It's rare to see a show really shake its audience up early in the seventh season, but The Walking Dead hasn't stuck around so long just because of hype. The zombie drama has always been less about the horror of monsters and more about the horror of ruthless humanity, and season 7 sought to drive that point home. By introducing villain Negan, an unforgiving and violent gang leader, The Walking Dead also subjected its viewers to some particularly unpleasant deaths. The season 7 premiere shocked fans around the world, leaving them anxious for more episodes.
Some criticized the excessive violence depicted in the season 7 premiere, however, and TWD producer Gale Anne Hurd raised eyebrows last week when she claimed the show toned down its violence to appease viewers. At a panel, Hurd told Variety, “We did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later on in the season.” A report today from prominent members of the TWD crew, however, claims just the opposite.
EW has come out with statements from The Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple and executive producer/director Greg Nicotero, who clarified Hurd's remarks. According to Gimple:
“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... If we’re ever going to see something that pronounced, there needs to be a specific narrative purpose for it.”
When asked specifically whether audience reactions figured into the show's decline in violence, both Gimple and Nicotero responded with a pointed "No." Nicotero also went on to say:
“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.”
These statements are consistent with Nicotero's previous claims that the premiere's violence was vital to Negan's introduction. When asked about one scene that seemed particularly toned down (the iron scene from "Sing Me a Song"), Gimple added:
“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... that kind of strange burn, the audience doing that in their head, even hearing it, it’s just a different moment.”
Whether intentional or not, The Walking Dead has been consistently pleasing its fans for nearly a decade. The series will likely continue to do so -- violent delights or not -- until its undoubtedly violent end.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on Feb. 12.