The Walking Dead season 8 returned from hiatus Sunday to the lowest midseason premiere ratings in the series' history. Ratings for AMC's long-running show about survivors of a zombie apocalypse have fallen sharply over the past two seasons. Nevertheless, the show remains one of cable's highest-rated programs, especially in the all-important 18-49 demo.
Steep ratings declines for the once-mighty Walking Dead trace back to season 7. The show scored some of its highest numbers ever for the season 7 premiere, which resolved the cliffhanger ending of season 6. But that super-violent episode, in which Negan brutally murdered fan-favorite characters Abraham and Glenn, seemed to turn off a lot of viewers. Ratings trended downward throughout season 7, with the wrap-up scoring the series' lowest season finale ratings since season 2. And things have not improved in season 8. The season premiere drew just 11 million viewers, the lowest number for a kick-off episode since season 3. No other season 8 episode has even cracked the 10 million viewer mark. And this is a series that used to average 12-14 million viewers per episode, even in the relatively slow midseason periods.
As Variety reports, The Walking Dead continues to languish in the ratings relative to past seasons. This Sunday's midseason premiere drew 8.3 million total viewers according to Nielsen Live+Same Day data. The episode also scored a 3.6 rating in the adult 18-49 demo. Those numbers were up slightly from the first half finale, which scored a 3.4 rating in the key demo and 7.9 million viewers. But they were down very sharply from past midseason premieres. The show's 3.6 rating was in fact its lowest ever for a midseason premiere, even lower than the 4.2 rating from season 2 (season 1 had only six episodes and therefore did not include a midseason hiatus). The return episode's 8.3 million total viewers was slightly higher than the season 2 return's 8.1 million.
The Walking Dead achieved a high-water mark for midseason return ratings in season 4 with 8.2 and 15.8 million viewers. By season 7, those numbers were down to 5.7 and 12 million viewers. Those are of course still very healthy numbers for a cable series. And even with the show still trending downward in season 8, its popularity remains high relative to other cable offerings. That said, there's no denying the show has lost many viewers over the past two seasons. And it doesn't look like those viewers are coming back. Despite the obvious slide, Walking Dead producers continue to put a positive spin on the numbers.
Those weak midseason return numbers are particularly disheartening given the major developments that took place in the episode. The show set up the death of long-time character Carl Grimes in the first-half finale, with the shocking revelation that he had previously been bitten by a walker. If AMC expected a huge ratings bump for Carl's death in the latest episode, they must be sorely disappointed. Season 8 overall has focused on an adaptation of the comic books' All Out War arc, pitting Rick and his followers against Negan and the Saviors. The season has been heavy on action and mostly light on character development. It's also featured much less of Negan, a character many fans find off-putting. Thus far, the formula doesn't appear to be working.
Perhaps in reaction to the ratings downturn, AMC has announced that current The Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple is moving on to a new job as chief content officer for all Walking Dead related properties. Long time series writer and EP Angela Kang takes over as showrunner for season 9. Will Kang discover a new approach that brings back the show's glory days? Or will The Walking Dead continue its agonizingly slow death?
The Walking Dead season 8 continues next Sunday on AMC.