By Chaz McDonald
AMC’s The Walking Dead has become a television phenomenon. Over the course of six and a half seasons, viewers have been captivated by the in depth look at survivors in the zombie apocalypse. So why have the ratings of one of the biggest shows on television taken such a drastic hit over the last couple months?
A Look at the Numbers
Season seven of The Walking Dead opened with its second highest viewed episode since the season five premiere, reaching an audience of 17.03 million viewers. Since then, The Walking Dead has hemorrhaged viewers at a rate of 1.3 million per episode since episode two of the 7th season. At the episode eight fall finale in 2016, the ratings for The Walking Dead had dipped to a staggering 10.58 million viewers. While this is not an all time low for the series, it does raise some serious concerns for the network due to the fact that half a season remains.
Over the course of the show’s run, it has fallen into a stagnant and predictable pattern. Week to week, we find the characters scavenging for food and looking for new ways to survive, all while the threat of flesh-eating walkers looms near. On top of all that, there is always a big bad guy who makes things even more difficult for Rick and his gang, whether it’s the Governor (David Morrissey), Gareth (Andrew J. West), or Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan). The only thing that is unpredictable at this point in the show are character deaths. The Walking Dead has a habit of killing off characters that the audience loves almost as frequently as Game of Thrones. One of the biggest concerns from the general fan base of the series is that nothing new is happening. As soon as one threat has been taken care of, another, very similar, threat arises.
Villains on the show have become interchangeable. The Governor, from seasons three and four, brought new life into a show that was starting to suffer from repetition. In season six, the show brought in a new bad guy, Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Negan is a fan favorite villain from the comics and has been welcomed by many, but he still falls under the category of one note villains.
Highlight for spoilers:
At the beginning of season seven, Negan killed two fan favorite characters, Glenn and Abraham, in an attempt to shake up the storyline. While the brutal and graphic deaths did prompt a massive reaction from fans of the show, it failed to really change the storyline.
Each week is still the same repetitive and predictable story that fans are used to. People want and crave action and excitement.
The Walking Dead takes pride in giving us authentic and genuine characters that feel like real, living people. This is a huge benefit to the show, but can also have some major setbacks. The Walking Dead dedicates a large portion of episodes to character development. These particular episodes are slow and are used as season filler, forcing the overall story to take a backseat between major plot points. The Walking Dead does this frequently and will go weeks before they deliver the exciting and action-packed episodes. This drives fans crazy, causing them to “hate watch” the series or stop watching altogether. With the large talented cast that The Walking Dead has, it should be fairly easy to deliver the thrills that the audience clearly wants and keep them happy.
The best thing that The Walking Dead can do at this point is to keep their stories tight and their cast small. The show is at its best when the characters are on the move and not settled into one spot for very long. It’s time to go back to basics and revisit the format that made the first season so incredibly popular. The show needs to be revitalized and sometimes the best way to move forward is by taking a step back. This is the zombie apocalypse and many crazy things can happen. Instead of trying to drag out these long story arcs, how about giving fans a group of episodic tales set in this world? This could open the door to ending the series. Each character could get their own send off and it would serve as a way to tie up loose ends. Just like the walkers in the series, the show is eventually going to rot and decay the longer it goes on. The time is coming where the show runners are going to need to wrap everything up. To keep the integrity of the show intact, maybe it’s time to finish this story within the next couple of seasons. Let the show end on the story’s terms instead of waiting for AMC to pull the plug.