The adage, “You can’t please all of the people all the time,” especially rings true for television shows. Your favorite character dies or is written off the series; the show uses dialogue or imagery that offends you; or the show tackles subject matter you find unnecessary or distasteful. These are things that have happened to many shows in their runs.
The Walking Dead is no stranger to controversy. The television show is about zombies, so right away, there’s a level of violence that’s taken for granted. But with such engaging storylines, with vast amounts of characters, and diversity in talent behind the scenes, the show was bound to create dissidence among fans, occasional viewers, and other groups.
Robert Kirkman’s creation, adapted for television from his beloved comic series (which is currently in its 15th year) has caused outrage in some form or another from its first season. The Walking Dead has experienced controversy within the show and in real life. Almost every episode has sparked debate, but some episodes and scenes have garnered such hatred that fans have threatened to boycott or stop watching it.
Here are the 16 Most Controversial Things The Walking Dead Has Done.
16. Glenn’s Death
The summer before season 7, theories and speculation on who Negan would kill dominated the internet. People analyzed scenes and trailers and camera angles. Fans wanted the show to follow the comic book, and casual viewers shouted their rage if “so-and-so” died.
Most fans were somewhat shocked when Abraham took the beating he did. Negan didn’t stop until he thought the rest of Rick’s group got the point. But Daryl decided to stand up and punch Negan in the face. Negan warned everyone he would “shut that down.” And when Glenn was the recipient of Negan’s anger – and bat – people were surprised that two deaths occurred in The Walking Dead.
What had people truly outraged was the way Glenn died. It was brutal, violent, and unforgiving. Negan had actually paused in the middle to comment on Glenn’s eye protruding from the socket. And the camera didn’t relent either: cutaways of the beating were few. The controversy of that scene was not that Glenn died, but how – and how grotesquely it was shown.
15. The Gay Kiss
Social media is now a common way to voice your opinion. It’s immediate and you can direct your displeasure or praise to an exact person, especially on Twitter and Facebook. This is what happened after the season 5 episode, “The Distance.”
Aaron is the first gay male character on The Walking Dead. In episode 11, he joined back up with his boyfriend Eric. During the episode, neither one was sure the other was alive, so when they see each other, they naturally kissed. Bigoted fans were quick to express their hate.
That short kiss sparked viewers to flock to Twitter and other social media to share aggressive and belligerent statuses toward the actors and creators of the show. But with the flurry of angry Tweets came those who supported the kiss and those who were indifferent, as is often the case in situations like these.
14. Slogan On A T-Shirt
Sometimes all it takes is one person to be offended. In the U.K., the department store Primark had a T-shirt that pictured Negan’s iconic baseball bat and the rhyme, “Eeny meeny miny moe, catch a tiger by the toe,” which is spoken by Negan as he selects his victim in the season 7 premiere.
A customer complained, calling the clothing item “offensive and racist”, as an older version of this chant used the n-word in place of “tiger.” The department chain pulled the item from its stores and apologized, saying, “Any offense caused by its design was wholly unintentional.”
13. SWAT Team Called
In season 1 during the second episode, Merle – played by Michael Rooker – stood on the ledge of a tall building shooting walkers in the street below. He was using a high-powered rifle with a scope. Merle is a known hothead, but in the episode, it’s clear that no one knows where Merle is until he starts firing the gun.
To some citizens of Atlanta, the scene was so real that the SWAT team was called in. The official The Walking Dead Twitter even commented on the gaffe: “Episode 102: An actual SWAT team showed up while shooting Merle’s rooftop shooting scene. Ooooops.”
12. Walker Sends Ricin To President Obama
Creating a real-life controversy in 2013, actress Shannon Richardson decided to take her political beliefs to extreme actions. In The Walking Dead, she played various walkers, though she had other minor roles in The Vampire Diaries and the movie The Blindside.
Richardson ordered ingredients online to make ricin and laced letters sent to President Obama and the Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg. After three letters were mailed, she went to the police and informed them her ex-husband at the time, Nathan Richardson, was the one who sent the letters.
She was arrested on 2 counts of mailing a dangerous communication and 1 count of threatening the President in June 2013 and pled guilty to “producing a biological toxin” in December 2013. The following July, Shannon Richardson was sentenced to prison for 18 years.
