Ratings for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, "Warning Signs," slipped to a series low in one of their key demographics and not for the first time this season. Despite receiving largely positive reviews critically, the once highest-rated show on television has struggled in the beginning of its ninth season to retain viewership that's been on a steady decline since season 6.
After season 8's poorly received All Out War storyline, not to mention the fairly out-of-the-blue death of Carl Grimes, TWD made it a point to inform audiences that season 9 would move on from the Savior conflict and return to the roots of what made the show so popular in the first place. Long-time scribe Angela Kang was promoted to showrunner and she executed an aggressive two-year time jump pulled from the comics that promised a very different world than the one audiences left behind in April. New animated main titles served as a further public signal that TWD was intent on returning as a different show than what it had been in recent years, presumably in the hopes of regaining some of the ratings share that started falling off after Glenn and Abraham's executions. Unfortunately, none of the effort seems to be paying off just yet.
Deadline reported today that the show's ratings aren't only dropping, they're dropping to alarming lows. Last week's "The Bridge" scored a 2.0 in the key 18-49 demographic, which was already a series low and down a full 50 percent from the second episode of season 8. "Warning Signs" fell three percent lower than that, which seems to indicate that audiences are largely unimpressed with the way season 9 has progressed. It makes for an uncomfortable position to be in for a show that's about to lose its anchor character and actor in only two episodes.
While it's worth noting that ratings are down all across cable as a rule and AMC did release the episode on its streaming service for free, it's hard not to wonder how many people are just hanging on to see the resolution of the Grimes family story before checking out of the series for good. Even if The Walking Dead had maintained consistent numbers for its entire run, even beloved shows can suffer from audience fatigue, especially when those beloved shows get as bleak as The Walking Dead has. Despite some admittedly very compelling stories on the boil, like Anne and her mysterious helicopter, Maggie's possible exit to the Commonwealth and the promised appearance of the Whisperers in the second half of season 9, it could be that fans just aren't as interested in watching nation-building as they were watching Rick's core group fight for sheer survival as they did for the first five seasons.
All of that said, it should be noted that while it might be breaking its own records for low ratings, The Walking Dead is still by far the leading cable show in its time slot in the 18-49 demographic. "Warning Signs" came in at 1.9, while Shameless, the most popular scripted television show to air against TWD at 9pm on Sundays came in at .3, and other cable shows not on premium channels (Talking Dead, 90 Day Fiancé) topped out at .6. Also, even at its current low, The Walking Dead is still pulling in higher ratings than Breaking Bad did in its first four seasons. Things might look bad from certain perspectives, but The Walking Dead remains a wildly successful show by many standards, even at its least-watched.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.