No one’s going to start writing an obituary for The Walking Dead anytime soon, but compared with past years, Sunday’s Season 8 finale was almost the least-watched of the AMC zombie apocalypse series. On the flip side, spinoff Fear the Walking Dead opened its fourth season right after with viewership it hasn’t seen since 2016.
Pulling in 7.9 million viewers, the April 15 “Wrath” episode of TWD that saw the All-Out War showdown between Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the Survivors and villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his Saviors was down just more than 30% from the Season 7 finale of April 2, 2017. Put in wider context, that’s even with the all-time-low fall finale of last December and the worst any TWD finale has done since 5.97 million sets of eyeballs watched the Season 1 ender on December 5, 2010.
Granted, in today’s rating climate where decline is the norm for almost everything except Game of Thrones, the Season 8 finale results are a continuation of a trend that began in Season 6 for TWD, with the double-killing Season 7 opener a notable exception. Up 18% in total viewership from April 8’s penultimate “Worth” episode, TWD on Sunday snared 4.4 million viewers in the 18-49 demo it has so long dominated to hit a 3.4 rating. Even taking into account fans who might have ventured out Sunday to watch the season ender in cinemas, that’s a 42% drop in the demo from the Season 7 “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” finale of last year.
While up 21% from “Worth” the week before, that demo result is the worst any TWD season ender has seen since the 3.0 of Season 1’s finale – and that was a great cable number back in 2010.
Of course, already renewed for a ninth season and launching a new story arc expected to last several years, TWD may be down from the dizzying heights of its fifth season but it is still one of the strongest shows on the small screen. Only the spectacular success of ABC’s Roseanne revival this season has topped the series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics in the demo so far.
Success certainly came to TWD spinoff Fear the Walking Dead on Sunday with its Season 4 premiere. Debuting directly after the TWD finale and facing the mega-hyped 20/20 sit-down with former FBI boss James Comey on ABC, the Kim Dickens l-d Fear brought in 4.1 million viewers. Infected apples to infected apples, that’s a 32% jump over the total audience Fear drew for its 9 PM non-TWD lead-in Season 3 opener on June 4, 2017. In fact, with the long promised crossover to TWD, FearTWD had its best opener since the 6.67 million who tuned in for the start of the spinoff’s second season on April 10, 2016 – a week after TWD ended its sixth season.
Among the key 18-49 demo, Fear’s Season 4 debut scored 2.1 million viewers, up 104% over its Season 3 finale and well ahead of the Season 3 opener.
With Angela Kang taking over as showrunner from now TWD franchise Chief Content Officer Scott M. Gimple, Season 9 of Walking Dead is expected to debut this fall. Later this week comes the Live+3 numbers for both the TWD and Fear, which is where AMC puts its real money. While things can only look good for the spinoff, it will be hard for the cabler to spin much gold out of the TWD results no matter how much delayed viewing there was.
Even with that and the big money at stake, have no doubt there is a lot of life in the old walker yet.