11. Maggie Is Humiliated By The Governor
One of the first major villains in The Walking Dead was The Governor – played by David Morrissey. The baddie invoked shock and surprise in viewers when he interrogated Maggie after her capture in season 3, episode 7.
The Governor wants to know where the rest of her group is. Maggie refuses to talk, defiantly keeping her mouth shut. The Governor forces Maggie to remove her shirt and bra, and then bends her over the table. If she doesn’t do any of that, The Governor promises he’ll chop Glenn’s hand off and bring it to her. Maggie complies.
Through the whole scene, it was insinuated The Governor planned to assault Maggie. When he leaves the room, Maggie still bent over the table and partially naked, and you can see it was more to humiliate her. For some viewers, the mental and emotional abuse portrayed in the scene caused many to feel it was a ratings grab. For others, it was offensive that AMC sexualized something so disgusting.
10. “Look at the flowers”
Death in The Walking Dead is guaranteed. Death of at least one major character per season is also guaranteed. But what about two deaths in one episode, both of them children? In the episode called “Grove” in the fourth season, Lizzie and Mika are travelling with Carol and Tyrese and find a house that they feel could be a permanent home.
Lizzie is suffering emotionally, thinking the walkers are not really dead. Mika is the sensible one, but is ultimately stabbed by Lizzie. Carol’s personal development has progressed from the shy and obedient wife to someone who knows what needs to be done. So she shot Lizzie.
The scene threatened to get out of control, but the director of that episode, Mike Satrazemis, kept things less depressing by not showing Lizzie’s body fall to the ground. It was a small, thankful decision, but viewers were still in an uproar since a kid’s death on television is sensitive territory. However, many found that episode more heartbreaking than anything.
9. Frank Darabont Is Fired
Frank Darabont set in motion the force that is The Walking Dead. It can be argued that without his input, direction, and creativity, the show may not have become as popular as it did, as quickly as it did. He is listed as the executive producer – and is considered the original The Walking Dead showrunner – for the first season and some of the second season.
Soon, even though the show was a success with critics and fans, the AMC network jumped in, looking to cut the budget. For example, they wanted to use walker sounds instead of actual walkers in many of the scenes and wanted more indoor, studio shots than outdoor ones. Darabont felt this would compromise the show. He stood up for the cast and crew and what they had made so far and wanted that tone and style continued.
AMC fired Darabont. In an interview with Variety, Darabont said he hasn’t watched the show since.
8. Consistently Killing Minorities
One controversial thing The Walking Dead as done on more than one occasions is kill off black men soon after they are introduced, or when it fit the plot in later episodes or seasons. It started to become consistent and noticeable after the second season.
T-Dog was killed off, and Oscar took his place. Oscar then was killed and replaced by Tyreese. At one point, the characters Bob, Noah, and Father Gabriel joined in the apocalypse along with Tyreese. But in season five, Tyreese, Bob, and Noah were all killed off. With season 8 rolling into “All Out War,” there’s going to be many more deaths. Let’s hope Father Gabriel, King Ezekiel, and Morgan – and all the other fan-favorite characters – make it through unscathed.
In defense of the show, Gale Anne Hurd, the producer, said to E! Online that they’ve “killed a lot more white characters.” And added, “We cast two African-American actors in roles that were not African-American.” She was referring to Bob and Noah. “We just cast the best actor,” Hurd stated.
7. Denise’s Death
In the episode “Twice as Far,” which is the 14th Episode of season 6, Dr. Denise Cloyd – played by Merritt Weaver – is killed by an arrow through the eye shot by Dwight while on a supply run with Rosita and Daryl. Just a couple episodes before, Tara had told Denise that she loved her, but Denise didn’t say it back.
Controversy stemmed from a trope in the television and movie industry called “Bury Your Gays.” Gay men and women get terrible, violent deaths while straight couples are dealt with in more meaningful and happier ways. People were also upset because the Denise character does die in the comic, but not until later in the comic series. And the character who should have received the arrow through the eye? Abraham. Writers had to twist storylines around because they wanted to give that type of death to Denise.
The show The 100 was dealing with criticism around the same time for killing off the lesbian character Lexa.
