The point in a series where the story takes a sudden dramatic turn. Things will never be quite the same again.
When advertisements tease you with words such as "The most shocking episode of the season!", they're probably referring to this (unless they're not). This is the episode meant to radically alter the status quo, and in doing so send a major shock through the viewership.
Note that it's not a Wham Episode if it turns out that the shocking events were All Just a Dream, or if the changes are reversed with a Snap Back or Reset Button, or if the series has Negative Continuity. To count as a Wham Episode, the events must actually happen and become Canon. When a series is already successful, and the writers decide to do this, it's very risky. The writers are making a bold move and risking losing a lot of their fans. The writers have balls. You might even say they have canon balls.
Almost always takes place at a Season Finale, and at times can even be a Grand Finale if it includes a high enough shock factor (which isn't always the case). Alternatively, it might come before the Season Finale, which then resolves the plot twist. Earlier than that, and it could be a Halfway Plot Switch, or if occurs even sooner a Mid-Season Twist (which usually goes down at the end of Act I). One is likely to happen at the end of a string of Not So Episodic episodes.
What Qualifies as a Wham Episode?Just because an event is dramatic or has a reveal, that doesn't make it a Wham Episode. In order to qualify, the episode must:
- Signify a shake-up in the status quo. What happens in this episode has to be presented as something of a significant impact. A character getting their hair cut isn't a big deal; a character getting an Important Haircut as part of a Heel–Face Turn is.
- Show that the change is not easily undone. Whatever causes a Wham Episode can't be something that gets resolved quickly and easily, if it can be resolved at all. It must be an event with long-lasting effects. For instance, a character's death is sometimes a big deal, but not always. In a series where Death is Cheap, it may just be a way to get the character out of the story for a while or into some sort of B-plot in the afterlife. The audience is thus assured that the character will still be around in some capacity. However, if the series has made it clear that there's no coming back from the dead in this universe, no matter what, a named character dying is a really big change because they're gone for good.
- Be felt by the characters within the series. This has to be something that the characters will be dealing with in their own ways. How the characters react to the big change, whatever it is, determines some of the impact to the audience. If the characters react like it's a big deal and have to apply significant effort to adapt to this change, the episode's likelihood of being a Wham Episode dramatically increases.As an example...
The term was coined by J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5, which is very liberally sprinkled with them.
Compare Genre Turning Point, Nothing Is the Same Anymore, Cerebus Syndrome, and The Ending Changes Everything. Contrast with Breather Episode. Related to Drama Bomb. Complete opposite of Status Quo Is God. If this is the first episode and/or the prologue, it's a Downer Beginning. If the WHAM aspect is concentrated in a single line, it's a Wham Line; if it’s in an image, it’s a Wham Shot. See also Ascended Fridge Horror, wherein some aspects of the series leave some viewers with reason to expect a tone shift, before they see it applied by the writers. Often the first warning that the viewer is dealing with a Deconstruction. Frequently caused by or contains a Gut Punch.
It can also be defined by having a series of reveals contained in it which serve to expand or alter the series’ lore, Worldbuilding, Myth Arc, stakes, characters’ identities, or characters’ dynamics between each other. If the episode’s WHAM factor is defined by just a single reveal, it must be impactful enough to recontextualize the entire series’ (or arcs') premise as well as everything that both came before in previous episodes and comes after from then on out.
Here be unmarked spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.
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- Happy Heroes: Season 7 episode 50 significantly shakes up the status quo by having Kalo die by sacrificing himself to defeat a spaceship army. Careful S. is not happy about this since Kalo was a close friend of his, and a few episodes of Season 8 use his refusal to get over it as a major plot point.
- Pandemic Legacy Season 1:
- January and February: The C0dA virus mutates to become incurable, and then impossible to treat. All you can do about it now is quarantining its hot spots. In March, the CDC hires a paramilitary group to help your team.
- April: C0dA has mutated again, and it now turns its victims into the Faded, who have translucent so that you can see the tissue beneath, and experience periods of rage when they attack anything in sight. They are dangerous to be around — if you start your turn in a city containing the Faded, you receive a scar.
- September contains the biggest twist of them all: The Paranoid Soldier reveals that C0dA was a Synthetic Plague spread by a group called Zodiac to destabilize regimes. Worse, your team is revealed to be a group intended to look busy while Zodiac was continuing their plan, and one of your characters is a Zodiac member working to accelerate roadblocks and military installations from within. Now the traitor is permanently out of the game, and you have to sabotage the military network you helped build up.
- Nevermind. Coming out in 1991 at just the perfect time for Grunge to take over the airwaves: Pop and Rock had almost become synonymous with how edgeless and synthetic it all sounded, people were reeling especially from the Milli Vanilli scandal, and a garage band with a killer hook ended up becoming an enormous hit.
- For DragonForce, who had previously done pretty standard Heavy Mithril-fare, Ultra Beatdown was this. Among the tracks were:
- Heartbreak Armageddon, which is about a man spiraling into depression during a messy divorce.
- Scars Of Yesterday, which is about the world seen through the eyes of a rape survivor.
- Reasons To Live, which is about a therapist who fails to prevent one of his patients from committing suicide.
- "In the Flesh" from The Wall, which is a Dark Reprise of "In the Flesh?", and where Pink starts fantasizing about being a Neo-Nazi.
- In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: "Holland 1945" marks the point where the album turns from wistful to brutally depressing as it discusses Anne Frank's death paired with an extremely noisy and fast-paced sound.
- Jhariah's A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO FAKING YOUR DEATH takes a turn for being much darker with "DEBT COLLECTOR". While the singer seems mostly okay with faking his death before this, mentioning that it's a much-needed change of pace and finding the overstimulation a little exciting, this song marks the point where he realizes the consequences are really piling on. His "past will come and drag him down" and people are picking up on the scam he pulled, and he has to owe up to what he did. The song's fast pace and dramatic instrumental add to it. This sets the trajectory in later songs where he begins to regret his plan and eventually decides to Face Death with Dignity.