As the NFL Playoffs get closer, so does the return of one of my favorite TV shows, AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead.’ Every February, I get giddy to hear that ever familiar voice proclaim “previously on AMC’s The Walking Dead.” That voice signifies the return of one of the best zombie apocalypse shows ever. Only lately, something’s been a little off… The show doesn’t have the same kick that it once had. I find it difficult to genuinely care about the stories that are unfolding with the camp of survivors. I’m not the only one either, as the show has seen viewing numbers begin to drop consistently.
For the last three years, The Walking Dead has been on a decline. Viewers have been abandoning the show regularly, likely due to the brutal pacing from more recent seasons. All the way back in season six, fans were teased with one of the biggest storylines from the comics finally coming to the big screen. That entire season hinged on the arrival of one of the comics’ most notorious villains, Negan, leader of The Saviors. While his arrival, and subsequent introduction didn’t disappoint, the stories to follow surely did. The whole seventh season was spent watching Rick being tortured by Negan, and while he does play a crucial role in the conflict to come, we were force fed entire episodes featuring the nefarious character.
It’s not that Jeffrey Dean Morgan hasn’t done a good job as Negan. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, I can’t imagine anyone else being slotted into that role. The problem was the show’s producers gave Negan too much time, while other characters like Tara, Daryl, Carol, and even Carl saw their respective storylines begin to suffer. Several key moments from the comics were also glossed over or completely omitted, which added to the lackadaisical presentation of the later seasons.
Then, one of the most devastating events in the history of the show happened, as Carl Grimes was revealed to have suffered a bite from a walker. This effectively sealed his fate, but in an ironic way could’ve also been the beginning of the death knell of the show itself. With Carl dying, the show was once again robbed of a key moment from the comics, one that is irreplaceable with the current cast, and one that was vital in the development of the two characters involved. This arc in particular is one that saw Carl and Negan develop a bit of a father/son relationship. Carl would often venture into the crypts of Alexandria where Negan was imprisoned and have lengthy conversations with him. Carl knew that Negan would be able to offer him advice in areas that his father was deficient in, while Negan would gain a companion to help him keep his sanity while imprisoned. It was these panels from the comics that I was most looking forward to seeing on the show, but with the sudden decision to kill Carl, those hopes died along with the character.
Since season 7, viewership has steadily declined, with many viewers leaving after the ultra violent premiere of the same season which saw Negan kill off two fan favorites. Since then, the show has seen a steady decline, with many viewers making the jump to HBO series or binging Netflix shows in the interim. While the show is still considered a hit, averaging 8 million viewers an episode, it is a shell of its former self. Back in season five, the show was pulling in 15 million viewers weekly, with premieres and finales jumping closer to 20 million. What will be the true test of The Walking Dead’s’ merits, is how the show bounces back after losing its main character, Rick Grimes.
Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick, announced his departure from the show during last year’s San Diego Comic Con. Producers then moved swiftly to not only replaced Rick’s character, but also to move the show in a bold new direction. One that would almost entirely abandon the source material. While we’ll still see characters and a few story arcs from the comics, most of the narrative will be all-new. This means we’ll get to see a fresh new take on the universe of The Walking Dead. The show has also inherited a new lead in Daryl Dixon actor Norman Reedus. Reedus has long been a fan favorite, and could potentially be just the spark the show needs to return to prominence. Both Danai Gurira (Michonne) and Melissa McBride (Carol) will also see an uptick in screen time, as both are leaders of communities now.
While The Walking Dead may be in a precarious position, there is still room for a comeback. AMC obviously has faith in the show, announcing that it has been renewed for a ground-breaking tenth season. The pieces are in place for success, but if the stories don’t start back resonating with the audience, season ten may very well be the end of the road for AMC’s zombie drama.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on Sunday Feb. 10th at 9PM.