We’re halfway through the seventh season of AMC’s headline-grabbing series, The Walking Dead. And for both the characters and the TV show itself, things are not going great right now. Within Robert Kirkman’s post-apocalyptic world, Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, and most of the rest of TWD‘s core crew are under the thumb of the sociopathic Negan — and their world as they know it looks considerably bleaker. Back here in reality, the series is suffering a steep ratings decline. Though the Season 7 premiere boasted an almost record viewership overall, the series is at a four-year low.
This obviously isn’t great news for AMC or the show’s creators. What once looked like a juggernaut is now starting to see consistent signs of faltering. And of course, they’re likely wondering what’s behind the steep and sudden drop-off. Here are five reasons why The Walking Dead is struggling to get fans to tune in.
1. The hype was too high
In retrospect, the hype leading into the Season 7 premiere would have been almost impossible to sustain. After The Walking Dead‘s sixth season ended with a massive cliffhanger, fans were left waiting with bated breath to learn the fate of their favorite characters.
Unfortunately, that revelation was exceedingly brutal. While guts and gore are nothing new for TWD, for some fans, watching Glenn get his face bashed in with a baseball bat just may have been too much. After all, it’s one thing to watch a nameless zombie get taken out in a gruesome fashion, or to lose an ensemble character here and there. It’s entirely another to watch a core member of the ensemble — one that’s been on the series since the first episode — lose his life in such a violent fashion. It makes the violence feel more real somehow. And even if that was the point, it was also likely the breaking point for many fans.
2. The series has become too depressing
It’s not just the loss of Glenn and Abraham — though that was admittedly hard to swallow. The Walking Dead has never been an uplifting series by any means; but these days, it’s hard to find much light in its darkness. And it’s hard to argue that non-stop nihilism can work, long term, as entertainment.
It’s not that the downturn in the series mood is unwarranted. Characters like Rick, Daryl, Maggie, and Sasha are in a state of mourning — both for their loved ones and for the modicum of freedom they’ve lost under Negan’s thrall. Unfortunately, their pain and suffering translates into a persistently sobering tone that can be, frankly, hard to sit through. We don’t see much hope yet that our core ensemble will find a way to fight back against Negan, and though that day will likely come, it’s hard to watch episode after episode of these characters fight for survival. Fans may simply be jumping ship because it’s so hard to stomach how somber the series has become.
3. The storytelling is disjointed
One of the major reasons that The Walking Dead has enjoyed continued success is its ensemble of unforgettable characters. Fans have become increasingly invested in Daryl, Carol, Maggie, Michonne, and the rest of the remaining survivors; they relate to them, they root for them, and they wait to see them every week.
Yet, as is sometimes the case in the series’ narrative trajectory, the group is currently scattered — and as a result, we haven’t had the chance to spend all that much time with anyone yet this season. Thus far, we’ve really only seen each of the main characters in one or two episodes. That hardly feels like enough time to really stay invested in their stories.
Maggie’s time at Hilltop could be a game-changer for her — but who knows when we’ll see how that will play out. Remember Ezekiel and the tiger? That was cool — but it was so long ago that it’s hard to figure out where he’ll fit back in. More and more, the first part of Season 7 has felt like it’s planting the seed for bigger plots down the line — but it’s done so by sacrificing any real momentum. And fans may be sick of waiting around to see where it’s all going.
4. We haven’t seen that much of Negan
When AMC was promoting Season 7, they made a big point to let us know what a game-changer Negan would be. We heard that his presence on The Walking Dead meant a new world order; that he was the worst villain Rick and the gang had ever crossed; that nothing would ever be the same.
While all that has turned out to be true, from a narrative standpoint, there’s one big problem with their Negan-focused message: we’ve barely seen the guy. At least, not on the level that most fans would have expected, given how much the series’ creators and cast talked him up. We’ve watched him menace Daryl at the Sanctuary, and terrorize the Alexandrians. But for the most part, he’s played the part of a blustery bully from the background. His presence is felt more than seen. And for fans who tuned in expecting a season full of bad jokes and brutal kills, there hasn’t been all that much to get excited about since the season premiere.
5. It’s got stiff competition
These days, the only TV shows that are safe from scheduling competition live on Netflix. And while we’re still very much a binge-friendly culture when it comes to our TV consumption, The Walking Dead‘s buzz (and the fear of spoilers) has made it one of the few programs that fans really do watch live. Unfortunately, it’s got some steep competition these days.
The latest entry into the 9 p.m. Sunday night sphere, HBO’s Westworld, is exactly the kind of show that most programs would hate to go up against. It’s gripping, sexy, and action-packed. With its twisty plot and hidden clues, it’s addictive — the type of show you can’t miss once you’re hooked. And it has enjoyed an increase in ratings during the course of its first season run.
That could be because fans are tired of TWD and ready to try something new. Or it could be because a whole new group of viewers decided to tune in because they like what Westworld offers. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. But it would be difficult to argue that the new series hasn’t dipped into TWD‘s ratings share at least a little — or that AMC won’t continue to face increasing competition for The Walking Dead‘s prime slot as time goes on.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox
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