AMC’s decision to release a photo Dwight and Sherry from Fear the Walking Dead – last seen on The Walking Dead 3 years ago – caused some debate across the TWD fandom on whether this major surprise should have been teased, and whether the network’s hand was forced on the matter.
All TV shows put a great deal of effort into protecting their filming in order to preserve the pivotal plot surprises in upcoming episodes, something which is even more important for horror genre shows who rely on shocks to deliver the punches in their scary stories. Yet it’s becoming an increasingly impossible task to keep every twist under wraps with the growth of social media, and the increasing power of the cameras every member of the public now carries in their pockets. AMC revealed a photo from Fear the Walking Dead season 6 that has fans talking.
It seems likely this may have been the motivation behind AMC’s decision to release the photo of Dwight and Sherry, as reports of Evangelista being on set in Austin had already appeared on social media. The question remains does a teaser such as this photo ruin the surprise or build anticipation?
That’s the question every show runner must grapple with, trying to find the perfect balance between teasing what is yet to air, building interest in the story, and revealing too much so that the audience loses interest.
The biggest story-lines that the show-runners of both The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead try to keep totally a surprise, are without doubt the deaths. From Sophia walking out of the barn to Logan’s assassination at his seeming moment of redemption, the deaths in the Walking Dead world have been the most shocking and breath-taking moments in television, and AMC has worked hard to keep the integrity of those twists intact.
Preventing the deaths from hitting social media and the fans’ eyes is an arduous task that involves all levels of production. Actors are heavily schooled on what they can and can’t reveal, and it’s something they take seriously. After all, they too want their work to have the full impact it was created to deliver, and not watered down by gossip and misinformation.
This was never clearer than when Chandler Riggs took matter into his own hands.
In order to keep Carl Grimes death a true surprise for the audience, Chandler reached out to a well-known fan-site to ask them not to spoil the death (as they are in the habit of doing) before the episode airs. The site agreed on this occasion but has spoiled other deaths since.
However, there have been times when AMC has taken the decision, of their own volition, to tease future story-lines to an extent that might seem surprising. Using a myriad of different techniques, both on and off screen, they have presented character departures, arrivals, deaths and destruction to the audience way ahead of the scenes playing out in the show.
It seems logical to announce the major departures of Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira ahead of the season beginning, as it would be nigh-on impossible to hide the fact these actors were not on set for the duration of filming. Yet the producers have taken the choice to tease some other major plot-lines purely for dramatic purposes.
Fear the Walking Dead, in particular, has played with time heavily through its run, with flash-forwards teasing characters’ fates and destinations. Much of season 4 was told in flash-back, slowly revealing the circumstances which lead to Madison Clark’s death, showing that sometimes the revelation may not be in the “what” but rather the “how”.
Show-runners know that audiences are unlikely to tune in for the death of a favorite character, but there are story-lines where producers know that giving the audience a taste of events to come can build tension and excitement on the part of the audience.
Positive stories like romances and reunions are story-lines that could tempt back audiences who may have walked away from the show if they are aware of them. Hinting at their existence in pre-show publicity, interviews and press could build an audience anticipation that wouldn’t happen if events were left as a total surprise. But writers and producers also know that for every fan of that story-line, there may be a viewer who hates the idea of that coupling or story-line and may switch off if they know it’s on the cards.
This means it’s vital that show-runners walk a tightrope of revealing just enough to tempt the audience, without giving away the whole package, and thus it’s vital that the show-runners and network try to stay in control of all information. It’s a tenuous balancing act where months of work can be undone by some seemingly innocuous photo by a fan passing by a filming location.
Of course, show-runners do always have one card up their sleeve, in the event of story or character leaks. It may be the case that all is not what it seems. Hallucinations, dreams, flash-backs, and flash-sideways may mean that “spoilers” leaked via unofficial avenues are utterly misleading. So even when it seems the tide is against producers and writers in attempting to keep their big surprises from the prying eyes of social media, there is always the chance they can pull the rug out from the audiences’ expectations and keep fans on their toes with a plot they didn’t see happening at all.