The Walking Dead established itself as one of the premiere TV shows of the 2010s, becoming widely-watched, and one of the most notable shows in pop culture. Throughout The Walking Dead’s run, like many of its ilk, it was frequently controversial, but typically considered to be good watching with compelling storytelling.
The Walking Dead is still going and debuted only some time ago. The shifting landscape, both in terms of societal values and the changing nature of television, has resulted in some of its aspects, even those that were admired at the time, no longer holding up. The Walking Dead, in some ways, shows its age with some of its choices.
6. The Fridging Of Female Characters
‘Fridging’, named after an infamous incident in Green Lantern comic books, is the killing of a character – typically female – purely to provoke an emotional response from another character – usually male. The focus of the death is not on the character who died, but the character mourning over them.
Aside from being considered a cheap emotional trick, fridging is controversial for its seeming devalue of female characters in favor of the men in the same stories. Although The Walking Dead does have many strong female characters, some of which are fan favorites, it has been known to indulge in fridging. The deaths of characters like Beth Greene, Lori Grimes, and Sophia Peletier have all been less about the arcs of those characters, and more about the arcs of those around them.
5. Shane’s Turn To Evil Isn’t Signposted By His Attempted Sexual Assault
The Walking Dead portrays the slow descent of Shane Walsh into evil, partly driven by his jealousy towards Rick Grimes after his return. During Rick’s absence, Shane had developed a relationship with Rick’s wife, which ended when Rick was proven to be alive. Although season 1 has moments where Shane shows his true colors, his irrevocable turn to evil is highlighted in The Walking Dead when he murders Otis.
For many, however, Shane clearly showed himself to be irredeemable when he attempts to sexually assault Lori Grimes. The Walking Dead treats this as much lesser deal than Otis’s death, a choice that is unlikely to have been made today with increasing dialogue around sexual assault.
4. A Relentlessly Bleak Tone Is Less Welcome
One of the things about The Walking Dead that has even been criticized during its run is its sheerly bleak tone. With a seemingly hopeless world, numerous story arcs dedicated to the idea of the characters being unable to survive as good people, and frequent character deaths and death fake-outs, it could never be called cheerful watching. Most people are not opposed to dark, emotional storytelling in fiction, but recently, entertainment has often shifted to be lighter.
While tragedy is still commonplace, shows are expected to have more levity. The Walking Dead couldn’t predict how television would change around it, but it is undeniable that a great many more shows have become more pointed towards escapism, and that The Walking Dead‘s relentless bleakness would be less welcome today.
3. Spiteful Cliffhangers Are Unworkable And Unpopular
The Walking Dead was never averse to cliffhangers, ending episodes and even entire seasons with characters caught in ambiguous situations that may or may not be detrimental to their health. As The Walking Dead wore on, these cliffhangers became more controversial.
This would be less likely to happen today for a number of reasons. Mid-season cliffhangers are less effective in the era of streaming services, where most people will binge through a cliffhanger in minutes, rather than the week-long wait of traditional TV. Furthermore, cliffhangers viewed as ratings stunts or mean-spirited have become viewed increasingly cynically, with less fan patience for them.
2. Frequent Killing Of Characters Of Color
This is something that has become slightly less prevalent in The Walking Dead, with the show having a slight uptick in diversity and the treatment of its characters of color. Nonetheless, The Walking Dead was notorious for its treatment of them, especially its black characters. From the second season onwards for a time, there weas only ever one prominent black character at a time, killing off one before another joined – with this observed in T-Dog, Oscar, Jacqui, Bob and Noah.
This was not hugely controversial at the time. Nowadays, however, the perception of such behavior could be far more likely to anger audiences increasingly concerned with diversity and representation.
1. The Casual Threat Of Sexual Assault From Villains
The Walking Dead wrote sexual assault as a common threat from villains. Negan has several women coerced into marriage with him, and The Claimers announce their plans to assault Carl and Michonne. Although always done to establish them as villainous, The Walking Dead has always treated this as a somewhat casual act, with little focus being given to arcs showing the trauma of even a threatened sexual assault.
There has even been an attempt at redemption towards Negan, with his killings far more acknowledged than the coerced marriages. In current times, the topic is treated far less casually out of sensitivity towards survivors of such crimes, and has become discredited as a way to establish a villain. If The Walking Dead were to indulge in such subject matter today, far more sensitive writing would be expected.