It’s widely agreed by fans that the weakest era of The Walking Dead is season 7/8. Prior to that, viewing figures and fan reception were at an all-time high, but things dipped precipitously on both of these fronts across those two runs. Now that we’re out of that period though, with the show enjoying an upswing in quality since season 9, it’s worth looking back to examine what went wrong during those years.
Broadband Choices has analyzed the data and it points to one clear answer: Negan. The site has gathered IMDb ratings from over TWD‘s runtime and found that there’s a very sharp drop in the figures from the point of the season 6 finale, “Last Day on Earth” – in other words, the episode that first featured Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the vindictive leader of the Saviors.
You can take a look at the evidence for yourself in the graph below:
While the white line details individual episode ratings, the red indicates season averages. BC notes that, though the average “dropped ever so slightly” for the first six seasons, “the quality of the show falls of a cliff” once Negan arrives. As the site colorfully puts it, “Negan was the worst thing to happen to The Walking Dead.”
Of course, the season 6 finale is known to be controversial, especially the cliffhanger that left fans guessing which of the survivors would be murdered by Negan. The season 7 premiere, meanwhile, was even more divisive, as it graphically showed Glenn and Abraham being bludgeoned to death by the villain’s barbed baseball bat Lucille. From thereon in, ratings decreased significantly until season 9 saw “noticeably” higher figures. You could infer that the reason for that is because Negan’s role shifted and lessened in importance.
Now, here we are in season 10, and Negan’s undergoing a complex, quasi-redemptive arc, and fans are clearly much more responsive to it than the years he spent lording it over Rick and company. We’ll find out if the ratings upswing continues though when The Walking Dead returns in February.