Stories About Falling ‘The Walking Dead’ Ratings Don’t Tell The Whole Story

Ratings for this season of The Walking Dead are down across the board. Granted, the season premiere was the second highest-rated episode of the series run, but the AMC drama has been in a free-fall ever since, or so many of us in the media would have you believe. It is true that overnight ratings for The Walking Dead have fallen from 17 million viewers a week to around 11 million viewers as of the season finale, before DVR viewership is accounted for. It is also true that ratings for The Walking Dead have fallen to levels on par with season four. What is not being said, however, were how monstrous ratings in season four were.

The narrative this season, however, is what’s wrong with The Walking Dead to cause such a huge drop in ratings. We’re all guilty of this. Some of us blame Negan. I blame the stand-alone episodes that take too much attention away from the characters we most want to see. Clearly, a unfavorable reviews from both critics and audiences have contributed to the ratings erosion this season.

But here’s the other story, arguably the bigger story: Ratings for The Walking Dead are fine. Despite the drop-off, they’re better than fine. They’re still gargantuan. We often mention that — despite falling ratings — The Walking Dead is still the highest-rated show on cable, but we may fail to impress upon readers just how dominant it remains.

To wit: The midseason finale, after Live+3 DVR ratings are accounted for, scored a 7.5 rating among the prized 18-49 demo. That’s huge, but to understand how huge that it, it’s important to know that — beyond the NFL — the next highest-rated show on cable that week was The Talking Dead with a 2.5 rating, one-third of the ratings of The Walking Dead. Beyond that, it falls even further. Besides The Walking Dead, the South Park season finale was the highest-rated scripted show among the 18-49 demo. It scored a 1.6 compared to the 7.5 of The Walking Dead. In other words, ratings for The Walking Dead are 4.5x higher than its closest scripted competition on cable.

Even the NFL cannot compete. The Sunday night matchup that squared off against The Walking Dead scored much less than half the ratings of The Walking Dead, with only a 2.6. In other words, once DVR viewership was accounted for, The Talking Dead nearly eclipsed the reliable Sunday Night Football.

To put that in further context, The Walking Dead bested everything on network television as well. It’s closest scripted competition was the winter finale of This Is Us, which put up a 4.5. The Walking Dead beat it by 3 ratings points. It beat the number three drama on television, Empire, by four ratings points.

Westworld may be consuming much of the online conversation, but its season finale — after 7 days of DVR viewership — scored only a 1.7. In overall viewers, 8 million more people watch The Walking Dead each week than Westworld.

There is, however, one drama — and only one drama — that comes near the orbit of The Walking Dead, and that is Game of Thrones. Its season finale struck a 5.7 in the demo, which is still 1.8 ratings points fewer than The Walking Dead. In total viewership, The Walking Dead still bests Game of Thrones by three million viewers. It bests Better Call Saul by 10 million viewers; The Americans by 13 million viewers; The People vs. OJ Simpson by 12 million viewers; Homeland, Fargo and Mr. Robot by 14 million viewers.

In other words, yes: Ratings for The Walking Dead are down. Even still, it remains the most dominant drama on television, and it’s not even close.