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.


  • Bad Acid

    Yep. At first I thought “Wow, I actually remembered the show is on at 8:00 CST for once and didn’t miss the first 2 minutes! Cool!” Then they showed the Merle flashback “Oh, so he’s in this episode then. God dammit, spoilers!”

    Right up there with trailers that reveal the whole plot / ending scene of a movie.

  • Postal

    Completely agree. I hope the thinking behind these revealing “previously on…” segments is that they help people who don’t watch regularly get caught up and pulled into the series and not an estimation on the part of the producers of the viewer’s ability to remember which show they’re watching.

  • Ringo

    I’m actually running through Lost again with my girlfriend because she had never seen it. After the first two seasons I started fast-forwarding through the “Previously on…” parts because you’re absolutely right, it gives way to much away. I understand catching people up some plot points that they may have missed because they didn’t see the previous episode, but it seems unnecessary to have two minutes that brings up specific plot points from a season ago that are clearly going to get answered in the upcoming episode. Anytime they were bringing back a character on Lost, you would see them in the “Previously on…”. I really wish there was an option to turn them off in the blu-ray menus…

  • GrandWazoo

    I agree 100%. I fast forward through all of the “previously on” scenes whenever a show I watch has them. For some reason my roommate really likes watching those scenes because he likes to know what’s about to happen and what the episode is building toward. I personally don’t understand why he enjoys them, but to each his own I suppose.

  • Johnny D

    These “Previously On…” recaps are kind of insulting to the viewers. I mean, they may argue that it’s for people who are tuning in for the first time, but that’s a load of horse shit.

    For serialized shows (especially now when shows are so readily available online), you rarely see people just tune in randomly.

  • trashcanman

    I noticed that as well. I seldom watch the “next week on” segments, but it’s kind of hard to miss the “previously on” when it’s the first thing you see when you press play on the DVR or tune into a show on live tv. I mean, it’s not like Andrea didn’t recount the Merle incident in the goddamn dialogue to clue in Michonne and those who missed the first season.

  • But thank god for them in Lost….

  • Oddjob

    I think that “coming up” before commercials or “on next weeks episode” are equally annoying in series/programs.

  • marty

    Doesn’t surprise me that a sub par show like the walking dead would do this.

  • Bad Acid

    “Previously on…” segments should be limited to ONLY the prior episode. Nothing further back. That way, it may get a new viewer intrigued enough to check out the previous episode, which will have its own “previously on” segment, while not revealing the entire backstory… so it starts a healthy cycle 😀

  • Todd X

    I have to say that the Children’s Hospital employs an effective us of the previously on device.

    Part of the enjoyment of a story is not knowing what is going to happen next. I dislike the previously and coming next week. Surprise me if you will.

  • Javier

    I agree with Bad Acid up there, and in case of a season premiere they can do it for the previous season like Homeland did recapping the essential in 2 minutes in the premiere.

    Though I think your suggestion of showing only the prior episode wouldn’t have worked for this episode since this one and the last one were 2 separate entities

  • Rob J

    I also dislike “previously on” and “next week on” segments…no need for them

  • Charlie Ward


    First noticed it with Mad Men, I think. They’re pretty bad about it.

  • InLimbo

    I completely agree with you! I refuse to watch any type of “previously on…” or “next week, on…” anymore. It’s so aggravating to have the element of surprise stripped away from you like that! Maybe they should only recap the season the episode is in only, because real, interested watchers are much better at remembering characters and scenes than they realize. I just press mute and look away for a little while lol.

  • Jeff

    here’s an idea…fast forward through that segment!

  • Charlie Ward

    Here’s an idea. . .shut up, Jeff!

  • Jason

    “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.”

    Well… 😛