6. Rick Kills Pigs
Life at the prison was rough for Rick and his crew at first, but over time everyone rallied together to make the prison a home. They planted crops and raised animals; everyone had a job to do. But in season 4, a disease endangered those at the prison by way of the pigs that had been collected.
At the same time, walkers began grouping up around the fence, threatening to knock it down and overrun the prison. So Rick decided to slit the bellies of the pigs and toss them at strategic points away from the fence to lure the walkers away.
Fans and viewers were outraged by the senseless killing of pigs. The Walking Dead website ran a poll asking what they thought about the pig sacrifices. Thirty-five percent felt it was “immoral to sacrifice the living pigs.” This is despite the fact the animals were fake – and despite the massive human bodycount in the show.
5. The Morning After Pill Blunder
Abortion is a sensitive topic in any medium. So when Lori Grimes – pregnant with a baby that could be either Rick’s or Shane’s – swallows morning-after pills to induce an abortion, the internet lit up with anger. But not because Lori was choosing to terminate the child.
Immediately, critics chimed in with information on how the morning-after pill works and that it doesn’t cause an abortion or miscarriage. Showrunner Glen Mazzara responded, “The producers and writer’s are fully aware the morning-after pill would not induce an abortion or miscarriage.” They took an artistic creative license to explore a storyline, not to make a political statement.
The ACLU claimed the show was offering misleading medical information. They wrote a blog post called, “Walking Dead is Wrong on Emergency Contraception, Stick to Zombies,” condemning the irresponsible behavior.
4. The Claimers go after Carl
The Claimers were a roving band of vicious men who had a “finders keepers” mentality when it came to property. Daryl inadvertently joins this group and regrets it down the road. Eventually, the Claimers encounter Rick, Carl, and Michonne. One of the Claimers gets Carl on the ground, and it’s apparent the man has one goal: to assault Carl.
What upset fans was how much more violent the lead up to the attempted assault was than Maggie’s emotional and mental turmoil with the Governor. Many felt the show went too far. AMC nearly felt the same way: they almost didn’t accept the scene, and creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner Scott Gimple had to convince the network to allow it.
3. The Walking Dead Lottery Scratch Cards
The Walking Dead merchandise ranges from toys to clothes to books. One unique tie-in to the television show was scratch-off lottery cards. States such as Texas, New Jersey, and Delaware offered chances to win money by scratching off matching symbols.
One TV advertisement in Colorado showed a woman break off a walker’s finger to scrape the card. The creators of the commercial meant for the advertisement to be “tongue-in-cheek,” but one Colorado woman claimed she had “nightmares” and the images caused her “distress.” There were additional grievances across the United States, and The Walking Dead scratch-off lottery cards were discontinued.
2. Beth’s Death
Played by Emily Kinney, Beth Greene was a well-loved character who had a surprising death. Many fans and viewers felt her death was too soon, and the show barely explored her character’s past and development. Dying the way she did – a gunshot from a police officer named Dawn – and having her death scene extended when Darryl carried her out of the building made fans distraught and miserable.
What made all that worse was The Walking Dead Facebook page posted a photo of Daryl carrying Beth soon after most of the U.S. had seen the episode, but before the West Coast and much of the rest of the world had seen it.
A petition quickly surfaced, requesting signatures to have Beth returned to the show. While fans may not ever see Beth in real-time with the other characters, it’s possible she could still return in flashbacks or other visions.
1. Glenn’s Fake Death
Waiting to see who Negan would kill at the beginning of season 7 wasn’t the first time fans and viewers were left hanging between finales and premieres. In season 6, Glenn had been trapped in an alley where he stood near a dumpster with no apparent way out. The final shot of that episode was a vague overhead view of Glen surround by walkers devouring guts.
The show got creative in the month between that scene and the final revelation on Glenn’s fate. Steven Yeun’s name was removed from the credits. There was even talks of Yeun going on Talking Dead to pretend he left the show and ambiguously confirm his death even more. But one month later, The Walking Dead revealed what many had suspected: Glenn was alive and taking shelter under the dumpster.
Were you offended or upset at any of these controversies? What has The Walking Dead done that you didn’t like?
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