Photo: DenofGeek

What is killing The Walking Dead’s viewing figures?

The eighth season of The Walking Dead concluded on our screens less than a month ago, and the arc of ‘All Out War’, adapting material from 11 of the comics the show is based on, was used to fill the storyline for the season’s entire 16 episodes. The Walking Dead still remains one of the most-viewed US dramas across all cable networks. However, its core viewing base is dramatically shrinking.

The Walking Dead once dominated the viewing figures for American cable television, twice drawing in over 17 million viewers and from season three to six the series had the highest viewership for any TV show in America among the 18-49 year-old demographic. Yet, the last two seasons have witnessed a dramatic decline in the viewing figures for the show.

American viewing figures for the eighth season were between 6.3 and 8.92 million, with the exception of the season opener which attracted 11.44 million viewers. The show sparked a revisionism of the Zombie genre and provided an original outlook into the genre through the focus of human societies in a post-apocalyptic period, which is perhaps what it needed. But have the zombie genre and The Walking Dead had their heyday?

Nevertheless, the series was repetitive, at times predictable

The season 8 finale was fairly conclusive and would have been an adequate wrap up for the series if it had not been renewed for another season. Negan was administered some sort of justice by the communities he terrorized, Rick was morally renewed, and a hope of reconstruction appeared for the first time after two sordid seasons.

Nevertheless, the series was repetitive, at times predictable, and full of plots that did not contribute to the story or were not revisited. The Walking Dead has never fit itself in the bracket of complex TV, and always presented limited digestible and straightforward storylines.

Throughout the season the show dangled a carrot for its viewers and tends to mislead them in the direction of the story, only not to address it later. Throughout the eighth season, there is a flash-forward to an older Rick walking with a walking stick due to an injury of some sort for this to lead to absolutely nothing. Furthermore, the show has been criticised based on its predictability: many fight scenes involving main characters predictably ended in a swarm of zombies or running out of ammunition, promises were predictably broken, and monologues were to be frequently expected.

The real significance of this is to be addressed later, but what is Rick without Carl

The season’s most shocking moment, and perhaps the series so far, was the death of Carl Grimes, played by Chandler Riggs, who had been bitten by a zombie in order to save an outsider in the mid-season finale. The death of Carol symbolised the loss of a big part of the show’s protagonist, Rick, and played a key role in his moral rejuvenation. The real significance of this is to be addressed later, but what is Rick without Carl (Coral as he would say) and does the show need a new protagonist after 8 seasons?

The Walking Dead is a show known to be prone to fillers, whether it is in the form of a battle with walkers, needless character development that is not later revisited, or extended monologues, with action and plots often formulating, climaxing, or closing in episode 1 – the season opener, episode 8 – the mid-season finale, and episode 16 – the season finale. Viewing figures often tend to corroborate with this arc.

The formula for The Walking Dead has followed this structure for its last six seasons. Whereas other networks are opting for the episodic structure of 6-10 episodes a season, AMC continues to renew the series for 16 episodes a season, creating an environment for fillers and repetitive storylines to thrive. Any altercation with a main character that is not in episode 1, 8, or 16 promises not to lead to much such as the Glenn fiasco when his death was faked in season 6, episode 4, even to the extent that his name was temporarily taken out of the opening credits, and Daryl being shot later in the season.

The show has perhaps come across too many contradictions in its use of fillers and manufacturing storylines

The show has perhaps come across too many contradictions in its use of fillers and manufacturing storylines. This includes the complex moral nature of killing which Morgan and Carol face, yet their reservations are swept aside in the face of many conflicts, and unexplained murderous instincts are displayed by Jesus in the season finale.

The sowing of divisions between Rick and Michonne and Daryl, Maggie, and Jesus excite some viewers with the possibilities of later seasons but infuriate others as this division makes previous plots meaningless and really taking away from the impact of earlier scenes key for development, including Rick telling Daryl “You’re my brother” and Rick helping a sick pregnant Maggie in the season 6 finale by carrying her to the Hilltop.

The show’s creator Robert Kirkman has stated his intentions for allowing the show to stretch for at least 12 seasons and proclaimed that he has enough material to fulfil this. Whilst some have stated that the show could have an indefinite stretch like The Simpsons, the feasibility and practicality of this, when taken in conjunction with falling viewers, does not make this possibility seem likely.

Season 9 is expected to return to British and American screens in October 2018. The direction the series will take in unclear, but, in corroboration of the viewing figures for season 7 and 8, the show, like many of its characters, needs to change and adapt in order to survive.


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Comments (2)

  • It has nothing to do with the story or popularity of the show and is merely the by product of the new reality of how people watch TV that isn’t covered or counted in the old antiquated ratings system.

    Ratings today only count those who watch the commercials…
    Because that is the purpose of ratings today. It is not about popularity because it doesn’t count anyone who saw a version that had no commercials like via Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. DVR viewers are only counted if they watch within the first 7 days of it being aired when they SHOULD be counted just for recording the show at all!

    And despite all that it is still the highest rated show in it’s time slot!

    Ratings for TV shows are down for every network and show across the board. Some of that is due to cord cutters and piracy but the majority of the downfall in overall ratings for TV is the fact that people don’t watch TV in the narrow time frame and parameters set by the rating system to be counted as a viewer.

    Ratings is not about the popularity of a show it’s about how many eyeballs saw the commercials within a specific time frame. The NUMBERS of the actual viewers is inconsequential…The top rated show will always command the top dollar in any given hour regardless of if it had 7 Million viewers or only 5 million because the next most popular show in the ratings only had 3 – 4 Million.

    As for the story and writing of TWD, You may have been disappointed by it or feel it wasn’t as good as previous seasons but you watched it didn’t you?
    Maybe you didn’t make it Appointment TV which is what the Ratings want to count as the only viewers…
    But you still watched it!

    But probably at a time or method that the ratings ignored!
    THAT is why the ratings are what they are…How popular the show is, is not indicated in the ratings…They should be ignored because they are only useful to determine who was forced to deal with commercials and no one else.

  • Meh cord-cutting, ratings times, use whatever excuse you care for. The writers became overly enthralled in sadistically killing off main characters. The soul of the show died with Glenn and the viewership went with him (myself included.) I saw his death as a betrayal of trust by the writers and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I don’t invest time in people that I can’t trust to be there and the same goes for my investment of time into characters in a story line. The show got bitten and is just dragging a stiff leg until somebody puts a gun to its head.

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