[SPOILERS for those not caught up on The Walking Dead ahead.]
The season 7 finale of The Walking Dead aired on Sunday (April 2nd) and saw a drop-off in ratings from seasons past, even while bringing the first chapter of the Negan arc to a tense close. The episode saw Alexandria attempt to rebel against the Saviors, with Negan's group arriving to make a display of dominance against Rick's survivors. Having lost the loyalty of the Junkyard community, Rick and co. looked to be in a tight spot until the forces of the Hilltop and Kingdom arrived to save the day. As a result, 'The First Day of the Rest of Your Life' acted as a set-up installment leading into next season's All Out War arc.
Despite being hotly anticipated after the cliffhanger of the season six finale, The Walking Dead's seventh run has received a mixed critical reception from viewers, with some finding that the opening episode relied too much on shock value and character deaths. Others accused the show of becoming stale, using the same patterns and tropes from previous seasons. Furthermore, although Negan is a hugely popular character from the comic books, some sections of viewers struggled to become invested in the ongoing battle between him and protagonist Rick.
These misgivings have now seemingly translated into poor viewing figures as the ratings for Sunday's episode roll in. Deadline reports that the episode attracted a total of 11.3 million viewers which represents a drop of 20% from last season's closer and the lowest viewership for a finale episode of The Walking Dead since the final episode of season two. This continues a trend that saw the season six finale down 10% from the end of season five.
Although the figures certainly aren't encouraging, it's important to keep them in perspective and despite these developments, The Walking Dead is comfortably one of the strongest performing shows on television right now. It's also worth keeping in mind that not only was the finale up against stiff competition from WWE's annual Wrestlemania extravaganza, but The Walking Dead's season seven premiere episode back in October and the mid-season premiere earlier in the year both performed extremely well.
The news will perhaps not come as too much of a surprise to viewers who have become disillusioned with the show's sometimes meandering pace and heavier focus on character introspection, when compared to the comic book source material. Now heading into an eighth season, there is perhaps only so long a zombie apocalypse can remain fresh and exciting, particularly with The Walking Dead often accused of repeating the formula of coming across a dangerous new group, eventually defeating them and then having a brief period of peace.
Clearly however, The Walking Dead remains an incredibly popular show and there were plenty of elements in season seven that deserved credit and give fans reason to be excited for the forthcoming season eight. Most notably, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's portrayal of Negan is nothing short of mesmerizing, even if he wasn't quite allowed to recreate the comic character's colorful language. The Kingdom and its inhabitants have also been authentically portrayed and successfully integrated and the season saw several twists that took many fans by surprise (such as Jadis' betrayal and Negan's double murder in the opening episode).
The Walking Dead season eight premieres this Fall on AMC.