The Walking Dead season eight is off to a very rough start. Three weeks into the season, the show has seen notably low viewership numbers as well as a ratings low on review score aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, last Sunday’s episode, “Monsters,” is the lowest rated episode three in the series’ history, sitting at a rotten 52%.
Previous episode threes have performed much more formidably. Even last year’s painful-to-watch “The Cell,” which was basically an hour of Daryl eating dog food sandwiches and listening to that terrible “Easy Street” song, scored a 76% on the Tomatometer (at the time, this was the lowest episode three score in series history). The low scores may very well mark a decline in the show’s storytelling.
You can see the show’s steady decline in terms of its fandom, too. The Walking Dead‘s numbers haven’t been this bad since season two. “Monsters” had 8.52 million viewers. “The Cell” had 11.72 million viewers. Season six episode three, “Thank You,” the episode in which AMC fake-killed Glenn, had 13.14 million viewers. The show’s lowest third episode is season one’s “Tell It to the Frogs,” with 5.07 million viewers.
It’s safe to say The Walking Dead has fallen quite a bit from last year’s highly anticipated season premiere, which enjoyed 17.03 million viewers, the second most-watched episode in the series’ history. Yes, it’s normal for a show’s numbers to start to fall over the years, but The Walking Deadis plummeting at an alarming rate.
It doesn’t help that the season’s current “All Out War” arc isn’t exactly captivating audiences. What was supposed to be an action-packed confrontation between Rick and Negan’s forces has turned out to be a pretty stale start to the season. I’ve certainly not been a fan of what showrunner Scott Gimple and the writers have turned out in the first three episodes. Perhaps it might be time to shake up the show’s creative and bring in new blood to take the reins.
The problem might not completely lie with the way the show’s being written, though. AMC might also carry some of the blame for the way the show delivers its stories. According to Forbes, The Walking Dead had a budget of $3.4 million per episode in season one, which was cut down in subsequent seasons to $2.75 million per episode. While the show has risen in popularity over the years, AMC has never increased The Walking Dead‘s budget. With its ever-growing cast of characters, the show might be spreading itself incredibly too thin to produce quality episodes.
The decline comes just as AMC CEO Josh Sapan teased that The Walking Dead could be around for several more decades.
“The use of the word ‘franchise,’ we don’t take lightly,” said Sapan during a conference call with Wall Street analysts. “It’s not a sloppy or casual word. We’ve studied the best. Some have been around 30, 40, 50 years. We have a chance for a lot of life in the franchise.”
Sapan’s comments also echo Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s sentiment towards the series. Kirkman has said that he’s not ready to close out the comic book series any time soon and that he was “very hopeful [the TV series] will last to Season 10 and beyond.”
Back in January, Kirkman wrote in the comic’s letter section that the show currently had enough material to last until at least season 12.
“It took us 6 seasons to get to 100,” Kirkman wrote. “It won’t take us 6 years to get to 200 and that will take us to season … TWELVE. And we’ll still be ahead of the show at that point.”
As of this writing, the comic is currently on issue #173 and counting.
While 50 years of The Walking Dead on television wasn’t even remotely likely in the first place, the show might not even reach a tiny fraction of that if its numbers continue to decline as they have. Not even Kirkman’s proposed season 12. Mind you, the show’s numbers are still great when compared to other programs populating Sunday nights, but that cushion could very well be gone by the time season nine comes around.
Like Rick Grimes would say, The Walking Dead must do what it can to survive. More on this as we learn it.