Treading On The Precipice – Trying to Figure Out The Steep Decline Of The Walking Dead (Spoilers)


With a smidge of film news this week, as the world gets ready for Rogue One next weekend, the one thing that seems to be popping up as worthy news items is the freefalling ratings of the AMC juggernaut The Walking Dead. I’ve written about the show before, of course, but the one thing I hate discussing are things that are easy topics.

Box office numbers, Rotten Tomatoes numbers, ratings, et al, are easy but necessary topics we as the cinematic and television intelligentsia discuss because they give us something tangible, and fungible, to discuss. People love the Fast & Furious sequels, and they make an ungodly amount of money, but are they quality films? Is a show bad because it doesn’t get good ratings … or is it good because it does? These are simple, easy questions but they make up a bulk of what people write about when they don’t have anything else to write about.

And when I don’t have anything to write about … this feels like an appropriate time to delve away from film and into the world of television. But first a diversion into the web world of Confessions of a Superhero, which you can watch below. Like, Subscribe and Such too!

One of the interesting things so far this season of The Walking Dead has been the ratings struggle of the show. Struggle is relative, as it’s one of the most watched shows on television still, but ever since the season premiere it’s been struggling to find an audience. The NFL is having the same issues as well, as a couple of factors in November have drilled ratings down across the board.

The 2016 political season was over the top and ridiculous … and probably the most watched (and talked about) election of all time. Playoff baseball was amazing, with MLB getting ridiculous ratings for a World Series that was a genuine once in a lifetime event for a huge portion of the country. The focus for the entire viewing audience wasn’t on a show like The Walking Dead because, for all the channels in the world there was so many other things to actually pay attention to.

Follow up the big cliffhanger from a season ago finally coming to a conclusion, and a beloved character from the first season eating it, and the sort of tortured beginning (and ratings freefall) were almost predictable going in. They built up that first episode so hard, and so much, that anything but Andrew Lincoln having a baseball inserted sideways through his rectum was the only way you could genuinely pay it off.

Seeing Glenn and Abraham beaten to death was perfunctory, and mattered because both were dead in the comic by the time this point came around. Glenn was a beloved character in the show, and one of the few that had survived from episode one, so killing him off mattered in a lot of ways. This isn’t the type of show you can bring him back, too, thus death in this television universe is like being Gwen Stacey. You stay dead.

Ratings are fickle, of course, but The Walking Dead has suffered because of how profoundly they marketed the opening to that episode.

If Negan baseball bats people at the end of last season the key would’ve been “How does the show move forward?” and ratings wouldn’t have hit as high as they did for episode 1 … but not cratered like they did after. By saving the big reveal for the premiere of season 7, instead of as the finale for six, they wound up with a dilemma. Part of what season 6 tougher to watch was that we started out with Alexandria confronting the Walker horde that would wind up defining them as a city. As the season progressed, and as Rick and the gang got arrogant, having them pay for their sins at the end of a bat felt appropriate.

Season 7 would’ve started out with the repercussions of their actions and “How did Glenn’s death affect the world?” would’ve been a much more interesting, and engaging, discussion than “Who dies?” You can solve the “Who dies?” question is, ala J.R getting shot on Dallas. The payoff for the second question only takes an episode; after that people who are disappointed with the outcome will walk away. The payoff for the former takes time to develop and isn’t as simple to figure out.

The Walking Dead right now has the feeling that the big zombie horde fight, with the people of Alexandria uniting together to take them out (or die in glorious combat) was meant to be the series finale. In a couple years, when the show wraps up with whatever finale has probably already been plotted out, we can look back to that big swaggering action finale as where the series should’ve ended.

It was telling that the first episode this year had Rick with a dream of having a picnic with everyone in Alexandria, with Glenn and Abraham at the table, and it feels like that should’ve been our final shot of the series. That after the apocalypse … mankind has managed to survive. So many people in that show never got that happy ending that the show probably won’t receive, as well, but it had that “grand conclusion” type of moment you could end the show on.

Instead the show, which is making ungodly amounts of money for AMC and is the tentpole release of both the spring and fall, has carried on but the debut episode of this season will go down as a stunt that’s failed to keep an audience.

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Scott Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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