(WARNING: If you have not watched since the end of Season 5 and plan on catching up, warning that there are some minor spoilers ahead.)
AMC’s #TheWalkingDead aired its fourth Season 7 episode this past Sunday and saw its ratings drop yet again, this time to a 5.4 score based on the overnights for the 18–49 demographic. That is a 28 percent drop from the show’s season debut which pulled an 8.4 rating, the second highest numbers TWD has seen across its seven seasons. Of course, even after Sunday's drop, the show is still by far the highest-rated scripted series on all of television, so #AMC isn’t crying too much about the numbers at this point.
TWD is at its lowest levels since its third season and this is clearly a sign that the recent backlash against it (more on that below) has impacted viewership. It still has plenty of leeway at this point and also quite a number of fan-favorite stories from the comics ahead of it, so a rebound is definitely possible, but AMC and the creative staff should take note that the drop in viewership clearly indicates that fans are not happy with some of the show’s recent miscalculations.
Why Are Fans Tuning Out?
Season 6 was criticized by fans for several reasons. For one, they felt it was treading water and stretching out far too long the introduction of Negan, the notorious villain from the comics. The faux-death of Glen was another contention as well as stringing people along for several episodes before finally revealing his fate. Then came Negan’s actual introduction, which comic book fans (and pretty much anybody who read any news about TWD at that point) knew would end with one of the main characters getting their head bashed in by his barbed-wire wrapped bat.
The villain’s introduction occurred in the Season 6 finale, but the fate of Negan’s victim was not revealed, leaving viewers hanging until the Season 7 premiere. Even then, it was nearly halfway through the episode before viewers found out who met their demise. That seemed to draw out the ire of fans even more after already having been strung along so long, plus the episode was criticized for its excessive violence. So while the Season 7 premiere drew near record ratings for the show, it left fans with a very bad taste in their collective mouths, and the "Walking Dexit" began with the second episode of the season. It’s numbers thus far have been an 8.4 rating for the premiere followed by a 6.1, 5.7, then a 5.4. The delayed viewing ratings have followed the same trend.
Putting Those Numbers In Context
Again, as mentioned above, The Walking Dead is still by far the highest rated show on television, so it is not in ratings jail at the moment. While it is currently at the lowest levels it has seen since its third season aired in 2012–13, it still outranks anything else on television with the exception of some sports and specials. This past week, if you throw out the election coverage, TWD was the top-rated show on cable, even beating out ESPN’s Monday Night Football in both the 18–49 demographic and in total viewers. It was also ahead of everything on the broadcast nets except Sunday Night Football and the bleed-over of the FOX Sunday afternoon game. The next closest show to it was The Big Bang Theory, which was a full two points lower at a 3.4 rating in the demo. So yeah, The Walking Dead’s numbers are down, but it really just means that it has slipped out of the the stratosphere and is only flying at cloud level these days.
Is AMC worried? Probably not too much since they still have the top-rated show on television. But, The Walking Dead is expensive to produce, with its large (and ever-growing) cast and hefty makeup budget for the zombies. The network’s executives might just step in and ask for a course correction if the numbers continue to sink. Though, I believe they were responsible for some of last season’s missteps to begin with because that had network-tinkering written all over it.
Fear The Walking Dead Is Losing Viewers As Well
The TWD spin-off #FearTheWalkingDead bowed in the summer of 2015 and averaged a 3.9 rating based on the overnights for the 18–49 demo for its first season. Definitely lower than the parent series, but those numbers had it as one of the top-rated shows on television at that time. The exodus for that series began during its first year amidst grumbling of mediocre writing and its slow pace. Its second season, which debuted last April, saw an accelerated departure of viewers as it debuted with a 3.1 rating (down from its freshman season average) and had slipped to a 1.4 score by the time it wrapped up. That final rating is still quite good for a cable series (and also for the broadcast networks these days), but viewers definitely appear to be giving up on the spin-off at a quicker pace, which is certainly weakening the franchise to an extent.
Johnny Jay’s Take
Personally, The Walking Dead had been my favorite show on television up through Season 6, but I made the decision not to watch the show this year, at least not right away. TWD has been a stand-out for me because it has been so well written and has offered challenging, engaging television throughout its run. It has slipped at times (and no, I am not a Season 2 hater), but more often than not it has excelled and used its zombie-pocalypse setting to explore the darker sides of human nature while also suggesting that there can be some hope for us as a race.
In the show’s sixth season, I was annoyed by some of the unnecessary contrivances and the fact that they kept stringing viewers along. However, the breaking point for me was when AMC turned hostile toward the fans over the summer, threatening legal action against anyone trying to spoil the cliffhanger. The network went too far, especially after the show left people hanging at such a crucial moment. I decided to bow out of Season 7, though I did follow Twitter the night of the premiere to find out which character ended up on the wrong end of Negan’s bat (I’m not a spoiler-phobe). I guessed it correctly last July (SPOILER WARNING: Plus, the No. 2 death was next up in my ranking of most likely to die). I will pick the show back up at some point, maybe even catching up with the first half over the winter hiatus, but I had to just take a break, and it sounds like I picked a good time based on the feedback I am hearing so far. Hopefully, the network execs and the creative staff will take note that fans are not happy with the show’s recent direction and make the proper course correction going forward.
Are You Joining The Walking Dexit?
Back to the original question: Are you joining the others bailing from the show or did you give up on it in prior seasons? Cast your vote below and chime in with your comments on whether The Walking Dead has gone too far into the bad place or if it could still turn things around.
Are you joining the Walking Dexit?
If you've kept up with Season 7 so far, you've likely seen the gang return to form and significantly amp up their zombie killing spree. Check out the body count below: