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‘The Walking Dead’ Producers Toned Down Violence After Season Premiere Backlash

Variety logo Variety 1/18/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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MIAMI — “The Walking Dead” producers toned down some of the violence in the first half of Season 7 after strong viewer backlash to a gruesome killing scene in the season opener.

“Walking Dead” exec producer Gale Anne Hurd acknowledged Wednesday that the negative response to the bludgeon slayings of two key characters in the premiere prompted producers to make adjustments in episodes that were still in production at the time of the Oct. 23 season premiere.

“We were able to look at the feedback on the level of violence,” Hurd said during a panel session at the NATPE conference. “We did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later on in the season.”

Hurd spoke on a panel with AMC Networks president-CEO Josh Sapan and “Fear the Walking Dead” star Colman Domingo, moderated by Michael Schneider, executive editor of Indiewire and editor at large for Variety.

The season premiere closed with a lengthy scene that featured the villain Negan beating longtime fan favorites Glenn and Abraham to death with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Many critics said the combination of visuals and audio elements veered too far into gratuitous territory, even given the show’s history of presenting shocking material.

Hurd made it clear that the response made an impact on the production team.

“This is not a show that is torture p*rn,” she said. After the response to the finale, she said they gave strong consideration to making sure “we don’t cross that line.”

Sapan and Hurd also noted that the extreme reaction to the season premiere underscored how deeply fans care about the show.

“When something matters a lot and it has a universality, then you’re bothered by it and you care about it,” Sapan said.

Hurd remarked that she still marvels at “Walking Dead’s” trajectory as a series in becoming the top-rated scripted series in all of primetime, broadcast, or cable. Hurd had no such expectations when the first season was coming together. “We thought this will be a good solid double,” she said.

Because a show about a zombie apocalypse was a such a departure for AMC, Sapan admitted that he went around to eight or so comic book stores in New York City to ask people what they thought were the best renditions of zombies in comics.

Hurd admitted that when AMC first suggested the notion of the “Talking Dead” after-show, she thought it would never work.

“All of us said, ‘You’re kidding. People are going to watch a show where people talk about what they’ve just seen? That’s absurd,'” Hurd recalled. She called the move “absolutely brilliant — and not something we as creatives on the drama side could have ever anticipated.”

Domingo, who is also an accomplished playwright, said the profile he now has as an actor from being on “Fear the Walking Dead” has been eye-opening. “I love that people are so passionate about the show. They tell you how they feel,” he said. Domingo added that he enjoys using social media tools like Periscope to give fans a glimpse behind the scenes of “Fear.” “I want the fans to have that sort of access to know what we’re creating for them,” he said.

The 'Walking Dead' mid-season recap

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