AMC’s The Walking Dead has been the long-time number 1 show on TV among the 18-49 demographic, the episodes consistently drawing in viewership crowds previously unheard of. But something about Season 7 has gone awry, and the ratings, which once used to climb, have suddenly begun to drop. The season premiere didn’t fail to impress, drawing in 17 million viewers, but there was a steady decline in that number as the season continued, with only 10.58 million viewers tuning in for the mid-season finale. While that viewership still outranks other shows, The Walking Dead experienced a 40% drop in the 18-49 demographic since 07x01, a stark drop in ratings that is unprecedented for the show and one that brings viewership levels to those not seen since Season 3. Viewership interest is dying off, and it leads one to wonder why.
The season began with a lot of hype, suspense, and fear surrounding it. Season 6 had left fans with the biggest cliffhanger in the history of The Walking Dead: who did Negan kill? It was set up to be an epic episode that would pave the way for the rest of the season and truly introduce how badass Negan was. And the episode did just that, but there was a problem. The season started with a bang and then fizzled out. While the writers are sticking to his comic book counterpart, the translation of Negan from comic book to TV isn’t working in their favor. Negan, this character who was set up to be the worst villain that the survivors have ever faced, isn’t that interesting. In fact, with his long-winded monologues and a bat that he speaks to as if it’s human, he’s almost comedic, and it’s difficult to take him seriously. Unlike The Governor, who is arguably the best villain ever encountered on The Walking Dead, we haven’t seen any layers to Negan. The Governor made himself out to be the good guy, but Negan owns his villainy, and there is nothing about him that is likable and nothing to explain why he is the way that he is.
Another thing that Season 7 is suffering from is a fractured story-line that is spreading itself too thin. Last season introduced the idea that this world that the characters live in is much larger than they had initially thought, and, while that concept is good and dandy and interesting to explore, the execution just isn’t there. With the introduction of these new communities -- Alexandria, The Hilltop, The Kingdom, The Sanctuary, Oceanside -- has come an onslaught of new characters. This sudden influx of new faces and names means that most of them are still mysteries that we know very little about, as they aren’t able to get an adequate amount of screen time, as each episode focuses on only a single location, leaving us with no connection to them and, likewise, leaving us feeling indifferent when they die. Prime examples: Olivia, who was shot and killed, Heath, who has been in a total of six episodes, and Eric, who has been in 11 episodes.
The second half of Season 4 was structured in a similar way to the first half of Season 7 -- the episodes focusing on different groups and characters, jumping from one to the other as the season came to an end. Those episodes worked. They focused on the characters and their development, allowing viewers a chance to see sides to the characters that they didn’t know existed. Their focus was survival, finding safety, and possibly finding any survivors from the prison. The jump between different groups in Season 7 feels disjointed, and, at the end of the episodes, very little is gained other than the knowledge that Negan rules everything and is overall a terrible person – if we’re getting down to the nitty gritty, this very message has been relayed in every single episode just in different words.
With the jump between different communities has come the reprisal of extended episodes. Nearly every episode this season has been extended past its usual one-hour time slot. Once thought to be the holy grail, extended episodes have become so frequent that they no longer seem like a treat. Furthermore, the content in these lengthened episodes isn’t enough to fill a 90-minute time slot. Take Episode 4, “Service,” for example. With a run-length of 90 minutes, little happens aside from Negan’s monologues and some rooting through Alexandria. The extra minutes aren’t being used wisely enough to justify the extended time, which has been a turn off for many viewers.
There is hope, though. The Walking Dead's Season 7 mid-season premiere not only brought hope back into the picture and saw the different groups working together, but it saw a rise in ratings. Whereas the mid-season finale had seen viewership drop to 10.58 million, the mid-season premiere saw it rise to 12 million. That’s still a 14% drop from the Season 6 mid-season premiere, but it is a promising note for the season going forward.