Many people are concerned about violence in television. They cite studies that show how violence in television numbs audiences and causes aggressive behavior in children yet the violence continues because it’s the only way Hollywood can attract viewers at this point.

Violence in television was once a rarity and it was often done in a way that shocked audiences and furthered characters and plotlines in an exciting way. However, that was when violence was used as a supplement to actual character development and as a way to spice up the plot, rather than using it as a crutch.

At this point, that’s what violence has become– a stand in for good story writing.

“At a certain point, as always happens in Hollywood or culture in general, a set of superficial things come to stand in for quality,” – Journalist Brett Martin, on the subject of violence on tv

Take AMC’s The Walking Dead.

When Season one premiered with “Days Gone By,” the episode received a 9.0 on IGN with critic Eric Goldman saying it was “wonderful and incredibly poignant, very dramatic.” The violence here was praised as “not shy about getting visceral when a story calls for it,” the key phrase to note being “when a story calls for it.”

Compare that to the review of the Season seven premiere, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” which received a 6.0. Critic Matt Fowler said it was “needlessly sadistic” and “less interested in making sense than it is with shock and/or awe.”

Similarly in HBO’s Game of Thrones, the show started off as a modern masterpiece but then the quality fell as the writers began to abandon the hard hitting themes and strong character development that made the show so fantastic. Season one had only two major battles in ten episodes, both off screen, and it was also tied for the highest rated season alongside Season four, with its subtle yet captivating intrigue and well-rounded characters receiving exceptional praise. Fowler even said the finale, “Fire and Blood,” was “heartbreaking and rewarding.”

Season seven comes along, and there are five major battles in seven episodes, and none of the beloved intrigue to be found. As critic Erik Kain said of the finale, it’s “all a big farce that never needed to happen,” even going so far as to say “if there was some greater ‘game of thrones’ behind it all, I’d eat my hat.”

Violence itself isn’t necessarily bad story writing. It can often be used exceptionally well as a tool to capture audiences. However, when it’s not balanced with careful character development, strong themes, and engaging plotlines, the action becomes, as Kain says “filler, the kind of filler designed to screw with viewers.”

The worst result of violence in television isn’t the impact it has on audiences, it’s the impact it has on the story. At least if it’s done well, there’s a purpose to it. But as series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones show, violence, when used as a crutch, ruins the show and turns it into a sadistic gore fest.

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