[This post contains SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 7 premiere.]
When Negan began his game of ‘eeny meeny miny mo’ in the season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, many fans were thrilled that one of the comic book’s key characters had finally arrived on screen and was about to make his bloody mark at the expense of a member of Rick’s band of survivors. Many of those same fans were equally apoplectic when it transpired that the identity of Negan’s victim would be saved until season 7, leaving fans with almost a seven month wait for the reveal.
The decision prompted a petition to be set up asking AMC to reveal the mystery person before the show returned in October – and series creator Robert Kirkman even gave a word of apology to angry viewers. Kirkman did however, promise that the episode would be worth the wait and fan reaction to the season 7 opener has certainly been passionate (for good and bad). Of course, as most everyone seems aware of now, both Abraham and Glenn met the sharp end of Lucille; leaving Rick and co. thoroughly broken and completely submissive to Negan.
If AMC was hoping that the Walking Dead season 6 cliffhanger would bring in improved viewership numbers, then that goal seems to have been nothing less than a success so far. ScreenerTV is reporting that the season 7 premiere, titled ‘The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be’, achieved the second highest ratings in the show’s history. The episode gained a total of 17.03 million viewers, a figure narrowly topped by the opening episode of season 5, ‘No Sanctuary’ (which saw Carol save the rest of her group from the cannibals of Terminus and hit 17.29 million).
The numbers show that despite the heavy criticism from fans, the decision to delay the reveal of Negan’s victim was a wise one, at least in terms of business. It seems the old adage of there being no such thing as bad publicity still rings somewhat true as season 6’s cliffhanger ending clearly kept people talking in the months between Walking Dead seasons and ensured interest remained high, right up to season 7’s premiere.
Whilst the cliffhanger was clearly a solid business move, ‘The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be’ was also TV at its most intense and nail-biting – with moments of sheer brutality that were shocking enough to attract the ire of the PTC. There’s an argument to be made that, as angry as Walking Dead fans may have been back in May, the season 7 premiere’s impact would have been lessened had its events occurred in the season 6 finale instead and it may have also been unwise to end the season on such a depressing final note.
There’s clearly a subset of Walking Dead fans unhappy with how things played out though and that may impact the ratings for the reason of the show’s seventh season. The second episode of season 7 is all the less likely to repeat the premiere’s strong ratings, for related reasons. However, the fact that a TV show can be hitting such commercial and critical highs in its seventh season is a rare thing indeed – and for that, The Walking Dead should be commended.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘The Well’ @9pm on AMC