Killing off characters to shock the audience has become the new gold standard for TV. There are tonnes of imitators assuming that sudden deaths are a shortcut to compelling drama, but it seems as if the entire trend came from two of the biggest shows around today. Both The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones take place in unforgiving worlds that could bring about one's gory demise at any moment, but which show has mastered the art of viewer displeasure?
With Game of Thrones fans still reeling from the apparent death of Jon Snow, and with The Walking Dead moving into yet another particularly death-filled arc, it's worth asking whether either of these shows can top their already shocking reps, and which one actually has the monopoly on killing off our favorites. It's time to pitch Game of Thrones against The Walking Dead for a respective Season 6! SPOILERS to follow as always!
The term "shock value" is often used to describe shallow exploitative practices in narrative, but the method of shocking the audience has become a coveted state in modern television. Some of the moments that will live on forever in the golden age of TV involve the viewer being blind sided by a narrative beat they could never see coming, and I'm sure some show runners would sell their souls for even one of the "holy crap" moments that Breaking Bad enjoyed.
So which of these shows can work shock value the best? While The Walking Dead does pick its characters off quite casually as is the case with most zombie products, though the primary characters of Rick, Carl, Glenn, Maggie and Daryl have been strolling through the series building up a sheen of protagonist immunity. Compare this to the very intentional move of killing off Ned Stark in Game of Thrones Season 1, and the infamous Red Wedding, and you see that Game of Thrones doesn't just employ shock value; it lives off it! Whether audiences will be immune to it by the time we reach Season 6, who knows?
One of the desired emotions that show runners want to instill in their fans when they kill off a character is a feeling of injustice. I suppose it's in the hope that they will continue to watch as a bizarre form of retribution. "I'm so mad they killed Syrio! Imma watch every season from now on! That'll teach them" Which of these shows gives us a greater feeling of cosmic unfairness when fan favorites are killed? Well the answer lies not in who is killed off, but why they're killed off. While Game of Thrones is able to kill off characters who we initially thought invulnerable, it always takes the story to new places. The death of Robb Stark seemed cruel and meaningless at the time, but the space he left propelled the story further.
If we're talking about pure meaningless death, then The Walking Dead comes out on top. The show doesn't just use unfairness as a novelty, but makes it part of the story ethos. The Walking Dead exists within such a harsh world that characters have simply resigned themselves to potentially being killed off any second. Ironically, the show lives by more of a Valar Morghulis attitude than Game of Thrones does!
This is a huge element in both the shows, but it's mostly employed for the baser thrills. Many of the more bloody deaths are reserved for relatively minor characters, but these shows can occasionally get a little indulgent when more important characters meet their end. Game of Thrones has a fair few important characters die in particularly grim ways, but cases like the cutaway of Stannis' beheading may show that it's still ready to get traditional. The Walking Dead affords dignified zombie deaths for many characters, where all we see are tiny bites before they're put out of their misery by Rick. Then again, for those who know about Negan and the All Out War storyline, that could all be about to change in Season 6!
You can check out my other articles on The Walking Dead right here! What's your take? Share your thoughts hopes and fears for Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead Season 6 with a post here on MoviePilot!