Eight seasons into its run, AMC’s The Walking Dead is shambling toward a crossroads like none it’s encountered over the course of its phenomenal, spinoff-spawning success. Character shake-ups, higher cast payouts, and lower ratings all have besieged the show this year like an undead army that’s approaching from all sides.
But the network views TWD’s recent ratings dip as a sign of just how successful the show always has been, an inevitable and acceptable landing spot that AMC’s suits say they’ve both expected and prepared for.
At a recent investor conference, Sean Sullivan, AMC’s Executive Vice President and CFO, said the network is still “pleased with the franchise,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, and that the show continues to enjoy a “dominant position” in terms of TV market share.
Indeed, it’s tough to call this past year’s new ratings low of 7.8 million viewers — down from a peak average of 11.3 million during Seasons 4 and 5 — a failure. The Walking Dead is still pulling enviable numbers, and it’s hard to speculate how AMC (or most other networks) could guarantee itself that kind of viewership with an untested replacement.
“We have absorbed the ratings moderation of the show," Sullivan said, later admitting that, while it’s hard to come up with fresh original programming that stands out, “creatively, the team has done a great job.”
Aware that changes lie ahead, both in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes, AMC is charting a course for Season 9 that may see the end — or at least a dramatic scaling back — of roles for stars like Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes), who’s only committed to six episodes. Add to that the departure of Lauren Cohan (Maggie Rhee), as well as the surprise exit of Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes), and AMC may be looking at a storytelling challenge that takes it even farther from its Robert Kirkman-created comic book source material.
It’s possible there’s no need to fix a show that in fact may not even be broken, but one thing is certain: for better or worse, The Walking Dead is going to look way different in Season 9 than the show that fans have been following since 2010. Creatively, is there a clear way forward for the characters and cast who’ll remain? Let us know what you’d change, if anything. In the meantime, you can catch up on past episodes of The Walking Dead over at AMC, while we wait for the debut of Season 9 this fall.