SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of The Walking Deads October 21 episode.

Three episodes into Season 9 of The Walking Dead and things are in a high-wire state of flux, and we’re not just talking about how Andrew Lincoln will be leaving the AMC series based on Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse comics come November 4.

On Sunday’s third episode “Warning Signs,” we learned that Lincoln’s Rick Grimes wants to have a baby with Danai Gurira‘s Michonne, and that the fragile peace that the former sheriff’s deputy has built among former enemies is starting to fray, to put it mildly. On the other hand, Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie Rhee have taken a decidedly more ruthless ruling hand than Lincoln’s bridge-building Grimes, and the body count is rising, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan looking to be next.

Yet for all the plot strengths and more in the Corey Reed-penned episode on the Angela Kang-run TWD, the ratings continue to find new series lows.

While overall viewership was up 2% to 5 million on October 21, the Live+Same Day results among adults 18-49 were a declining 1.94. Against a season low Sunday Night Football, that stumble took the once highest-rated show on TV among the key demo down 3% from the previous series low of October 14’s “The Bridge” episode. The 18-49 result also saw a fall of 50% from what the Greg Nicotero-directed third episode of Season 8 snagged on November 5, 2017.

As in previous weeks this season, and likely eating into ratings results for the show, TWD’s poignantly titled “Warning Signs” was available beforehand on the no-ad AMC Premiere service. Coming off respective 49% and 60% Live+3 rises for the low Season 9 debut of October 7, it is clear that the additional subscription service and delayed viewing is where TWD and AMC are putting their emphasis.

It is also clear with Sunday’s announcement that Grimes only has two more episodes left before Lincoln’s as-yet-undefined exit kicks in, the cabler is aiming to engineer a surge of some of their immediate small-screen audience.

Whether Lincoln’s Grimes dies, moves on or is subject to some other fate in the Geraldine Inoa-written “The Obliged” of October 28 and the November 4 “What Comes After” episode penned by Matthew Negrete and ex-showrunner Scott M Gimple is unknown. However, months after Lincoln’s departure becoming public and the NYCC-revealed likely flashback returns of former castmates such as the October 6 deceased Scott Wilson, now Star Trek Discovery star Sonequa Martin-Green and current Punisher Jon Bernthal, clearly AMC and the producers are looking for a groundswell jolt for a series that has started to wane, at least in the demo it used to rule.

In the meantime, with five more episodes left in the first half of Season 9 before November 25’s fall finale, we’ll know Friday if those L+3 numbers stay on their upward motion after this new low — or if it’s dentures instead of a sharp bite for TWD now.