What will almost certainly be the two most-watched programs on Sunday night featured bloody beatings, murder, suicide, a violence disclaimer, and a crucifixion.
And that was just “The Bible.”
If nothing else, the juxtaposition of “The Walking Dead” ending its season and “The Bible” finishing its limited run on Easter Sunday — coupled with the premiere of “Game of Thrones” and History’s continuing “Bible” companion “Vikings” — reinforces that whatever people might say regarding media violence, there’s no denying how entertaining it can be.
Still, there are other takeaways from Sunday’s finales, and not just how the expectation bar on basic cable has been raised thanks primarily to “Walking Dead’s” staggering numbers, but also History’s twin triumphs (ratings-wise, anyway) with the miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” and now “The Bible.”
In a strange way, “Walking Dead” has succeeded as much in spite of itself — or rather, AMC’s handling of the franchise, which has been brilliant in some respects, and puzzling in others — as because of it. And while this season was far from perfect — starting with the “Rick goes crazy, starts seeing dead wife” interlude, which went on far too long — the finale continued to exhibit the show’s enormous guts in terms of shedding significant characters and relying upon new ones.
By that measure, losing Andrea (Laurie Holden), in a genuinely wrenching moment, on the heels of the other deaths involving series regulars again served notice there will be major casualties in this post-apocalyptic world — including, not incidentally, showrunner Glen Mazzara, who deserves considerable credit for safely piloting the show through rocky shoals to this point after Frank Darabont’s surprising post-season one departure.
As I said early on, “Walking Dead” is better than a show with ravenous zombies and such a high splatter quotient (for the part of the audience that demands it) has any right to be, and it has been rewarded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Of course, if AMC persists in engineering such behind-the-scenes changes, they might begin to test that adage about the Lord helping those who help themselves, no matter how bulletproof “Dead’s” zombie army appears right now.
As for “The Bible,” although I reviewed the project previously, that assessment didn’t include an advance preview of Sunday’s final installment, which dealt with the killing of Jesus Christ in a slow-motion frenzy of bloodletting that necessitated its own violence warning.
For many, of course, seeing Jesus suffer in all its technicolor glory is a deeply moving experience (witness “The Passion of the Christ,” which prolonged the process beyond two hours). The producers of “The Bible,” led by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, dispatched him in a little under an hour, and even that was pretty gruesome, if plenty derivative of past depictions.
Unfortunately, that left a finishing portion devoted to how Christ’s followers established Christianity, which might have raised the term “anticlimactic” to new heights. Mostly, the last hour felt like an excuse to squeeze in more promos for “Ax Men,” “Vikings,” and of course the DVD release of “The Bible” on April 2, just in case anyone had forgotten.
Its flaws and excesses notwithstanding, there’s no denying “The Bible” has been a huge winner for both History and Burnett, who hardly needed any further padding to his commercial resume.
Frankly, though, all I could think near the end — when Jesus glowingly says, “I am coming soon” — was how prescient that sounded given the wave of religious-themed projects this is almost sure to unleash. From that perspective, it’s too bad Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber already set the whole thing to music in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Because after the kind of ratings History has enjoyed, that might be the only thing that could resurrect “Smash.”