Ever since zombies and apocalypses became the new vampire, “The Walking Dead” has dominated the ratings field as a Sunday night juggernaut that just cannot be beat. All juggernauts fall eventually though, and Season 7 has seen steady declines in viewership week by week.
“The Walking Dead” has been down about 800K viewers year to year, but when you factor in the decline from Episode 2 to Episode 6, the series has lost about 1.4 million on average.
So what’s the deal with the decline in interest for zombies nomming on beloved characters?
One could argue that the show isn’t technically about zombies anymore, since it’s transitioned to the human villain of the year, starting with the Governor then Terminus then the Wolves and now Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). It’s gotten to the point where the audience practically sighs, “I hope it’s just walkers” whenever Rick (Andrew Lincoln) hears ominous footsteps in the distance.
No matter how many merits that argument has, we’d argue that the change in direction for the show this year has less to do with internal issues and more to do with external competition.
It’s no coincidence that “The Walking Dead” has scheduled itself to end before “Game of Thrones” premieres every year. The show may be a juggernaut, but it’s not going to tempt fate by matching up against another high profile show.
That trend ended this fall, when “The Walking Dead” premiere at the same time as HBO’s newest hit, “Westworld.”
“Westworld” took the sci-fi/fantasy community by storm with its high stakes, intrepid mysteries, gory violence and the dilemma of retaining humanity in an inhumane world. Notice any familiar themes? “Westworld” just so happens to capitalize on many of the same core motifs that make “The Walking Dead” such a hit.
Additionally, “The Walking Dead” has hit a definitive storyline rut after all the hype of figuring out who Negan brained at the end of Season 6 passed. Now in its seventh season, the show has lost much of its shine, and we’d even venture to call it predictable in some circumstances. Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rick will never die, walkers present little to no danger anymore, there will always be three to four filler episodes per season and on and on and on we go.
The writers have attempted (and succeeded in many cases) to give the show a fresh start, but ultimately, when you’ve been on the air for seven years, most characters and storylines just begin to feel tired.
It might have horses and humanoids in place of Subarus and zombies, but “Westworld” checks a lot of the same boxes that the early days of “The Walking Dead” did.
It still manages to surprise us in the most interesting ways — even if Reddit did manage to crowdsource the mystery to solve it by episode 3 — and it has the added bonus of being a shiny new toy as opposed to a worn out rag doll. Fans got the opportunity to dive into a new fantastical world of threats, allies and last minute twists, which was a better alternative for Sunday night entertainment than watching the same old same old play out on yet another extended episode of “The Walking Dead.”
When you compare “Westworld’s” live numbers to “The Walking Dead’s,” it’s not much of a contest — “TWD” has about 7 times as many viewers. “Westworld’s” multiplatform audience of 11.7 million narrows the gap some, but “The Walking Dead” averages about 17 million viewers just in Live +7 ratings; streaming and repeats likely push it closer to 20 million.
Obviously, it’s impossible to tell how many of those millions traded in zombies for robots during “The Walking Dead’s” fall slump, but the numbers definitely make you think.
Now that “Westworld” is out of the picture until 2018, we’ll be interested to see if any viewers return to watch Rick battle walkers on AMC or not. Regardless, “The Walking Dead’s” midseason finales always tend to draw in better numbers as fair weather fans tune in to see what conundrum or major character death manages to find its way into the cliffhanger slot this year.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
“Westworld” is set to return to HBO in 2018.