Earlier this week, in the context of the latest episode of The Walking Dead, we discussed the faltering ratings of the series over the course of not just this season, but last season, as well. It’s still the top-rated show on cable, but the ratings aren’t what they used to be, and those ratings continue to drop week after week after week. There are a lot of reasons we might be able to attribute to the decline, but the main reason is this: The Walking Dead just isn’t as good as it used to be.
That’s not just my opinion, either. It’s the opinion of both audiences and critics, as scored by Rotten Tomatoes. Granted, this is not a show that’s ever been as highly rated as Game of Thrones (94 percent), Mr. Robot (96 percent), Better Call Saul (97 percent), or Fargo (98 percent), but in its peak seasons (3-5), The Walking Dead received high marks from critics (88 percent, 86 percent, and 90 percent, respectively).
Now? Not so much. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the seventh season is currently sitting at a lousy 77 percent, even with the benefit of one episode at 97 percent raising the score (the second episode, which introduced Ezekiel and the Kingdom). Keep in mind, too, that critic’s scores on Rotten Tomatoes are compiled by critics who still like the show enough to continue watching it (like myself), while the show’s bigger detractors (like Alan Sepinwall or Donna Dickens) have quit the show and are no longer contributing to its scores.
It’s not just critics, either. The audience rating is a similarly mediocre 78 percent.
Our love affair with The Walking Dead is fading.
But, showrunner Scott Gimple and the writers would be wise to look at scores for individual episodes in order to figure out what’s gone wrong and how they can improve the series. Bad reviews didn’t start with Negan, after all. In fact, going back to season six, we can pinpoint exactly where viewers began to fall out of love with the series. It wasn’t the third episode, “Thank You,” which saw Glenn’s death fake out, or even the fourth episode, which was an episode devoted entirely to a Morgan flashback.
The problems began with the fifth episode, “Now,” which received a 44 percent rating on the Tomatometer. Viewers may recall that “Now” was the episode where the action returned to Alexandria and focused on a bunch of mostly random Alexandrian characters no one cares about, like Olivia and Deanna and Denise and Spencer. At the time, we mostly gave it a pass as a middling outlier in an otherwise strong front half of the sixth season. Unfortunately, the problems of that episode have continued to characterize much of the series.
In fact, that’s exactly when The Walking Dead falters the most: When it’s not focussed on the main characters, like Daryl, Maggie, Glenn (RIP), Carol, Michonne, and Rick. This latest episode, “Swear,” received a dismal 62 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that’s largely because it centered around two tertiary characters, Heath and Tara. Meanwhile, the one episode this season that got stellar reviews, “The Well,” spent all its time on Carol, Morgan, and the introduction of Ezekiel. It wasn’t a grim or brutal episode, either. It was — all things relative on The Walking Dead — a much lighter episode with some honest character moments with people we actually care about.
That’s how The Walking Dead reverses course. It needs to return to what matters: The core characters. Introducing new characters is totally fine, too, but the show needs to do so through the use of existing fan favorites. At this point, in order to pull it off, it may also be instructive to veer away from the source material, add a few adventures, an occasional dose of humor, and an honest-to-God victory. That’s what The Walking Dead needs more than anything right now: A reason to cheer.
Source: Rotten Tomatoes