The Walking Dead was always a violent show, but now it seems to have crossed a line. The Parents Television Council, the organization responsible for putting the parental guideline tags in the corner of TV shows that read TV-MA, TV-14, TV-PG or TV-G, have spoken out about The Walking Dead’s incredibly graphic season seven premiere.
In the episode, two people are brutally beaten to death by Negan and his baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. In response to the violence, PTC President Tim Winter called the episode “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.” The Walking Dead really just wants to be Game of Thrones, so they’re probably okay with that description.
“It’s not enough to ‘change the channel … because cable subscribers—regardless of whether they want AMC or watch its programming—are still forced to subsidize violent content,” Winter explained. “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.”
Winter went on to propose an “even more severe rating than TV-MA.” Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Winter explained what kind of impact the violence could have on the show itself:
I understand violence is inherent to the storytelling here, but the manner in which the depictions were made … it crossed the line. 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.
Winter isn’t the only voice proclaiming that The Walking Dead’s violence is an empty tool, but it doesn’t seem to have impacted the show’s following. The season seven premiere delivered 17 million overall viewers, and a shockingly good 8.4 rating among adults 18-49.
The show’s ratings in this demo are more than double those of other fall shows like Empire and The Big Bang Theory, which each pull roughly 3.5 million viewers per week. The 8.4 rating also gives the show better demo ratings than Sunday Night Football. These ratings fell just short of the show’s all-time record for the season five premiere, when it earned 17.3 million total viewers and an 8.8 rating in 18-49.
The ratings were up 22 percent from the show’s season six finale, which suggests that in spite of the frustrating cliffhanger, many viewers felt compelled to stick around and see who was on the receiving end of Negan’s bat. While many have said that the premiere forced them to break up with the show, it’s hard to argue that the cliffhanger hurt them, at least in the short term.