Remember when The Walking Dead‘s Sunday night stats were capable of crushing everything in their blood-speckled path? Those days are long gone, and may never return. The extended, game-changing Season 9 premiere, the first under new showrunner Angela Kang, was watched by just 6.1 million viewers. That’s the smallest premiere audience since Season 1 debuted.
Let’s break down that number a little more to see just how unfortunate things are for The Walking Dead and AMC. The total of 6.1 million viewers is a 47% drop-off from the 11.44 million that watched Season 8’s premiere. And that was already the least-watched opener since Season 3 kicked off. Looking back one more year, the Season 7 premiere that killed off Glenn and Abraham had an audience that was 2.8 times bigger than this latest debut.
In fact, Season 9’s “A New Beginning” scored a smaller total viewership on Sunday night than any single episode in the poorly rated Season 8. What’s more, it earned the lowest Live+Same Day viewership of any episode going all the way back to Season 2’s fifth episode, which also had a 6.08 million-strong audience. (That episode was “Chupacabra, in which Glenn discovered the Greene family’s walker barn.)
The comparisons get even worse when the numbers are pared down to just the key demographic ratings. The Walking Dead earned a 2.5 demo rating, with 3.2 million viewers hitting within the 18-49 age range. Those would be ridiculously good numbers for many other shows, but it’s actually the lowest-rated Dead premiere ever. It’s half of Season 8’s 5.0 demo rating, and is even lower than the very first ep “Days Gone By,” which landed a 2.7 rating.
When compared to the Season 8 finale, this latest premiere clearly did not carry over as much of the audience as many would have hoped. It was down 23% within the general viewership, and down 27% in the key demo.
To be fair, there are a couple of non-panicky reasons why The Walking Dead‘s numbers were so low. For one, it’s that time of year when Sunday Night Football does everything it can to sap viewers from other primetime programming.
As well, AMC tried out a new tactic with The Walking Dead‘s Season 9 premiere by releasing it online early. Not for everyone, but just for those who subscribed to the standalone AMC Premiere streaming service over the weekend. According to Deadline, there was a huge surge in signups geared to the special promotion that may have led to the biggest day of new recruits yet. AMC has not released any specific data on that front, though, so it’s unofficial for now.
There was certainly much contention going into Season 9 of The Walking Dead, which replaced former showrunner Scott Gimple with writer Angela Kang. The season started off with a time jump into a slightly more civilized society, with viewers already knowing that Andrew Lincoln will be leaving the show soon. Star Lauren Cohan is also set to take a hiatus from her portrayal of Maggie Greene.
It’s possible that the viewership totals and the ratings will grow with Episode 2. However, this past weekend sent off some warning bells in fans heads about how much the show’s popularity truly is waning. Are you guys still watching?
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. To see what kinds of entertaining will rise up when the zombies fall, head to our fall TV premiere schedule.