The Walking Dead still has eight episodes to go to finish out season 8 and the Negan War, but if you stop and take stock of the situation so far, it’s a pretty bleak picture.
Not only are ratings falling, as in how many people are watching the show each week, which lately has been season 2/3 levels of viewership, but the ratings scores of episodes are falling as well, according to IMDB ratings where fans cast tens of thousands of votes each week.
You may dispute the accuracy of fan-based IMDB ratings, but if you look at say, the top ten Walking Dead episodes of all time, there are a lot of all-time greats on there, so I do think the will of the people is on point to some extent.
But if that’s true, then the chart you see above is nothing short of a disaster for The Walking Dead. From Reviewgraphs.com (via r/thewalkingdead), that’s every single episode of The Walking Dead over eight years plotted in terms of IMDB score.
The show’s “quality peak” spans from roughly the middle of season 4 to the middle of season 6. Season 5 was its ratings peak.
The show’s ultimate low point remains the Tara-centric season 7 episode, “Swear.”
The recent downturn can be traced to almost the exact moment Negan showed up in person in season 6 episode 16, with that episode being incredibly low rated due to the “Negan kills the cameraman” fake out.
Not a single episode of season 8 has scored above an 8/10. Only 3 episodes scored that high in season 7.
That is just…bad. It’s clear the Negan arc is the problem. You may say “well actually, Scott Gimple is the problem,” but honestly, I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as that. Remember, Scott Gimple was named showrunner after Glenn Mazzara’s departure at the end of a very rocky season 3. So Gimple has presided over the best times in The Walking Dead’s history (at least according to these ratings) from seasons 4-6 when the show was at its critical and viewership peak. Yes, he’s also here now for this downturn, and directly responsible for recent terrible decisions like axing Chandler Riggs’ Carl, but I think it’s important to recall that he was also running the show when things were pretty great. Though clearly yes, he has lost his way.
The Negan storyline is the main issue, which is bizarre, because it’s arguably the high point of the entire Robert Kirkman comic run so far. But I think certain elements, Negan himself, Ezekiel/Shiva, just don’t work as well live as they do on the page. Similarly, The Walking Dead used to be pretty good about going off-script, but now when the show tries to do this during the Negan War, it’s usually terrible. We’ve seen that with Seaside, with the Scavengers and now with Carl’s untimely death, all groups or decisions that are outside of the source material which have been some of the worst parts of seasons 7 and 8.
All this said, I don’t know if I’m in total agreement with the fan ratings here, specifically the notion that season 8 is worse than season 7. Season 7, particularly the first half, was just outrageously bad in every way, and season 8 hasn’t sunk quite that low in my opinion. Season 8 also has the Ezekiel-centric episode “Some Guy,” which I would easily consider to be one of the top ten episodes of the series overall, yet this rating list has it at only a 6.9 which is madness. I do think that overall dissatisfaction with The Walking Dead as a series is bringing down these scores en masse, with many fans hate-voting to send a message to AMC and Gimple. I don’t blame them, I suppose.
The Walking Dead is in a hole and I’m not sure how it can dig its way out. Perhaps the Negan War ending will be its ticket toward a better future, but we still have eight more episodes to resolve it, and I wonder if there are any truly great ones lurking in there. With Carl’s death, it really does seem like the show may be poised to split completely from the comics and do its own thing, and considering the “high points” of season 4-6 were full of Gimple and co’s wholly original storylines that fans seemed to like (Terminus, the Wolves), perhaps that’s the right call.
Gimple made a great show once, maybe he can do it again. But the last two years have been incredibly rough, and the show needs to pull itself out of this nosedive.