The seventh season of The Walking Dead has come to an end and, although the show remains popular with viewers, it has seen its ratings decline this time round. Coupled with increased fan dissatisfaction, does this mark the beginning of the end for The Walking Dead?
Season 7 kicked off with near-record ratings of 17.03 million viewers, dropping 25 per cent for the second episode. The ratings have then dropped all season, excusing some minor pick-ups around the mid-season and season finales. The third episode dropped to 10.40 million viewers, the worst figures it has posted since the third season. In the fifth season, the show was averaging around 14.5 million in viewers – two seasons on, and that figure has dropped to just over 11 million.
Now, although the show’s ratings have fallen, that’s not to imply that they are in any way catastrophic. At their lowest, The Walking Dead is still pulling in viewing figures that smaller shows would kill for. The show still boasts a committed fanbase, and creator Robert Kirkman says the show will continue until it completely rots (he has plans for the show, all the way up to the twelfth season). Plus, tedious spin-off Fear the Walking Dead is limping on with 2-3 million viewers – the parent show has a long way to go before it hits that level.
Even so, the drop in viewership is symptomatic of a growing malaise with the show. It has faced criticisms for repeating the same plot beats in each season, changing the location but not much else. Whereas the earlier episodes were more horror-survival fare which concentrated on a smaller group of survivors, the later seasons have seen the cast grow considerably and the presence of the zombies diminish – The Walking Dead has essentially evolved into a gory soap opera, tedious TV in which nothing ever seems to happen. That is, unless you’re tuning into a season premiere or finale – people have started to clock onto the fact that you can watch only three or four episodes of a season, and barely miss a thing.
The Walking Dead has essentially evolved into a gory soap opera, tedious TV in which nothing ever seems to happen.
Fault has also been found with the writing. In order to generate tension or to set up deaths, lazy writing pushes characters into stupid choices which serve to force story elements. Worse still are the fake-outs – Glenn’s fake death in season 6 upset a lot of viewers, who immediately saw it for what it was. Then, if the show had any goodwill left, it squandered it with the season 6 finale – after building up to the comic’s most iconic moment, the show chose to convert it into a cheap cliff-hanger that received almost universal criticism.
It’s safe to say that The Walking Dead is not in danger of cancellation any time soon, but perhaps the showrunners would do well to listen to some of the complaints the fans are making – they’ve had the same issues for years now, and it seems that fans are finally growing tired and giving up on the show. If you’re alienating fans who have been with the show from the start, that’s not a good sign in the slightest.