Despite debuting to 17.1 million people, Season 7 of The Walking Dead has begun to lose viewers faster than a zombie loses body parts. Episode 5 was the season's lowest rated episode yet, attracting less than 11 millions viewers. For any other show, these figures would still be mind-blowing, but last week marked #TheWalkingDead's lowest ratings since Season 3, which represents a drop of apocalyptic proportions.
Admittedly, AMC has little to worry about for now, as the adventures of Rick and co. remain the highest rated show on TV — but how long will this last?
Why Are Fans Abandoning The Walking Dead?
In some ways, The Walking Dead appears to be performing better than ever. After all, the Season 7 premiere was the second highest rated episode in the show's history, an achievement that's made all the more impressive considering how long The Walking Dead has been on air for.
However, the key to drawing in so many viewers for Negan's return revolved almost solely around the big reveal following the cliffhanger ending of Season 6. While this was clearly effective in the short term, a number of fans weren't so impressed, promising to boycott the show due to the brutality depicted on screen.
Even those who weren't offended by Glenn's eye-popping demise also found little reason to remain with The Walking Dead. Fans who didn't just stick around to see who met Lucille are also growing disenchanted, thanks to the slow-burn approach of this season.
Pacing Is Key
For a show that revolves around flesh-eating zombies, The Walking Dead has always been remarkably slow-paced, especially considering its mainstream appeal. However, after Season 7 opened in such an explosive fashion, fans weren't ready for what's been arguably the slowest run of The Walking Dead since Rick's survivors first fell asleep in Season 2's monotonous farmhouse.
While the show has undoubtedly built some goodwill from fans over its seven seasons, not even the most loyal of viewers have been particularly tolerant of this approach. Instead of hooking fans who may have considered leaving after the divisive opening of Season 7, The Walking Dead has decided to fragment the narrative more than ever before, leaving multiple episodes in between storylines that tracked the various splinter groups.
Can't wait to see how Daryl escapes Negan's clutches? You'll have to wait weeks to find out. Excited to see Carol's relationship with Ezekiel and that kickass tiger develop? Fans haven't seen either of them since Episode 2. And honestly, has Michonne just been asleep for the past 6 weeks?
If you're experiencing pangs for Shiva, check out the clip below:
Juggling such a large ensemble is never easy, and logistical issues may be partly to blame too, once you factor in everyone's shooting schedules. But this isn't the first time that The Walking Dead has switched between multiple stories, so why isn't it working this time?
The Answer Lies In Season 4...
Cast your mind back a few seasons to when the Scooby Gang were all separated, but shared a common goal: fighting tooth and nail to reunite in the 'safe haven' Terminus. Just like Season 7, audiences were forced to regularly switch between different groups — but the difference here was that all of our favorite characters still appeared on a weekly basis. Rather than waiting several weeks to catch up with our favorite characters, we only had to wait several minutes — making every episode compulsory viewing, regardless of which characters we were waiting to see.
By changing this approach and forcing us to wait weeks to see what will happen next to our favorite survivors, The Walking Dead has begun to alienate viewers who can't deal with the withdrawal symptoms that occur when Daryl and co. are no longer part of our weekly lives.
It's now become far easier to skip episodes once you realize that your favorite characters aren't scheduled to appear that week. Combine this with The Walking Dead's typically slow burn approach to storytelling and AMC has begun to run the genuine risk of losing half their audience in the space of one season. After all, once you've missed one or two episodes, it becomes harder and harder to re-immerse yourself in the show, and your pangs for zombie life become fewer and further apart.
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Of course, there is a grander scheme at work here, one which could pay off in a big way if The Walking Dead manages to thread all of these plots back together during the mid-season finale in a few weeks' time. Let's just hope that The Walking Dead will still have an audience by the time that it returns early next year in the Spring.