Could the once indestructible ratings powerhouse known as The Walking Dead possibly be on its last legs?
According to Deadline, this week's episode of the AMC series -- the fifth installment of season 8 and a headscratcher that saw Rick and Daryl duke it out -- drew around 7.8 million viewers. While that is still a sizable audience, it is also the fifth straight week in a row that the ratings have declined.
That trend started with the season 8 premiere, which yielded the show's lowest premiere ratings since season 3 and a 40 percent drop from the season 7 debut. Things have only gone south from there: while the season 8 opener pulled in 11.4 million viewers, the next three episodes came up with 8.9 million, 8.5 million and 8.6 million respectively, before dropping below 8 million this past Sunday.
The other important number, in the key demographic, has also been slipping: this week's "The Big Scary U" earned just a 3.4 rating in the adult 18-49 category, the lowest for the series going all the way back to season 2.
Now with all this, there's one overriding fact to keep in mind at this stage: The Walking Dead remains the top-rated show on television, currently averaging a 4.0 and 9.1 million viewers this season, according to Variety. So should AMC and creator Robert Kirkman be worried?
The answer is: probably not, but...they might want to start thinking about an exit strategy. If the ratings continue to tumble throughout season 8, then it may be time to figure out how to end the story in its ninth year -- and by the way, nine years on the air is a very respectable run for any show. AMC's wish to keep the franchise going for decades might be a little like whistling past the graveyard.
I don't know about you, but I was a loyal and riveted viewer during most of the first five seasons of The Walking Dead. But somewhere in season 6, and continuing for these last two years, a continuing new gaggle of uninteresting characters, tedious episodes focusing on just one or two people or built around long flashbacks, and the rinse-and-repeat narrative of Rick and company meeting up with another army of sadistic rogues just started to wear me down. I still tune in, but now it's more of a background watch while I'm doing other things.
So this is not the end for The Walking Dead, but it could be the beginning of the end. And let's be honest, would that be such a terrible thing?