A woman gets nailed with a flying axe, a man gets his family jewels cut off, then his head, another woman flings herself off a cliff with a baby in her arms.
These are just several of the deaths that occur in the exceptionally bloody final episode of the STARZ television series, Spartacus: Vengeance. The show, in fact, has more deaths than any other on TV, according to a study recently published by Funeralwise.com, a website that provides information on how to plan funerals.
And just how many deaths? Spartacus averaged 25 dead bodies per episode, the study found. In second place was HBO’s Game of Thrones, with 14 dead bodies per episode. Of 40 primetime shows analyzed, there were an average of a 132 dead bodies per week, or just over three per episode. Meaning, of the shows chosen in the Funeralwise.com study someone is dying about once every 13 minutes, and it’s usually not from old age.
“There is a clear disconnect between the acceptance of death in popular culture and the acceptance of it in reality,” said Funeralwise director Rick Paskin.
The study, which used a network of watchers to keep track of dead bodies, also counted the deaths of non-humans, such as vampires, zombies and shape shifters. The Vampire Diaries, on CW, was the deadliest show for non-humans, with 18 vampires killed per episode, followed by AMC’s The Walking Dead, with 16 zombies killed per episode.
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“We had a hard time determining who was dead and who wasn’t,” said a New Mexico-based watcher named Josh Serrano. “Because they are immortal or whatnot they could be alive one episode and dead the next.”
Serrano, who used to watch about 40 hours of TV a week, said he doesn’t care much for vampire shows like The Vampire Diaries and True Blood, both of which he was assigned to watch for the Funeralwise.com study. But he does love Dexter, a Showtime series about a serial killer who hunts down and murders other serial killers.
“Rather than thinking this guy is a bad guy you think Dexter is killing bad people, so it is okay,” explained Serrano. “Dexter is almost justifying that we should take the law into our own hands.”
It might work out nicely on Dexter, but the nation knows all too well where self-styled justice leads. One only has to look to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin.
Which leads back to the age old question, does watching TV characters get murdered make people more likely to commit murders in real life?
Just last month, the BBC received more than 500 complaints concerning an episode of their crime series, Silent Witness. The scenes viewers complained about involved a prison guard sexually assaulting another man, and another scene in which a man had his throat cut.
“I think that series like this are far too graphic and nasty,” posted one viewer, on an internet message board. “I am not surprised that we have violence in real life today.”
But perhaps more troubling is what the Funeralwise.com study revealed about American attitudes concerning death in general. Interestingly, despite there being so many deaths on TV, the study reported that there were relatively few funerals.
This doesn’t surprise Paskin at all. “We know how difficult it is to get people to proactively plan for their funeral,” he said.
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Nor does it surprise Jolena Grande, a licensed funeral director and professor of mortuary science at Cypress College, in Los Angeles.
“One of the things I share in my mortuary 160 orientation class is a video called The Facts of Death,” said Grande. “By the time many people are 20 they have seen so many thousands of deaths on TV, but never even been to a funeral.”
“It’s indicative of the culture of death that we have,” added Grande. “We can partake in the experience of seeing death, yet don’t want to partake in the process of dealing with the death of a loved one.”
But try explaining any of this to impassioned television fans.
“I’d have to give this episode a ten,” a YouTube reviewer who goes by the name, House of Targaryen, recently posted about the final episode of Spartacus: Vengeance. “I don’t think I have any real complaints.”
Neither do the show’s producers, some 1.45 million people tuned in for the final show.
“One of the reasons for the high body count at the end of this season is we needed to make a little room to bring new characters in,” says Spartacus: Vengeance executive producer Steven DeKnight, in an interview with Michael Ausiello on the popular television news website, TVLine.
High body counts on TV may also be good for something else, the economy. “It all means more work for extras, casting agents and makeup artists who supply corpses in various stages of decomposition,” reported a February 2011 Wall Street Journal article about the bourgeoning market for actors who play dead bodies on TV. Such actors can make more than $200 a day.
But Grande remains skeptical. “I am worried that many people watching these shows don’t understand the permanence of death,” she said. “People need to understand that death is where life ceases, and I do not believe that we are going to come back as zombies.”