These days, it seems like the most exciting thing some shows can come up with is to kill off the series' most beloved characters (don't even talk to me about "The Walking Dead"...). While this tactic can have value when it's necessary to the plot, it gets old when all you see is more and more shock value. Here are some things that would be much more in line with the whole "gritty realism" vibe:
It's the apocalypse, and you want me to believe that every female character has perfectly smooth underarms? Nah. Okay, maybe once in a while show a guy using a rusty knife to scrape his beard off. That's believable, I guess. But imagine doing that to someone's legs...I don't care if the world is ending, I'm not going out with half of my body scraped up because it's not ladylike to have fuzzy legs. And I'm pretty sure nobody's going to think to grab a bottle of Nair when the zombies start rising from their graves. Seeing what human bodies look like while roughing it is realistic, and it can be an interesting idea in a story. This applies to both futuristic dystopias, and historical fantasies.
Relationships that last — even through difficulties.
Audiences tear their hair out when one person in a couple has to tearfully say goodbye to the other. Want a more complicated, riveting storyline? Try having the characters go through relationship hell, but still stay together (and alive) despite it all. When you make a character's loved one die without any warning or context, it just feels like you're capitalizing on all the potential grief you can squeeze out of the story.
Needing some space.
Need to move one character "offscreen" for a while? No, you don't need to immediately butcher their character. Death is a part of reality, but there are plenty of other things you could use to justify someone stepping down from the main story. Maybe they get badly injured, and need some time to recuperate. Maybe they take off to a different place for some reason, or desperately have to visit a family member in a conveniently far-off land. You can shift the focus onto other characters without killing off the ones who have to go. Violence is tragic, but so is life catching up with you and forcing you to make hard choices.
Life being unfair.
On that note, tragic deaths do work sometimes, but we can't all be Shakespeare. Too many martyrs, and you'll have your fanbase focused more on who's not on the show anymore, instead of who is.We always mourn untimely deaths, but that's not the only thing that can show how random and cruel life can be. Shows like "Supernatural" have been under heavy criticism for this, because they've killed off almost every single secondary character (and a few main ones). Instead of this, you could show how unfair living can be for some — characters can be wronged and denied justice, have to lose their job or home, or other things. Those are just fine for injecting drama into a story.
Far too often, writers try to show social conflict with extreme (and graphic) acts of hatred against minorities. That doesn't mean those stories shouldn't be told, because it does happen (and we usually underestimate how much) in our world. But it's important not to use societal issues as excuses for gore and tragedy only. The deaths of LGBT characters have been criticized in shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Supernatural," and "The 100," where LGBT women, in particular, were killed off to advance the main characters' story. And the overuse of sexual violence has been criticized in "Game of Thrones," where assault scenes that weren't in the books were added to the show, presumably to shock the viewers even more. Hatred-fueled crimes absolutely need to be shown in our media, because they are very much a real thing. But discrimination shows itself in a lot of ways, and violence is only one of them.
Mental health problems.
Some shows try to approach this idea but usually end up just having the character in question cry a tear or two, knock back a shot of whiskey, and dismiss any discussion of emotions or vulnerability. That may be how some people cope, but it's really not how we should view the effects of trauma in general. Exposure to violence and emotional distress can cause a lot of things, like depression, panic attack-inducing anxiety, and eating disorders. In fact, if your story has a lot of violence in it, it's unrealisticnot to address the psychological consequences it has on your characters.
Romance without love triangles.
This is a YA staple that, admittedly, can be pretty juicy with the right characters. Still, it's definitely not impossible for a female protagonist to have male friends and a male love interest. That's more realistic than your main character inevitably having two men fight over the right to loom over her protectively (I see you, "Twilight"). Or if you really need the unrequited love trope, try mixing it up... there can be LGBT love triangles, too! Really, as long as you don't make it out like people can't help but get intensely jealous over women, you should be fine.