After all the hype, the Season 6 cliffhanger finale and the double death of the Season 7 opener, nobody expected The Walking Dead to return this year at record heights, even if the AMC blockbuster was celebrating its 100th episode. So Sunday’s season opener, “Mercy,” took a double-digit ratings dive and met expectations, so to speak.
The Season 8 premiere of the zombie apocalypse series snagged 11.4 million total viewers and 6.5 million adults 18-49 for a 5.0 rating. That’s down 40% in the demo and 33% in total audience from the Season 7 opener of October 23, 2016. When some straggler adjustments are made, the Season 7 debut is virtually even with TWD’s Season 5 opener for an all-time season high.
Overall, with a slight 5% uptick in viewers and 1% in the key demo over the latter part of Season 7 averages, the Season 8 premiere is the show’s fourth-best debut yet. Eight seasons in, TWD can still hold its head high that for the past six years it is and remains TV’s highest-rated series.
Compared to the big swingers on the Big 4, the Season 8 TWD opener is up 58% over the This Is Us key demo average and 146% over how Empire is faring among 18-49s.
However, with a surprisingly robust Sunday Night Football this weekend in a well-marketed Super Bowl LI rematch between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons scoring 16.74 million viewers and a 5.6 demo rating in fast affiliates alone, the direct competition was certainly strong –100th episode and all. No 18-49 numbers are in yet, but SNF pulled in 19.2 million viewers total for NBC on October 22, or 68% more that the TWD premiere, which is a flip of sorts from last year when the latter beat the former in the demo.
AMC will of course point away from that Live+Same Day number and, in acknowledgement of rising audience patterns, emphasize the delayed Live+3 viewing that will come out later this week.
After the TWD premiere, AMC had a two-hour The Talking Dead that was live from L.A.’s Greek Theatre. That Chris Hardwick-hosted shindig with cast and EPs drew 4.2 million total viewers and 2.3 million among 18-49s.