Fans of The Walking Dead are used to watching people die.
And not just die, either. For six seasons they’ve watched their favourite characters be murdered, mutilated, eaten alive.
So when masses of viewers reported being traumatised by the season seven premiere on Monday night, you knew they must have had a pretty good reason.
It’s also not the first time television watchers have been left reeling. HBO mega-hit Game of Thrones has made a name for itself by constantly shocking viewers by killing off characters in grisly ways.
But is there a point at which viewers say “enough is enough”? When the shock and gore will turn people away?
(FYI, there’s going to be spoilers in this article, obviously)
These tweets give a sense of how fans reacted to the episode.
— Geysar Gurbanov (@geysar) October 25, 2016
— Tammy (@TSeid) October 25, 2016
— Megan Storey (@megwann) October 25, 2016
A sweet message from Negan before tonight's show. pic.twitter.com/wZjh4ppU0k
— AUSTIN NICHOLS (@AustinNichols) October 24, 2016
There’s only so much we can say about the way in which two fan favourite characters met their nasty ends. Suffice to say, it involved a barbed-wire-covered baseball bat and an airborne eyeball.
The show has never shied away from gore. But for some viewers, this was too much.
Bryan Bishop wrote for The Verge that he had long thought the time would come when the show would go too far:
“This wasn’t quality television, and it wasn’t suspenseful drama. It was torture-porn masquerading as storytelling, and AMC should be ashamed for airing it.”
Jacob Stolworthy at The Independent praised the episode, but acknowledged:
“If all this sounds too bleak to enjoy, that’s because it is… Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the first Walking Dead character that will haunt your nightmares.”
The question is, how much further can these shows go without too many of their viewers turning away in revulsion?
Television critic Luke Buckmaster says Game of Thrones was the game changer when it came to realising that violence was very good for spreading the word about your show.
And in order to keep shocking, you have to constantly up the ante:
“It’s almost like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are in a game of trying to one-up each other.
“Both shows are also well into their existence and are trying to keep their audiences engaged, partly by freaking them out.”
But while some people have already reached their limits, Buckmaster doesn’t think we’ve reached the tipping point of what audiences are willing to accept, offering this grisly reminder:
“Crucifixions used to be considered a perfectly reasonable thing to watch – live – on a Sunday afternoon.”
However, he says the shows that cause the most grief, as opposed to shock, are generally not the “freakiest or the most bloody”:
Not to take anything away from Game of Thrones fans — I’m one myself — but these days there’s a feeling it’s business as usual. Chop. Stab. Shoot. Slay.
Buckmaster says people truly grieved the deaths of characters like Dan Connor (John Goodman) in Rosanne or Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams) in Dawson’s Creek, whereas he’s not sure if they really did for Ned Stark who had his head lopped off in Game of Thrones.
So if you’re after a different sort of devastation, maybe pick a teen drama or even sitcom next time round.