WASHINGTON • Sunday night's season premiere of The Walking Dead resolved last season's who-died cliffhanger, but some fans feel it h crossed the line.
Season 6 of the zombie show had ended with nearly all the important characters kneeling in a circle as Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the malevolent gang leader they had underestimated, chose which of them was to die for killing a couple of dozen of his henchmen.
He then brought down his baseball bat on someone's head - but the show's producers managed to keep for months the secret of just whose head was bashed.
(Spoiler alert: This story includes details from the Season 7 premiere.)
On Sunday, the answer was revealed in a graphic, bloody way that upset many fans, said USA Today. Two fan favourites, Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), were bludgeoned to death by Negan. Many critics admonished the episode.
In a recap, The Wall Street Journal said the brutality "was a new level of blunt-force trauma for even this show".
In a review, The Daily Beast wrote: "When real life already seems a few calamitous steps away from dystopia, surviving an hour of pure, relentless misery isn't entertainment - it's a chore."
GQ said: "This show has delivered great moments - and even the occasional great episode - but this premiere feels like grinding, nihilistic unpleasantness for its own sake."
On Twitter, user @samm_ ferguson_ was among fans who said they would "quit watching The Walking Dead after today".
Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Monday, episode director Greg Nicotero defended the violence.
"In this instance, we felt it was important to launch us into this season, to show the extent of what Negan is capable of doing, because that drives so much of where the series is going from here on," he was quoted as saying by USA Today.
"It's graphic and horrible. And while designing, testing and shooting the make-ups, we wanted to push it a bit."
In response to upset fans, he added: "I would say that that means we have done something to affect these people in a way that they don't necessarily know how to process."
He called himself a "big Game Of Thrones fan", saying he was still committed to that fantasy show despite being shocked at the turn of events there.
On fans threatening to quit, he said: "I think it's a knee-jerk reaction people have because they care about these characters."