By Paula Hendrickson
TV fans face quite a conundrum in the digital age. While DVRs allow us to record shows and watch them later, social media make it nearly impossible to let anyone do so without encountering major spoilers.
The good news for networks is that encourages people to watch shows live — especially reality competition shows like The Voice, Survivor or Dancing With the Stars that eliminate contestants each week. Other shows aggressively promote big twists, like Scandal did a couple weeks back with ads touting the last few seconds as a not-to-be-missed “OMG” moment.
But some shows give you absolutely no warning, leaving you absolutely speechless when the gut punch comes.
If you’re behind on The Walking Dead or The Good Wife and have somehow avoided recent spoilers, stop reading now.
The Walking Dead’s March 16 episode, “The Grove,” left fans reeling. While it had become increasingly clear that young Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) was unbalanced — she named walkers, vivisected a rabbit and nearly smothered baby Judith — this episode revealed the depth of her mental illness when she killed her younger sister, Mika (Kyla Kenedy), to show Carol and Tyreese (Melissa McBride and Chad L. Coleman) that walkers are people, too. She told them she was about to “change” Judith, too, and she wasn’t talking diapers.
As awful as those scenes were, the real shocker came later, after Carol and Tyreese wondered how they would handle a psychotic tween in a post-apocalyptic world. How would they keep the baby safe from her? How could they keep Lizzie safe from herself and from the zombies she thought were her friends?
It would be inhumane to leave Lizzie on her own, so Carol took her for a walk in the pecan grove, and tearfully shot her in the head. Few people saw the Old Yeller moment coming, even if in retrospect it felt somewhat inevitable.
The scene had deeper impact, too, since a couple seasons ago Carol couldn’t bring herself to put down her own zombified daughter, Sophia. Carol now does whatever she believes needs to be done for the greater good, no matter how awful. Like killing Tyreese’s girlfriend and another person before they could spread a deadly flu to everyone at the prison — something she finally admitted to Tyreese at the end of the episode.
Sunday night, The Good Wife pulled off an equally devastating shocker that is already being hailed as one of the best-kept recent secrets in television. They killed off a central character, Will Gardner (Josh Charles), in a violent courtroom shooting.
When a major cast member is about to depart a TV series, word usually gets out and rumors start swirling about how they’ll write the character off. None of that happened in this case, and the shock really paid off. Will’s death was totally unexpected and out of the blue, as it would have been in real life.
One of the many things The Good Wife does right is to let the aftermath of horrible events play out over time. Some network series will kill off a key character and two weeks later everything is pretty much back to normal for everyone else. Will’s murder will change the dynamic of the long-running series, and will no doubt complicate life for almost every character on the show.
Unfortunately, The Walking Dead and The Good Wife air opposite one another. I watched The Walking Dead live and got spoiled before I was able to watch The Good Wife. But unlike Will, Mika and Lizzie, I’ll survive.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted March 25, 2014