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The Walking Dead: Series That Peaked at 17.9 Million Viewers Only Expects. 1.4 Million to Watch Final Episode

Published on November 19th, 2022 | Updated on November 19th, 2022 | By FanFest

AMC’s series The Walking Dead will end its run on Sunday night. Although the show has built a large fan base and been one of the most successful cable programs, it will air its final episode this Sunday evening.

According to recent Nielsen data, only 1.4 million people tune into The Walking Dead on Sundays. This is a huge decline from when the show was popular, with its rating numbers falling sharply in recent years. Some of this could be due to erosion (as most shows don’t keep their audience after being aired for so long) and some might have something to do with the millions of TV homes that got rid of their cable subscriptions since the heyday of The Walking Dead.

Even though The Walking Dead is ending, it was and will always be a legend among other cable shows. It’s only fitting that we take the time to look back at all of its phenomenal ratings and success.

The Walking Dead premiered on AMC to much fanfare on October 31, 2010. Although the network had garnered critical acclaim for its original programming in the years leading up to The Walking Dead‘s premiere, such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, those shows were still pretty small in terms of viewership. For example, season four of Mad Men averaged about 2.3 million viewers while three seasons into Breaking Bad‘s run, no episode had yet breach2 million viewers.

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The Walking Dead‘s first season was a huge success, averaging 5.24 million nighttime views each week it aired. The premiere episode drew in an impressive 5.35 million viewers – which at the time was the largest number of viewers AMC had seen and is still one of the biggest draws for cable television history.

Then the audience grew even more: Season two grew by 32 percent to 6.91 million same-day viewers. Season three rose by almost 56 percent to 10.75 million; season four increased by 24 percent to 13.33 million viewers. The fifth season represented the show’s peak in ratings, as it averaged 14.38 million same-day viewers, an 8 percent improvement over the prior one with 17 different records for single episodes being set that year. The season five premiere was The Walking Dead’s most-watched episode ever at 17.9 million viewers.

The show set records for AMC, becoming the most successful launchpad they had ever seen. The Walking Dead now holds the fourth spot among all-time cable series premieres in adults 18-49. What’s more, the three shows ahead of it are a spinoff (Fear the Walking Dead) and two series — Better Call Saul and Into the Badlands — that both debuted after episodes of The Walking Dead aired.

For seasons six and seven, The Walking Dead still averaged a staggering number of viewers with 13.15 million and 11.35 million respectively–a feat never before heard of for cable-scripted programming. In fact, from midway through season three up until now, the series has had a streak of 75 episodes that garnered more than 10 million views; two episodes more than the entire runtime of Thrones, to put it into perspective.

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The Walking Dead has aired a total of 177 episodes so far and after Sunday’s episode, that number will climb to 178. Out of all the scripted cable series, there are only a handful that have banked more episodes than TWD such as South Park and SpongeBob SquarePants. Given this information, it was probably inevitable that the show would decline at some point which is exactly what happened beginning with season eight in 2017-18.

Same-day viewers for that season averaged 7.82 million, down 30 percent from the previous year. The ninth season declined by 37 percent more and the 10th by a similar percentage. The protracted final season, which aired in three eight-episode installments over 15 months, has only surpassed 2 million same-day viewers once: for the Aug. 15 premiere.

The decline in viewership is AMC is due, in part, to the decreasing number of people who have access to it. At its peak a few years ago, around 94 million households with cable or satellite services could receive AMC; at that time, there were about 100 million TV homes total with some form of pay-TV service.

In the past few years, cord-cutting has had a significant negative effect on AMC’s reach. The company now only reaches about 78 homes, which is 17 percent lower than its high seven years ago.

The show receives a 60 percent-70 percent viewing increase over seven days when viewers watch it at a later time, and streaming presumably adds quite a few more people. The “presumably” is there because, as is usually the case with streaming data, AMC has not disclosed how many people watch The Walking Dead through its AMC+ platform. However, what we do know is that AMC Networks has 11.1 million streaming subscribers across all of its platforms like AMC+, Shudder, AllBLK and Sundance Now.

The Walking Dead‘s place in history is secure, even if the show is ending with a whimper compared to its heyday. Very few cable shows have ever reached the highs that The Walking Dead did; only Paramount Network’s Yellowstone comes close. With the focus on streaming now and fewer scripted shows on cable, it’s unlikely that any other show will reach those same heights.

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