If AMC was hoping the impending departure of Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead would lead to a ratings uptick in the show’s ninth season, they did not get it. The Walking Dead Season 9 premiere—which was marketed as the beginning of the end for Rick Grimes—pulled in a 2.5 rating in the 18-49 demo graphic and 6.1 million viewers. That’s the lowest rating in the demo for a season premiere since the show began, with the series premiere pulling in a 2.7 rating back in 2010. The Season 9 premiere did, however, bring in more total viewers than the series premiere—6.1 million versus the 5.3 million that tuned in to see the beginning of the AMC series. But that’s still a steep drop from the series’ heyday in seasons three through seven, which regularly pulled in double-digit numbers and topped out at 17.29 million viewers for the Season 5 premiere.
The Season 9 opener was down a whopping 50% versus the Season 8 premiere in terms of ratings, and 47% in total viewers—the Season 8 premiere drew in 11.4 million viewers last year. But this wasn’t just bad news in terms of season premieres—Season 9’s first episode is nearly tied with the series’ lowest rating for any episode in the key demo, with a Season 1 episode’s 2.4 rating standing as the lowest rated episode thus far. TL;DR: The number of people watching The Walking Dead Season 9 is nearly back to the number of people who watched the show in Season 1, when it was first getting off the ground.
On paper, this is all bad news. The show—which was once an absolute juggernaut, competing with broadcast networks to score the highest ratings on any channel—has been on a sharp decline in viewership starting in Season 7, when many fans seemed to agree the show was creatively spinning its wheels. However, the way people watch TV has changed dramatically since the series premiered in 2010, and since it became a bona fide hit in Season 3. More and more people are watching on a delayed viewing schedule, either through On Demand or Apps, or even just waiting until the full season is available on Netflix to binge it. So while these Season 9 numbers are pretty dire, it’s worth noting that TV as a whole is in decline with regards to traditional ratings metrics.
Season 9 is a bit of a reboot for The Walking Dead, not just in terms of Rick leaving, but also behind the scenes. Anglea Kang has now taken over as showrunner for Scott M. Gimple, who stepped back to oversee the entire Walking Dead franchise. She’ll be taking the show in new and different directions as AMC has no plans to cancel it anytime soon, so it’ll be interesting to see if the show gets a boost once Rick is gone. For now, somewhat surprisingly, even fans who bolted aren’t much interested in seeing how Rick leaves the show.
If you’re still watching, sound off in the comments with why you chose to stick around. And if you bailed, do you have any plans to return?