It’s almost like somebody is taking a baseball bat to The Walking Dead‘s ratings.
AMC’s mega-hit fell sharply after its seventh season premiere last month, and has declined steadily each week since to mark the steepest ratings fall in the show’s history. In fact, Sunday’s fifth episode of the season delivered the show’s lowest viewership since season 3.
You’ll recall TWD returned to the show’s second-biggest audience ever, delivering an incredible 17 million viewers. Fan reaction to the debut was extremely polarized, however. Some found the 90-minute return to be a gripping, emotionally effective, and artful piece of work, while others thought Negan’s gory sadism crossed a line — and vowed to quit the show.
Usually such fan proclamations don’t amount to much (Game of Thrones fans threaten to quit all the time, yet the HBO drama’s audience grows every year). But this time, some fans seem to really have actually tuned out — at least temporarily. Viewership dropped 25 percent for the season’s second episode down to 12.5 million. Such a drop may have been expected somewhat given all the hype around the premiere resolving last season’s fateful circle-of-victims cliffhanger. But then the third episode dropped too (11.7 million), and so did the fourth (11.4 million) and now the fifth (11 million). Those are modest drops between episodes 2 through 5, but for TWD it still marks a low point for the show since 2013.
Check out this ratings history chart from Wikipedia below to get a sense of the show’s impressive upswing through its first few seasons and then subsequent relative steadiness until now:
As you can see, TWD also had a similar series of declines at the start of the show’s fourth season (which chronicled a virus outbreak at the prison), but it wasn’t quite as steep of a drop as this one.
To add insult to injury, Sunday’s rather uneven episode received a drubbing from fans, with one critic unhelpfully dubbing it the show’s worst episode ever (why was Enid afraid of one lone zombie anyway?).
Still, let’s keep some perspective. Even at a low point, The Walking Dead‘s adult demo rating (a 5.1 on Sunday) is still bigger than any other show on TV, and most shows are down dramatically this fall (even football). Reporters have been writing “The Walking Dead ratings have peaked!” stories since season 4, And fans have been frustrated with various arcs along the way, too (remember when the gang was endlessly stuck on the farm in season 2?). Yet the show has proven time and time again it can ramp back up to new (or almost new) heights.
So while the show’s numbers are kneeling for now, don’t be surprised if they jump back up again.