The Walking Dead is in the uniquely bizarre position in which having nearly 8 million viewers for a single episode is considered an ominous sign. That’s because the AMC flagship series – in a ratings free-fall since the start of the season – used to pull A LOT higher numbers in regular episodes than the 7.9 million it just earned for the Season 8 finale. Will the show be able to stop this hemorrhaging as it continues onward to Season 9?
AMC aired The Walking Dead Season 8 finale, “Wrath,” on the evening of April 15, now revealed to have pulled a 3.4 rating in adults 18-49 in Live+ Same Day, yielding 7.9 million viewers overall, rounding out a collective Season 8 average of 7.8 million viewers – an impressive number by most standards. Indeed, despite the circling of the proverbial carrion birds, the veteran series still managed to dominate its competition, which consisted of the highly-heralded ABC News interview with former FBI director James Comey, as well as the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards.
Unfortunately for the series, the rub here is that 7.9 million viewers represents a startling decline for The Walking Dead, both overall, and for finale events, even compared to 2017’s Season 7 finale, which earned 11.3 million viewers, which came at a time when the show’s declining ratings were already being discussed. Startlingly, the 7.9 number is, quite literally, half of the 15.8 million viewers earned by 2015’s Season 5 finale.
Yet, the most prominent narrative that being touted here is that The Walking Dead Season 8 finale rating of 7.9 million viewers is now the second-lowest in the show’s history, ranking only above the Season 1 finale. It’s a dubious distinction, since the inaugural season of show, which aired in the last quarter of 2010, was still essentially an experimental adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, touting the name of film director Frank Darabont as showrunner, manifesting with only six episodes. Thus, there was no notable aura going into the December 5, 2010 finale, which only pulled 6 million viewers. Yet, it’s a number that the series could very well see again, should its decline continue.
However, there is still hope for AMC’s The Walking Dead television franchise, since the Season 4 premiere of spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead, which immediately aired after the mothership show finale, earned a rating of 1.6 in Live+ Same Day/18-49 and 4.1 million viewers, actually representing an uptick from its 2017 Season 3 premiere. The Season 4 premiere, “What’s Your Story?,” saw the initiation of a heavily hyped crossover move, sending Morgan Jones (Lennie James) from the main show’s current Virginia setting to Texas, acquainting him with series newcomers John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Althea (Maggie Grace), putting him on a path to joining the spinoff show’s primary characters, led by Madison Clark (Kim Dickens).
AMC and the creative forces know that something drastic needs to be done with The Walking Dead, since the upcoming frame will debut new showrunner Angela Kang, with auspicious teases of the series making a “quantum leap forward.” Yet, one could interpret the ratings increase for Fear as a sign that viewers who abandoned the main show may not have done so because of undead ennui with the franchise itself, but, rather, because the two-year-running “All Out War” storyline proved difficult to endure, especially as the series started to – in formulaic fashion – inflate the storyline with episodes centered on specific characters, which did nothing to further the overall narrative, sparingly yielding rewards on a week-to-week basis; a season structure that arguably needs to change.
The Walking Dead Season 9 is clearly going to make or break the show. It will be interesting to see if – with Angela Kang at the helm – the series can find its proverbial mojo, tackling new storylines (and a prospective time-jump), representing a tonal leap from the arduously-paced “All Out War.” – Of course, we’ll probably get our first hint to that answer when the show (in all likelihood,) debuts its first teaser footage at Comic-Con in late-July.