Enough With the Violent Television Shows

Last Sunday, AMC accidentally dropped a big Walking Dead spoiler on its Facebook page: the network revealed a major character’s death after the latest episode had aired on the East Coast but before it ran on the West Coast. Many fans on the West Coast were upset by the admission, and admittedly this was a boneheaded move by AMC.

That being said, I’m prepared to offer en even larger spoiler of the Walking Dead, if you’re inclined to read it: next season, several beloved characters will die in horrible and painful and gut-drenched ways, the remaining characters will be forced to contemplate the brutal and unforgiving world in which they now live, and after this contemplation, they’ll be forced to keep moving in an ever-itinerant search for brief and dubious sanctuary from both the zombies and the human monsters that now roam the landscape.

The same thing will happen the next season. Oh, and the season after that, too, and every other season that this show is on television.

Also, if you’re really in the mood for spoilers, I’ll give another one: at some point, Rick is going to realize that the post-zombie-apocalypse world has turned him into a hard, cold man who will do anything it takes to protect the ones he loves. He’ll realize that he’s willing kill anyone who gets in his way, and he’ll do it brutally if necessary.

After Rick does this—after he realizes what this world has made him, and after he slaughters some guys in painful and horrific ways to protect his loved ones—he’ll do it again, and he’ll do it probably for every single episode in the show’s run. The only thing that will change is that every time Rick kills someone, he’ll do it more violently and with more gore than he did before.

The Walking Dead is part of that newly-discovered television show genre guided by the maxim “so brutal it’s good.” Game of Thrones is another example, as is The Following. There seems to be an idea among modern television consumers that gratuitous, wanton violence is a great vehicle to teach us things; we apparently think we can learn a lot from people tearing each other apart, shooting each other, raping each other, gouging each other’s eyes out and getting pulled apart by slobbering monsters. “This is so incredibly over-the-top violent and depressing,” people say, “there must be a deeper message here.”

Well, I’ve got news for you: there’s no deeper message. It’s just about violence. Violent stuff sells quite well, and the producers of these television shows know it. If these guys wanted to send a deeper message about why humans do violence, and what violence does to humans, they could do it in a few episodes. When it goes on for season after season, it’s about visceral violence porn and nothing else. Think about it: when Rick disembowels some guy for the third time, or Daryl once again shoots some guy in the chest with an arrow before kicking him in the face, what are you learning? You’re not learning anything. You’re just watching people kill each other.

Here’s a suggestion: turn off the hyper-violent television show and go read a book. I’ll even be charitable: the book can have some violence in it. But if it’s a book that features twelve castrations and a mess of guts flying everywhere every couple of pages, put it down and read something else. Don’t be fooled into thinking that depressing, violent media is somehow a high art form. It’s not. It’s just violence, and you’re being fooled.