fans will have to wait until February 12th to see if the violence is truly toned down or not, but if Gimple and Nicotero have anything to do with it (and, they do) fans should anticipate the gore to stay. We’re hoping it does.