For the first time in six seasons, ratings for AMC’s flagship series The Walking Dead slipped year over year. It wasn’t a huge drop, and it didn’t affect its position as the top-rated show on television, but in its most recent season, The Walking Dead wasn’t as dominant as it has been in recent years. However, going into the finale, showrunner Scott Gimple and creator Robert Kirkman could have easily left well enough alone. Even if ratings continued to drop at their current rate, The Walking Dead could probably reign at the top for another three of four seasons. Instead, they took a calculated risk in the hopes of reversing the trend.
Their decision ultimately set up the biggest cliffhanger on television since the season three cliffhanger of Lost, and they had to know that it would leave viewers seething with frustration. The Walking Dead fans had spent the better part of a year anticipating not only the arrival of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, but speculating about who he would kill. Ultimately, the series gave us Negan’s arrival but left the identity of his victim in doubt.
Fans went apesh*t, with some going as far as petitioning AMC to reveal the cliffhanger. Kirkman and Gimple probably expected angry fans, but perhaps they didn’t expect to spend the next two months responding and apologizing. In their frustration, some fans threatened to quit the series. Others railed against the show, arguing that it was a misstep because we’d all know by the time the season premiere rolled around who was going to die. The cliffhanger will be spoiled, they argued.
With the season seven premiere less than a week away, however, it’s beginning to look like the gamble paid off. There are still those who haven’t forgiven The Walking Dead for making us wait six months, but for the most part, the frustration has turned into genuine excitement. Sunday night’s episode will be something we rarely see anymore: An actual TV event. Premiere parties are being organized, which is strange considering the subject material. Friends and families will gather around their televisions this Sunday night to excitedly watch a man with a baseball bat bash someone (or multiple someones) to death. In fact, a month after the sixth season debuted on Netflix, binge-watching fans of the series who typically wait until the next season comes out on the streaming service are scrambling to find a place to watch the premiere because they don’t want to be spoiled on Monday. (And believe me, no one will be able to escape spoilers on Monday).