The Walking Dead has never claimed to be a feel-good show. But Sunday’s premiere brought the ever-present undercurrent of violence and despair to the surface in a way that felt particularly egregious, as Sam Adams pointed out in Slate. In the days since the premiere, the internet has been flooded with condemnations (the violence!) and defensive protestations (it’s exactly as it happened in the comic!), but one simple fact remains: The episode did exactly what AMC wanted it to do, and shattered ratings expectations once again. That being said, not everybody felt that the gruesome violence was warranted in this case. And one of those dissenters was Fox U.K., which decided not to air the most graphic chunk of the episode at all.
But let’s start at the beginning. The Walking Dead ended on a massive cliffhanger last season in which a new bad guy—Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan—was threatening to kill one of the members of the core cast. After leaving the audience to a summer of speculation, the season opener offered more of the same sort of drawn-out tension about who was going to die, which (spoiler alert) wound up being two key survivors, Abraham and Glenn. Glenn’s death, however, was excruciatingly violent: He was repeatedly beat over the head with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire in front of his pregnant wife and was left with an eyeball drooping out of his head as he uttered his last words. Putting aside the fact that he was a fan favorite and someone who had escaped harm several times prior to his death, it was an incredibly difficult scene to witness. But it was also a frame-for-frame delivery of what took place in issue No. 100 of the comic, so it wasn’t just something fabricated by the show’s creators for shock value—it was an integral part of what went down in the original plot.
And yet: Fox U.K. aired the episode on Monday night, but as DigitalSpy reported this week, the original broadcast “cuts down on the number of times Negan can be seen bashing both Abraham and Glenn’s heads, while particularly gruesome shots of Glenn’s face and body on the floor also weren’t shown.” The program aired at 9 p.m. on Fox U.K., which by definition is part of the watershed, which means that graphic content can be shown without edits and censoring according to the U.K.’s governing regulatory body, Ofcom. Fox told DigitalSpy that the rationale behind the decision was based on adhering to broadcasting standards set by Ofcom, but what wasn’t in the statement is the fact that the network would be subject to fines from the group had it gone ahead with airing the show as it was.
It’s not uncommon for a show to have a scene or two pulled from a pre-watershed airing—Fox U.K. did air the show, unedited, in later slots—but it’s notable to have a broadcaster be concerned it might not be complying with regulatory guidelines in a season premiere. We’re a country that has a long, rich history of denying swear words and nudity in its prime-time programming, and so it’s quite a surprise that we’re now creating content that is too violent for other countries to air in full.