There are few shows on cable television with ratings like The Walking Dead. The series debuted to strong numbers back in 2010, and has since gone on to be one of the biggest hits on television -- a ratings winner season after season. Given the show's track record dominating Sunday night television, it seemed AMC's hit show would continue its winning streak for seasons to come.
That was certainly true with the season 7 premiere, which promised to answer the question left from the contentious cliffhanger that brought season 6 to a close. With even casual viewers likely eager to find out which character would meet a grisly fate, 'The Day Will Come When You Won't Be' brought the series its second-highest ratings to date. The story after that has been much different, however, as The Walking Dead has seen its ratings drop with each episode.
TVLine reports last Sunday's episode 'Swear' hit a four-year low, garnering 10.9 million viewers and a 4.9 demographic. Those figures may not appear low, but looking back at the aforementioned premiere's ratings of 17.03 million, it is a significant loss. And that loss has remained steady, as 'The Well' experienced a 25 percent drop to 12.5 million viewers, before the series hit 11.7 million in episode 3. Since then, the show has seen its weekly numbers drop every week.
Something to keep in mind when looking at those figures, however, is even though 'Swear' marks a disappointing low for the season, getting 10.9 million viewers is what most shows would kill to have. The Walking Dead's ratings peaked when the season 5 premiere had 17.29 million viewers. And just because the latest episode is the lowest its been since season 3's 'Hounded,' it's not necessarily time to write condolences to AMC.
Firstly, The Walking Dead's numbers far outpace even its closest competitors. According to data compiled by The Nielsen Company (via Screener), Bravo's Real Housewives Atlanta drew in 2.5 million, HBO's Westworld hit just over 2 million, while a syndicated rerun of The Big Bang Theory totaled 1.9 million. So, The Walking Dead is still clearly doing very well for itself. However, if season 7 continues to decline like this, there may be cause for concern.
What's interesting about this development is that there's not really one single answer for why the show is losing viewers. It could be the result of the extreme violence that unfolded during the season 7 premiere, or the slow pace of the decompressed episodes that have aired since. It also doesn't help that 'Swear' was focused on two third-tier characters who haven't been seen since season 6, which may have also contributed to the episode being the most poorly reviewed of the season.
Whatever the cause, The Walking Dead has been down before and managed a successful rebound. For the time being it will surely continue to bring in a large viewership, but one has to wonder if its days of staggeringly high ratings are in the rearview, or if it will bounce back again.
The Walking Dead returns this Sunday @9pm on AMC.