With the show's "All Out War" storyline going into full-swing, The Walking Dead on Sunday night continued to trend in the wrong direction ratings-wise, sinking to its lowest numbers since season 2. Sagging ratings have been an issue for the show going back to season 7, when a series of controversial story decisions and a lack of satisfying character interaction seemed to turn off a lot of long-time fans.
Sunday night's episode was mostly dominated by action, again. A group of Alexandrians led by Aaron executed an assault on Negan's sanctuary, getting involved in a protracted (and very loud) gun battle with a group of Saviors, and teaching their enemies a nasty lesson in how to incorporate walkers into a battle plan. Tara and Jesus got involved in their own battle during another mission, and had a chance to engage in a little moral debate about how to treat their enemies. On yet another mission, Ezekiel gave Carol a lesson in leadership, while Morgan seemed to move closer to some kind of unraveling. The episode came to a climax when Rick ran into Morales, a character who hasn't been seen since season 1.
Audiences do not seem overly impressed by what The Walking Dead is offering so far in season 8, with Sunday night's episode turning in the lowest rating since way back in season 2, before the show became a true pop culture juggernaut. According to TV By the Numbers, the episode drew just a 4.0 in the 18-49 demo, good enough for first place among cable programs on the night but a far cry from the numbers The Walking Dead used to routinely pull. The show's estimated 8.9 million viewers was down significantly from episode 2 of season 7, which drew 12.4 million.
Falling ratings are becoming a trend for The Walking Dead. Despite the usual huge amount of hype leading up to the season premiere two weeks ago, the episode pulled in just 11.4 million viewers, the lowest number since season 3 and way down from the 17 million viewers who watched Negan bash in Glenn and Abraham's skulls on the premiere episode of season 7 a year ago. That super-violent season 7 debut may have marked a turning point for a lot of viewers, as numbers for the show declined throughout the rest of the year, failing to rebound significantly late in the season.
Several factors may have played into this Sunday's episode hitting such a low number, including competition from a very high-rated World Series game on FOX. However, there's no question The Walking Dead has been slowly hemorrhaging viewers for a while, and it doesn't seem the show has found a way to stem the loss. Many fans seemed to be turned off by the show's exploitative moves in season 7, and a lot of people really don't like Jeffrey Dean Morgan's diabolical Negan. As the show has shifted away from character dynamics and into more cartoonish action, it arguably has lost some of its heart, becoming more of a goofy thrill machine than the compelling soap-opera-with-zombies that attracted the attention of so many people who otherwise would not have been interested in a horror TV show.
With this season promising to be dominated by more violence, more death, and more Negan (though he didn't show up at all in this week's episode, he's certain to be a major presence going forward), one wonders if The Walking Dead will ever get back the viewers it seems to be losing.
Source: TV By the Numbers