Parents Television Council Blasts "Brutally Explicit" 'Walking Dead' Premiere (Exclusive)

The conservative watchdog group slams producers for relying on violence as a "crutch" and ponders if there should be a rating that goes beyond TV-MA.
Gene Page/AMC
'The Walking Dead'

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season seven premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead, "The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be," as well as the comic book series it is based on.]

No surprise here: The Parents Television Council is not happy with the season seven premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead.

The conservative watchdog group blasted Sunday's episode, which featured the deaths of two series-regular characters being beaten to death by a guy with a baseball bat covered with barbed wire.

"Last night’s season premiere of The Walking Dead was one of the most graphically violent shows we’ve ever seen on television, comparable to the most violent of programs found on premium cable networks," PTC president Tim Winter said Monday. "It’s not enough to 'change the channel,' as some people like to advocate, because cable subscribers — regardless of whether they want AMC or watch its programming — are still forced to subsidize violent content. This brutally explicit show is a powerful demonstration of why families should have greater control over the TV networks they purchase from their cable and satellite providers."

The season seven premiere, written by showrunner Scott M. Gimple, followed the events of Robert Kirkman's comic book series and saw new villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) line up 11 key survivors and threaten each of their lives with his bat named Lucille. He ultimately landed on Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and, following the events of the landmark 100th issue of the comics, beat him to death with it. Moments later, he beat a second member of the group to death — this one even more graphic as Negan's first strike forced Glenn's (Steven Yeun) eye to pop out of its socket. The episode also featured central character Rick (Andrew Lincoln) seeing visions of the remaining eight survivors all being beaten to death in the same fashion. The episode featured multiple close-ups of the remains of Glenn and Abraham's crushed skulls and brain matter.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, Winter said the episode "from start to finish" and its degree and volume of violence "set a new threshold for basic cable." He said the episode — which was rated TV-MA and contained multiple warnings during the hour — raises the question of if there should be a rating beyond TV-MA.

"When you look at definition of MA and what content of the show is, it's unquestionable they chose what best represented the content," Winter said, noting it was properly rated because there was nothing more severe. "This certainly raises question of if there should be an even more severe rating than TV-MA."

Asked if producers on the drama based on Kirkman's comic book series could have done anything differently to make the episode more suitable for younger viewers, Winter noted he understood the events were based on a graphic storyline in the source material but ripped the series as relying too much on violence instead of storytelling.

"I understand violence is inherent to the storytelling here but the manner in which the depictions were made … it crossed the line," Winter said, admitting he hasn't seen the episode but only video clips as he hasn't been comfortable watching it in some time. "With The Walking Dead, the creative team has resorted to the graphic violence as a crutch for what used to be better storytelling. When you can't figure out what lines to write, you put something in easier, which is a graphic depiction. To me, it's too much."

Instead, Winter suggested the series take a page from yesteryear when violence was more implied. (This isn't the first time that the PTC has taken an issue with the violence on The Walking Dead. The PTC in 2012 urged the group responsible for issuing TV guidelines to change its TV-14 "misrating.")

"Everything between the opening credits and the closing credits was graphic and explicit," said Winter. "You don't need to show it to show it. Back in the day, you'd see violence about to be committed and then see you'd some after-effects of someone recovering or some other aspects rather than skulls crushed in. Now it seems like they can't tell a story without adding the severity of the graphic violence, and it seems to me like a crutch."

The PTC has made no secret of its demand for unbundling and a la carte cable, giving viewers the choice to pick which networks are broadcast into their homes. The group regularly urges its members to get more involved in the push for "Cable Choice," and Winter stressed the need for unbundling again following The Walking Dead's season seven premiere.

"Programs with violent content are proven to be harmful, especially to children; and most parents agree that having greater control over violent content coming into their homes is vital to protecting their family," he said. "When a basic cable network like AMC edges or even surpasses the premium networks in terms of explicit content, consumers must be afforded more control over which networks they purchase and which networks they don’t."

For more Walking Dead coverage, bookmark THR.com/WalkingDead.

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