Currently, my wife and I watch a couple different television shows together as one of our many marriage themed activities. Two our favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy and The Walking Dead, may seem like polar opposites but I’ve come to the conclusion that they have a lot more in common than you might think. Sure, the targeted demographic for the shows may be wildly different as are the tone and general aesthetic. One thing that you can be sure of however, is no matter which one you watch, someone you’ve grown attached to is going to die.
It should come as no surprise that the following may contain spoilers for both The Walking Dead (up to season 4: episode 3) and Grey’s Anatomy (season 10, episode 7).
As a fan of The Walking Dead while it was still in graphic novel form, I was well aware of the fact that no character’s life was ever guaranteed (though this tends to be the case in most end of the world/zombie fiction). Looking back, it was probably my first run in with the trope “Anyone Can Die“, something that has become far more common in both writing and television as producers of this content are forced to find ways of spicing things up a bit as a new generation of consumer apparently thirsts for a darker, sadder entertainment environment. That being said, neither myself nor my wife was fully prepared for the tear joking moments The Walking Dead had in store for us, mainly the revelation that Sophia had become a zombie and Dale’s death in season 2 and T-Dogg’s selfless sacrifice at the beginning of Season 3. We’d grown to like these characters and even though they lived in a harsh world, we’d naively assumed that perhaps they’d make. Unfortunately, that was not the case though there was a bit of solace in the fact that they’d escaped the Hell they were living in and found a better place (we hoped the same could be said for the actors as well).
However, despite wading through the murky, death filled waters of The Walking Dead, I was woefully unprepared for the emotional missiles that Grey’s Anatomy would launch at my heart on multiple occasions.
I came into Grey’s Anatomy towards the middle of season 7, though based on my wife’s tear filled eyes during her marathon viewings of past seasons, I’m pretty sure that the show has been more than happy to kill beloved characters off at a competitive rate for the entirety of its existence. I did, however view the aftermath of the hospital shooting as well as George’s death so the concept of tragedy hitting Seattle Grace Mercy West/Grey Sloan Memorial wasn’t completely unexpected. Even so, the tone of Grey’s Anatomy is so much different than The Walking Dead that you’re constantly tricked into thinking nothing could possibly happen to the plucky, dramatic cast of super attractive characters. That very thinking is what has reduced me to a quivering mass of emotional distress on more than one occasion.
When I started watching the show, the first character I grew attached to happened to be Henry Burton (played by Scott Foley). He was a supporting character that grew to a reoccurring role due to a sort of silly but ultimately sweet story-line that involved Dr. Teddy Altman marrying him so that he’d have insurance, only to actually fall in love with him after a period of time. He was a bit of a lovable loser that not only worked hard to win the heart of a beautiful, professional woman but also to stay upbeat despite being in poor health. He was a great character to have around the hospital as most of the gang needed perspective when it came to the “conflicts” they felt were so much more important than they actually were. While it may have been difficult to incorporate a non-doctor character into the show, I had high hopes and was ready to continue enjoying the exploits of Henry. Grey’s Anatomy, apparently displeased with a person not matching their target audience watching the show, decided it’d be best to kill him off during episode 9 of season 8. As if I wasn’t already struggling enough, Alex and Meredith suddenly get into a car accident which threw me into a whirlwind of stifled tears and anxiety.
Nothing, however could have prepared me for the one- two punch that came at the end of season 8, beginning of season 9 where not one but two characters were killed as a result of a plane crash. Due to the marketing of the show, everyone knew that at least one character would die. That character happened to be Meredith’s half sister Lexie, who had an on again, off again relationship with cosmetic surgeon Mark Sloan (McSteamy for those up to date on Grey’s lingo). While not really a happy occasion, Lexie’s death meant that none of the other characters were going to die. This was good as both my wife and I had our favorites, most of which happened to be on that plane. That being said, poor Mark finally realized he truly loved Lexie, only it was too late.
After such an intense season, we were happy to have a bit of a break from the show, though our Grey’s cravings started in right before the beginning of season 9. When the episode started, I was relieved to find that a few months had passed on the Grey’s universe and the cast seemed to be moving on with their lives, though the tension was quite high. Regardless, I was prepared to get past the plane crash and find out what was in store for the gang. Only problem was my favorite character (the aforementioned Mark Sloan) was in really bad shape. This was something I expected as he was pretty banged up from the crash and I assumed his recovery and subsequent struggle with Lexie’s death would be a plot point for the rest of season 9. Unfortunately, things were pretty grim and at the end of the VERY FIRST EPISODE, Mark was taken off life support. WTF SHONDA RHIMES!
Don’t get me wrong, The Walking Dead has been nothing short of consistently shocking, but killing off the beloved Mark Sloan in episode 1 of what was supposed to be a fresh new season, a season where the doctors’ bonds with one another were supposed to be strengthened even more after yet another horrible tragedy struck them? Outside of the sex in the break room thing, you’d think the writers of Grey’s Anatomy were punishing the characters for something they’d done back in grade school.
At least Rick and the gang are able to come to the point where death is a normal aspect of life, albeit way more brutal than that seen in Grey’s Anatomy (Rick’s wife was put out of her misery by her own son, then consumed by the undead right after giving birth). Meredith and friends just seem to continue down this path where everything seems to be going pretty well then “BOOM”, their lives are turned upside down. I’m literally more anxious during viewings of Grey’s than I am with the Walking Dead for that very reason.
I guess when it comes down to it, The Walking Dead has prepared me as well as possible for the passing of my imaginary TV friends where as Grey’s Anatomy seems to enjoy jarring my very existence season after season. Either way, I’m probably way too invested in fantasy worlds.