First World TV Problems: “Previously On…” Scenes Ruining Surprises

Today it’s rant time, and though it’s about a relatively minor issue, that’s what the internet is for, right?

Quite simply, this is a trend that’s been bothering me for AGES now, and one that came to a head during this week’s The Walking Dead.

I’ve long decried the watching of “next week on…” scenes that always play after every new episode of a show. If I like the show, I don’t need a previews of 2 minutes of scenes that either reveal too much or deliberately mislead me about an upcoming episode (see Sons of Anarchy acting like Clay was going to kill Unser last week).

“Just kidding, I’m fine.”

But now “previously on…” scenes are starting to ruin shows in a different way, or at least preventing us from being surprised. Unlike “next week on…” scenes, I have no inherent problem with the existence of “previously on…” scenes. Rather, I think they can be useful at the beginning of a new season to remind people of the general plot points that came before. Or week to week, they can show us briefly where we left off last time, which can offset a bit of confusion if we’re following multiple shows at once and can’t quite remember everything about them.

(Walking Dead spoilers for this past week follow)

Sometimes, however, the “previously on…” scenes simply ruin surprises from the next episode. Ever since season one of The Walking Dead, we’ve all been wondering when Merle would return. He lopped off his own hand after being handcuffed on that roof, and presumably we’d see him at some unknown point in the future, attempting to get revenge on Rick and the group. Though where and when was anyone’s guess.

Until this week, when we didn’t have to guess anymore. The “previously on…” scenes were nearly entire devoted to showing us Merle’s story from season one, in an effort to say HEY U GUYS REMEMBER THIS GUY? YOU MIGHT SEE HIM AGAIN SOME TIME SOON HINT HINT.

If only the preview people had listened to Merle.

And sure enough, there he was, part of the Governor’s murder brigade with new bayonet-hand in tow. But think about how surprising and cool his reappearance could have been without the “previously on…” reveal? On the show itself, he’s nowhere to be seen until the opening scene’s final moments. We hear his voice (“Hey, that sounds familiar”) followed by his face (“HOLY SHIT IT’S MERLE!”) and that could have been a great moment as we’ve been waiting for him for nearly two years now. But as it stands, it wasn’t the least bit of a surprise to anyone who watched the “previously on…” scenes. I expect something similar to happen when we finally hear from that black guy, Morgan, and his son that Rick met in the very first episode of the show. We’ll have that plot development telegraphed well before we actually see it.

The Walking Dead isn’t the first show to do this, and it certainly won’t be the last. I’ve seen this across countless shows where they’re bringing in a character from a past season. It might have been a cool surprise to see them return, but rather we have it shoved in our face that they’re coming back before the episode even starts. This can be done with plot points as well, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see in an upcoming Game of Thrones a  “previously on” scene where Ned Stark talks with Robert about Jon Snow’s long-lost mother. Guess we know what big mystery will be getting solved this week! Shows like Lost did this all the time as well.

It seems to me that moments like this are for people with really poor memories, and it ruins moments for those of us who are big enough fans of the show to actually remember important plotlines or characters from the past. What could be a cool surprise in an episode is instead negated by these stupid scenes. If viewers are really that confused about what’s happening or who these people are, this is why we have the internet.

Yes, a first world problem rant to be sure, but one I have a hunch a few people agree with me about. Let me know.



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