Warning: Some readers might find the content of this story disturbing.
Television in the 21st century is risky business.
For the networks, there is constant pressure to shock, delight and rate as vigilante streaming services and online pirates challenge the traditional broadcasting paradigm.
For audiences, this means there’s no telling whether your favourite show will end happily or brutally.
Earlier this year, HBO’s trophy show Game of Thrones came under fire when it showed a teenage character being raped while another character looked on.
The backlash was so great that show runners David Benioff and DB Weiss have reportedly decided to change their approach to sexual violence in the upcoming season six.
Dr Glen Donnar, a lecturer in popular culture at RMIT University, says the shock factor in modern television is so prevalent it’s becoming passé.
“Game of Thrones tested fan loyalties but its need to shock almost felt a bit old-fashioned for me,” Dr Donnar told The New Daily.
“It has a lot to do with how we watch TV. When people used to watch broadcast TV shows needed to be family-oriented.
“Now the market is much more fragmented … [shows] can be grittier and more gory because they’re speaking to a younger adult audience who aren’t watching with kids.”
Dr Donnar predicts a shift towards a more realistic portrayal of violence and sexual violence, as seen in shows like Jessica Jones or Orange Is the New Black.
“[These shows] are quite frank about trauma and sex – they feel anti-shocking. They’re all about female agency whereas Game of Thrones’ felt almost voyeuristic.”
To recap a year in disturbing television, we’ve narrowed it down the most shocking, boundary-pushing moments of the small screen in 2015.
Warning: Spoilers for those who aren’t up to date with each show’s latest season
American Horror Story: Hotel: Gabriel is raped by a demon
Known for its terrifying storylines, freakish characters and gruesome action, most AHS fans are somewhat desensitised to violence on the show.
However, one particular scene pushed many loyal viewers over the edge, describing it as “sick” and “uncomfortable”.
The scene in question features actor Max Greenfield’s character Gabriel, a heroin addict, being raped by a demon wearing a spiked sex toy.
Meanwhile, actress Sarah Paulson’s character Sally, a fellow addict, looks on.
Game of Thrones, Season Five: Shireen is burned alive
You think your parents are bad? In one of the most upsetting moments of season five (aside from Jon Snow’s shock death), Stannis and Selyse Baratheon burned their 15-year-old daughter Shireen alive as a sacrifice to the gods in an attempt to gain more power.
While Stannis remained stony-faced throughout his daughter’s tragic screams, Selyse broke down and later committed suicide – a heartbreaking ending to a horrific scene.
House of Cards, Season Three: Doug kills Rachel
No one really expected Frank Underwood’s chief of staff Doug Stamper to follow through with his intentions to kill former prostitute Rachel Posner.
Unfortunately, in the season three finale, he does just that – driving her out into the desert and seemingly leaving her there, before driving back, killing her in cold blood and unceremoniously dumping her body in a shallow grave.
Chilling stuff. Particularly upsetting given Rachel was finally getting her life back on track when Doug ended it.
UnReal, Season One: Mary commits suicide
The notion of a reality dating show messing with a contestant so much that she takes her own life was far too real for many viewers of this Stan series.
When an irresponsible producer messes with her bipolar medication to get better reactions out of her, contestant Mary jumps off the roof of the luxury mansion where the show is filmed.
It was disturbing, heartbreaking and it hit very close to home to anyone who’s ever guiltily watched The Bachelor or similar.
Jessica Jones, Season One: Hope murders her parents
In what was an explosive opener to an intense debut season, the pilot of this Netflix show saw character Hope Shlottman shoot both of her parents point-blank in the head at the end of the episode.
The reaction of protagonist Jessica Jones echoed the reaction of the audience. Just when we thought Hope was free of the grips of Kilgrave’s mind control, we realised she was still under the influence.
Her subsequent realisation that she had unintentionally killed her own family was even worse.
Orange Is the New Black, Season Three: Pennsatucky rape scene
Episode 10 of this popular Netflix show’s third season gained acclaim for its realistic depiction of rape and sexual assault.
The episode sees character Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning) being raped by a Litchfield corrections officer in the back of a van.
The focus on Doggett’s face as a single tear fell from her eye was by far the most jarring part of a disturbing scene.
Daredevil, Season One: John Healy impales himself
This brilliant Netflix superhero show was gripping throughout, but many fans felt it could have done without the scene in episode three where Vincent Fisk’s hitman John Healy impales himself, head first, on a spike to avoid facing the wrath of his evil boss.
The Walking Dead, Season Six: Enid eats a raw tortoise
After 80-odd episodes of guts, gore and death, one becomes quite desensitised to the cartoon violence of The Walking Dead.
But no manner of post-apocalyptic zombie decapitation triggers the kind of revulsion of character Enid ruthlessly killing and eating a tortoise with her bare hands while trying to survive on the road.
As the teenager casually plucked the innards from the animal like it was a bag of nuts, viewers received a cringe-worthy reminder of the perks of civilised society through a child’s eyes.