Although only three episodes in, The Walking Dead season 9's ratings are looking to be a new low for the show. This is despite the season itself proving to be a marked improvement on the last couple of years of AMC's zombie thriller.
Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, "Warning Signs", received just 5 million viewers, with the show’s performance in the key 18-49 demographic in particular decaying faster than one of the show’s walkers, hitting an all-time low of 1.9m, a fall of 50% from the same time last year, and a continuation of the slide that has seen the show go from over 17m people watching the season 7 premiere to less than half that now.
The general consensus, however, seems to be that The Walking Dead is better now: new showrunner Angela Kang has taken a back to basics approach, with the look and feel more reminiscent of the earlier days; The Walking Dead season 9 actually feels like it’s building towards something, rather than the protracted All Out War storyline; and with Andrew Lincoln’s pending departure, there’s a genuine sense of emotion. So just why is the show continue to lose its once loyal and rabid fandom despite the uptick in quality?
- This Page: Problems With The Walking Dead Hurting Ratings
- Page 2: Why The Walking Dead's Ratings Aren't As Bad As They Seem
The Walking Dead Has Been Running For Too Long
The easiest and most obvious answer to the ratings decline is a simple one: The Walking Dead has been on longer than a TV drama would typically run. Its AMC peers, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, both of which are held up as shining examples of TV's Golden Age, ran for five and seven seasons respectively, and that's more in line with the standard viewers might expect.
It's especially difficult to maintain quality control for so many years, which has resulted in the last couple of seasons of The Walking Dead, which has often fluctuated slightly in this regard anyway, taking a much bigger dive. Contrast to, say, Game of Thrones, where there's a clear end goal in sight, and TWD's length instead becomes a source of frustration; it has increasingly looked like the show will simply run and run with no clear end in sight, meaning viewers, without the promise of closure, end up growing tired and dropping off.
Most TV shows start reasonably high in the ratings, climb over a couple of years, and then begin to dip again, and for such long-running dramas that's only magnified: take Grey's Anatomy as an example, which at its peak had a viewership of 20m, which was in the top 10 most-watched shows in the U.S, and is now half that in season 14. There's only so much of a serialized drama fans will watch, as The Walking Dead is discovering.
Season 9 Is Better... But Only In Some Ways
As mentioned, The Walking Dead has improved in season 9. On IMDb, the first four episodes of the new run hold ratings of 7.5, 8.0, and 8.2, and 8.8 respectively, in comparison to 6.9, 6.7, and 6.3, and 6.8 from the same stretch of episodes last year. While it's not back to the level it was around the end of season 4/start of season 5, it's a considerable upturn, and fans and critics both agree the show is the best it's been in a good couple of years.
Angela Kang has breathed fresh life into the series, and "Warning Signs", despite the bad ratings, was a legitimately good episode. However, it's not like everything is magically fixed. There's still the concern that the series has 16 episodes in its season, and whether or not its storyline can fill that. It's also evident there's no end goal, meaning that whatever happens, the show is going to struggle to go in truly new directions beyond the survivors battling the next new evil, and switching between hope and despair and back again. And the series has already burned a number of bridges in that regard over the years.
There's the matter of its cast, too: while Andrew Lincoln's Rick and Lauren Cohan's Maggie have taken center stage this year, both are leaving soon. The likes of Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride), and Michonne (Danai Gurira) are all getting a good amount of screen time too, but look beyond those, who have been the core of the show for so long, and there aren't too many characters who've been fleshed out or for audiences to really care about. And, of course, The Walking Dead season 9 still struggles to balance its sprawling cast. It may be better, but that's in contrast to the show's nadir, rather than comparative to its peak, which obviously isn't good enough for many (now former) viewers).