There’s little doubt that one of the main features of The Walking Dead is its unflinching approach to violence and gore. This open-minded attitude towards one of the more unfortunate aspects of life in an apocalyptic world was on full display in the premiere of season 7, an episode that centred on the murder and torture that was inflicted on Rick’s group by the sadistic Negan. The episode prompted a passive backlash, as ratings for the following episode dropped dramatically from its usual astronomical numbers. Then, last week, during a panel at the NATPE conference, executive producer Gale Ann Hurd commented on how the show would be toning down the violence in the near future:
“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.”
Her comments were quickly contradicted by The Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple, as well as executive producer Greg Nicotero in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, who steadfastly deny any claim that they would scale back the violence for any aesthetic reason. Gimple said to EW:
“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.”
Greg Nicotero, who also heads the team that designs and constructs the walkers for the show, as well as many other special effects (re: Carl’s disgusting eye), added:
“As brutal as that episode 1 was, it’s still part of our storytelling bible, which is what the world is about,” Nicotero said. “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 disparity in The Walking Dead’s creative team’s answers will certainly lead to speculation about how the show will operate going forward. Watching our favourite characters get beaten to death is no fun, but how are we to achieve closure if the same doesn’t befall Negan?
The Walking Dead season 7 returns to AMC on February 12th.