Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead premiere beat the holy hell out of everything else on television.

The ultra-violent seventh season opener of the AMC zombie drama Sunday night delivered 17 million viewers and an incredible 8.4 rating among adults 18–49.

That’s a bigger demo rating than NBC’s Sunday Night Football, let alone any other mortal series on the air. Over the last couple weeks, the closest scripted shows to being competitive were CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and Fox’s Empire, each with a comparatively puny 3.5 rating.

But how did TWD compare to its own legacy of insanely high, record-breaking ratings? Negan and Lucille swung for the fences and just barely fell short of the drama’s all-time high — the season 5 premiere — which still stands as the show’s biggest overnight rating with 17.3 million viewers and an 8.8 rating. AMC expects the season 7 premiere ratings will set a new record once more forms of viewing are added.

Interestingly, the rating was up 22 percent from the season 6 finale — you know, the one with a cliffhanger that left so many fans swearing they were going to quit watching the show. As annoying as that stunt may have been, it’s tough to argue it was a mistake when looking at these numbers. It’s like that riddle: Three birds are sitting on a fence, and two decide to fly away. How many birds remain on the fence? Answer: Three.

Of course, Sunday’s premiere has once again resulted in some fans declaring they are quitting the show, this time due to the episode’s almost pornographic level of violence — especially for basic cable. We’ll see how that goes, but in the meantime the Parents TV Council slammed the hour as “one of the most graphically violent shows we’ve ever seen on television, comparable to the most violent of programs found on premium cable networks.”

While director Greg Nicotero defended the episode as staying true to the comic, “… what struck me about [the comic] was it was horrifically graphic and senseless and brutal. … In this instance, we felt that it was important to launch us into this season by showing the extent of what Negan is capable of doing. … It’s really unfortunate that people want to take a negative spin on it because, as far as I’m concerned, I’m dedicated to watching a show because I want to see where the story’s going to go next.”

Also, AMC’s expanded 90-minute Talking Dead was the most-watched post-show ever with 7.6 million viewers, and in the demo delivered a 3.7 rating — just shy of the after-show’s record, which was the episode airing after the season 5 finale. (So yes, Talking Dead also beat Empire and Big Bang Theory.)

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

  • TV Show
  • 10
  • TV-14
  • Frank Darabont
  • AMC
stream service