The Walking Dead ratings continue to backslide, as the AMC drama series hit its lowest numbers since its first season on Sunday. Indeed, the most recent episode drew a 2.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 6.8 million viewers, and that demo rating is the show’s lowest since Season 1. The last time the series fell below a 3.0 rating was Season 1’s penultimate episode “Wildfire,” which drew a 2.8 rating. Even looking just at the total number of viewers, that 6.8 million is a low we haven’t seen since the Season 2 episode “Better Angels,” which hit 6.89 million viewers.
Of course back then The Walking Dead was on an upswing. Creator Frank Darabont’s series arrived at a time when AMC was in the midst of becoming A Big Deal with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and in terms of original drama series the network was kind of untouchable. The Walking Dead promised a genre spin on the Second Golden Age of Television, and the cinematic visuals, complex characters, and zombie gore proved to be a winning combination that led to rising ratings year after year—even as behind-the-scenes turmoil led to two different showrunners departing on bad terms with the network.
The ratings continued to climb until Season 6, when for the first time ever the Season premiere debuted to fewer eyeballs than the season before. Now in Season 8, in the wake of some controversial character deaths and an overall joyless tone, viewers are leaving in droves and the show is clearly suffering. What was once viewed as a bulletproof series that would run for years is now in the midst of a creative crisis the likes of which it’s never seen before.
But is it really as bad as it seems? Maybe not. When The Walking Dead debuted in 2010, the TV landscape was drastically different. Viewing habits have evolved tremendously in the ensuing eight years with the advent of streaming and On Demand, and many folks will now simply wait and binge-watch a show’s season all at once. Moreover, while The Walking Dead ratings hit a new low, it was still easily the top-rated and most-watched cable show of Sunday by far. Ratings are down at networks across the board, while the exponential growth of Netflix’s original offerings, not to mention Hulu, Amazon, and the impending arrival of Apple, has led to viewers having more options than ever before, and large numbers of people cutting the cable cord entirely.
So there are a lot of factors at play here. Foundationally yes, The Walking Dead has become quite unpopular. The show’s fandom is intense, but decisions made over the past couple of seasons seem to have become “the last straw” for some viewers who have finally given up and bolted. But it’s also important to keep context in mind when looking at these ratings. Don’t get me wrong, these numbers are still incredibly troubling. But when you look at the TV landscape as a whole, and the uniqueness of actual appointment-viewing television, The Walking Dead is still far from being on life support.