Over the course of its six seasons, The Walking Dead has amassed a huge following, growing from a cult favorite to one of the most popular shows on television. And you don’t get passionate fans without passionate opinions about the show. People who are going to make their voices heard when they feel like the show has taken the wrong path. We’re seeing it now with the reaction to last night’s cliffhanger and we’ve seen it a few other times when producers have slipped out of lock step with their audience. So, let’s take a look at some of the most infamous controversies that have riled up Walking Dead fans.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Frank Darabont Getting Fired
This was the first controversy the show went through, though it’s not really one that you can blame on the creative team. Frank Darabont, beloved director of The Shawshank Redemption and the creative force behind bringing The Walking Dead to television, was fired halfway through the second season’s production. The whole situation was initially shrouded in mystery, but as the details came out, they did not make AMC look very good.
Even with The Walking Dead breaking AMC viewing records, the network decided to cut the per episode budget of season two by over half a million dollars. They started interfering by demanding more scenes take place inside, and that zombies be heard rather than seen when possible, to cut down on cost and production time. Darabont pushed back, and the network decided to can him and replace him with Glen Mazzara, whose run with the show ended after season three, leading Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter to say AMC “continues to disrespect writers and sh*t on their audience.”
Fans and media alike railed against the network, noting this wasn’t the first time AMC had messed with its successful shows. Public battles with the creators of Breaking Bad and Mad Men over similar financial issues saw the public accuse the network of being cheapskates who were more interested in the bottom line than creating critically acclaimed television. But in the end, people kept watching The Walking Dead and ratings kept rising, even if, for a time, critics noted a slight decline in the quality of the show and its writing after Darabont left.
The Governor’s Near-Rape Of Maggie
The Walking Dead has had its fair share of disturbing scenes over the years, but season three had many fans up in arms after an episode featured the Governor almost raping Maggie. In the scene, he threatens to kill Glenn and forces Maggie to remove her shirt and bra before taking off his belt and bending her over a table.
Rape has always been floating around on the edges of The Walking Dead — often mentioned as something other bands of survivors sometimes engage in. In season five, a group threatens to rape Rick’s son if he doesn’t surrender. But barring a scuffle between Lori and Shane in season one, this was the first time it seemed like rape was about to happen on screen.
The Governor didn’t rape Maggie, but that didn’t lessen the furor that came from fans of the show that found the “strip tease” scene to be eroticized and exploitative. Many compared it to the kind of ’70s horror schlock that often included gratuitous scenes of sexual violence and rape to shock and titillate viewers. Creators of The Walking Dead quickly learned that its fans weren’t interested in seeing the characters of the show dangled in front of the threat of rape for cheap thrills.
Beth’s Unnecessary Death
When it comes to The Walking Dead, one of the main appeals of the show is that there will be blood. Characters come and go, and often go in pieces as they’re torn to shreds by a horde of the undead. But while fans seem to enjoy the edge of your seat aspect of potentially losing a favorite character at any point and time, they’re not fans of characters dying simply for the sake of dying.
And that’s what many accused AMC of doing with Beth in season five. Ratings for the show peak with the premieres and finales, especially when there’s the threat of a show’s star dying. And after the first half of the season focused on rescuing Beth from the Grady Memorial Hospital gang, the mid-season finale had her throw her life away by stabbing Grady leader Dawn Lerner and getting shot in the head just as her group successfully pulled off a prisoner exchange to free her.
Fans immediately freaked out. A petition to bring Beth back garnered tens of thousands of signatures. Boxes of plastic spoons started showing up at AMC headquarters, referencing a moment in season four where Beth found a souvenir spoon from Washington, D.C. To many fans who suffered from self-harm and suicidal thoughts, Beth was a special kind of survivor. It didn’t help that actress, Emily Kinney, broke down and cried several times on The Talking Dead after her character’s death, making even more people feel for her pointless death. And fans really didn’t respond to AMC’s gaffe on Facebook that spoiled the episode’s outcome before it had been seen on the west coast.
As far as fans of the show were concerned, they’d just been jerked around for half a season and then had a favorite character killed off for a cheap ratings pop. Given the circumstances surrounding Beth’s death on the show, it was hard to argue otherwise.
The Glenn Death Fakeout
So, if killing off a popular character on the show makes fans angry, then saving one from certain death must result in happiness, right? Ha! Not so. The first half of The Walking Dead season six had fans of the show fixated on the death — or non-death — of Glenn Rhee, one of the original Atlanta Five. In episode three, Glenn and Nicholas end up trapped in an alleyway surrounded by walkers. In an apparent act of cowardice, Nicholas shoots himself and drags Glenn down into the zombie horde where he seems to be torn to pieces.
It seemed pretty clear cut: Glenn was dead. But because secrets no longer seem to exist on the internet, many people knew something was up. Shots of Glenn on set for later episodes appeared shortly after. Spoiler sites confirmed that he somehow survived, and fans spread the info further. So, suddenly we had a situation where our eyes and the show had Glenn clearly dying, while others told us he totally survived.
Glenn’s death ended up overshadowing everything else that happened during the first half-season of the show. It didn’t help that there were three more episodes in between Glenn’s apparent death and the reveal that he survived the alleyway in episode seven.
Fan reaction was split — many were happy to see him survive, while others noted that the showrunners effectively wrote him out of a certain doom scenario, deus ex machina style. If Glenn could survive what he survived, then how were fans supposed to gauge any dangerous situation accurately? The answer: they couldn’t — which was just another sign that characters seemed to live or die based on the whims of the writers rather than the tenets of good story telling.
Daryl Getting Shot
Daryl Dixon is arguably the most popular character on The Walking Dead, and there has been a popular refrain amongst fans whenever the possibility of his death comes up: “If Daryl dies, we riot!” Those calls became rather strong leading up to the end of season five as rumors swirled that Daryl might not be returning to the show. And once again, we’ve got a lot of murmurs floating around that Daryl Dixon is going to be the one on the wrong end of baddie Negan’s barbed wire baseball bat pretty soon.
But the latest episode of The Walking Dead threw a curveball at us, with Daryl getting shot in the back by Dwight during the final seconds of the show. And it looked serious, with the bullet spraying Daryl’s blood all over the camera in a shocking final shot.
Even Dwight saying “You’ll be alright,” as the shot fades to black hasn’t kept fans from voicing their displeasure on Twitter, with many of then declaring they’ll quit if Daryl ends up dying. Killing a popular character is always a dangerous proposition. If many people are only tuning in to watch the dirty redneck with a heart of gold fight through the zombie apocalypse, they very well may not return if you kill him off.
That might be why the creative decision to have Dwight declare Daryl would survive was made. It might also lessen the betrayal many fans may feel if the next episode opens with Daryl nursing nothing more than a bandage over some inconsequential flesh wound. Whatever the case ends up being, The Walking Dead is going to have angry fans complaining about the way it was handled.
The Daryl Dixon situation sums up the difficult situation The Walking Dead finds itself stuck in overall these days. Kill a character, and people get angry. Save a character from dying, and people get angry. Fans are already upset that next week’s season finale could feature the deaths of several fan favorites. But if no one important dies, as was the case for the season five finale and season six mid-season finale, people will complain about that, as well.
If you’re the people running The Walking Dead, you can’t really win. So, you might as well just keep on keeping on, and letting emotions cool down over the years before taking criticism of certain incidents on the show too seriously.