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The Walking Dead has been more brutal than ever before in Season 7. The premiere kicked off the extreme violence when Negan used two good guys' heads for tee-ball practice, and Negan hasn't exactly gotten nicer in the weeks since. Some of the worst of the violence began to happen just off-camera, however, and many fans began to wonder if the producers were toning down the brutality due to backlash. Producer Gale Anne Hurd recently came out and said that the show had backed off the bloodiness after the fan response. However, the other two big producers on the series are singing a very different tune. Producer and director Greg Nicotero has a different answer, saying this about whether the violence was toned down:
No. As brutal as that episode 1 was, it's still part of our storytelling bible, which is what the world is about. I don't think we would ever edit ourselves, and I think -- even after looking at that episode 1 again -- as tough as it was for people to watch, I don't think we would have done it any differently. I don't think we'll ever pull ourselves back. There is definitely a difference between violence against walkers and human on human violence, but truthfully, we're serving our story.
Greg Nicotero is certainly has different ideas than Gale Anne Hurd about The Walking Dead's violence in Season 7. Hurd has said that the folks behind the scenes at The Walking Dead looked at feedback from the early episodes and chose to go a little lighter on violence in episodes that were still filming. Nicotero doesn't deny that they got backlash for the brutality of the Season 7 premiere, but he clearly stands by their work on the episode and doesn't believe that they have had any reason to tone down the brutality.
That said, fans did have pretty intense reactions to the way the Season 7 premiere killed off Glenn and Abraham, and the violence did seem to happen off-screen more often in subsequent episodes. Negan was still clearly doing bad things to not-so-bad people. He still ironed a guy's face for the crime of sleeping with his wife; we just didn't see every excruciating detail. Like Greg Nicotero, showrunner Scott Gimple maintained in the chat with EW that the reason for the off-screen awfulness had nothing to do with backlash, saying this:
Greg Nicotero is the greatest makeup special effects guy in the world, but... what you don't see sometimes can be so much more horrible than what you see, what you imagine. And with the iron, that's a really good example.
Scott Gimple definitely has a point about the unseen sometimes coming across as more frightening than blood and gore. Would Psycho be as famous today if we had seen every single bit of Marion Crane's shower? Would Jaws have been so terrifying if we saw the shark in perfect detail every time it chomped somebody to death? Negan already proved in the premiere that he's willing to get extraordinarily violent when it comes to exacting punishment; after watching Negan bludgeon two of the good guys to death with a baseball bat, we really don't need to see the brutality to know that it's happening.
All things considered, we may never know for sure if the Walking Dead team toned down the violence after backlash. On the one hand, Greg Nicotero and Scott Gimple's explanations for how they're handling the brutality make sense. On the other hand, their explanations sound a bit like damage control after Gale Anne Hurd made her comments about toned-down violence. We can only wait and see how gory things will get in the second half of the season.
The Walking Dead returns from winter hiatus on Sunday, February 12 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. Check out our midseason TV premiere schedule to see when your other favorite shows hit the airwaves in the coming weeks.