99% of TV shows go through ratings ups and downs (GAME OF THRONES notwithstanding); it’s finding that magic formula when viewership is down to get them flocking back. However, normally a slide in the ratings is difficult to halt and the inevitable cancellation isn’t far behind. Is there a cancellation on the horizon for THE WALKING DEAD? Doubtful, as it was still pulling in 10 million viewers (figures from the Nielsen Company) during the middle of season 7. But that proved to be its lowest ratings in four years. It nudged back up to 11.3 million for its finale but even that was pale in comparison to previous season finales (Season 6: 14 million, Seasons 4 and 5: 15 million).
Which begs the question: why the average drop of five million viewers for this last season? What is making viewers turn off? From my viewpoint, there’s a simple answer: THE WALKING DEAD has become pretty bloody boring.
The introduction of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) lit a fire up the arse of the storyline. The promotion for his introduction and the buzz ahead of the first episode of season 7 – “Who did Negan kill?” – was near hysteria. Negan came with all the publicity of a returning Elvis Presley, it was an inspired piece of casting bringing in Morgan as the sadistic baseball bat swinger. But even then, after that brutal episode, the season quickly sunk into dull melodrama that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Hallmark Channel.
After Negan brutally bumped off ‘you-know-who’ from the group, even a character with the muscle and energy of Negan lost his impact. By the middle of the season, it was like watching a neutered animal, blundering around aimlessly. In sharp reaction to that violent introduction, THE WALKING DEAD began to navel gaze and the producers thought we wanted to see the human dynamics between all the characters.
But let’s be honest: there are only a handful of characters (Rick, Michonne, Maggie, Abraham) that prove to be interesting, away from all of the running / jumping / killing. The show is now littered with characters that simply don’t need to be there; Season 7 became a soap opera where every character had to have their own storyline. THE WALKING DEAD simply got boring; it got real boring.
AMC have always allowed THE WALKING DEAD to go that step further than most other TV shows on their network, but watching Negan during the progression of Season 7 was like watching THE WALKING DEAD done by the CW Network – watered down. Eventually Negan was reduced to walking around swinging his baseball bat and tormenting Rick. But was he really tormenting him to the best of his abilities? Was it the same brutal bastard we saw at the start of the season? No, it wasn’t. Why? Because Negan got neutered.
Also, the show stopped being about survival and finding out why the Earth is littered with the walking dead, themselves. That’s the whole point of the show: to find out what happened and hope for survival any way possible. When was the last time there was a fun zombie kill in the show? Season 7 was all about shooting them (which begs the question: where are they getting all the bullets??) and putting a knife in their head (Crocodile Dundee would have done it with more panache). Hardly creative. It got repetitive and… boring.
So, it’s time to stem the bleeding so the speak. What’s the answer to stop the ratings slow decline? If you’ll indulge me, here are my two key ideas:
- Stop making the show so damn boring! Get THE WALKING DEAD back to basics, killing zombies and finding out what happened to the Earth for the zombie virus to breakout. That ultimately means killing off all the secondary characters; stopping all the melodrama between the characters; stopping the same repetitive “Ooo look, we’ve found a jail/town/motor home/amusement park to hide out in and stay safe.” Let’s put our ‘heroes’ back in the wild to fend for themselves.
- The writers need to follow GAME OF THRONES strategy and start killing off main characters. I’m sure most will point to them killing off thingy and whatshisname but really, by the time those deaths happened, they had become secondary characters. It’s time to kill off Daryl or Carl – it’s the only way to return the audience to an point of uncertainty, make long-time viewers and even lapsed watchers take note again. This would return that sense of panic in not knowing what is going to happen next and who might be killed. The show then returns to being the talking point at the water cooler, the next day at work.
Executive producer David Alpert has expressed they know how Seasons 11 and 12 will play out. I say, Great! I can’t wait! I just hope it’s still on the air to make it to those seasons because, if it follows the pattern and style of season 7 for the future, then I fear THE WALKING DEAD is going to be taking ‘the long walk’.