‘The Walking Dead’ Boss Responds to Dipping Ratings, Fan Criticisms

The Walking Dead gets its much-needed facelift under new showrunner Angela Kang, who has retooled the eight-year-old series coming off declining ratings and a pair of oft-criticized seasons — complaints that haven’t gone unnoticed by Kang and the powers that be.

“None of us live in a vacuum so it would be dishonest of me to say that I’ve never heard any of that stuff,” Kang told Variety.

“I don’t often go out seeking that stuff out there, because we really need to concentrate on making the best story possible. But I think a lot of times, we do our own internal reckonings, like ‘To us, it feels like we’ve done a lot of this type of story. What’s a new way to tell this? What are some of the things that we miss doing?’ And a lot of times that lines up with things that fans or critics have been feeling. So we’re not trying to chase something but we have a responsibility to ourselves and our viewers to not rest on our laurels.”

During Season Eight, The Walking Dead plunged to a 2.6 rating with episode 814 — the series’ lowest since its first season, when the then just-debuted zombie drama had yet to emerge as a worldwide phenomenon.

With episode 810 — the first episode to follow the death of Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) — The Walking Dead drew a 2.9 rating in adults 18-49, marking the first time the series drew less than a 3.0 rating since Season One.

While The Walking Dead often still topped the charts despite its dip in the ratings, growing dissension was reflected by both fans and critics alike, who gave the series its warmest receptions in seasons Seven and Eight.

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Season Seven pulled a still-fresh 62%, but marked the first time a season didn’t hit the “certified fresh” designation. Season Eight fared slightly better at 66% from critics, but the last two seasons drew only a rotten 59% and 51% audience “liked it” score, respectively — far from the strong high ‘70s to low ‘90s viewer ratings earned by the preceding six seasons.

More than ever, there has been extreme transparency with the fans: AMC is doing their due diligence in convincing viewers that a regime change and an influx of new writers and directors has returned the show to its glory days, helped along by a stronger focus on character dynamics and better-than-ever drama.

Daryl Dixon star Norman Reedus said the on-set changes have extended to the outside world, as an eye has been turned to showcasing the revamped ninth season.

“There’s also a lot of freedom with explaining what’s happening on the show, not just to us, but to the media, to the press. There’s sort of an open dialogue this year, I’ve noticed,” Reedus told EW.

“And it’s not anything I’ve spoken with anyone about, but I just kind of noticed as a fan. I noticed on Talking Dead there were a lot of story points being talked about on the show, which is something we didn’t really do before. There used to a lot of questions asked, and then, ‘Well, you’ll just have to tune in and see.’ Now I know they talked about Ezekiel and Carol having a relationship, and a time jump, and certain things like that. So I think the set demeanor is a little less heavy, and it’s a little more directed towards fun.”

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In a review, ComicBook.com dubbed a refreshed Season Nine the best the show has been in years — having finally returned to can’t-miss, must-see TV.

The Walking Dead Season Nine premieres Sunday, October 7 at 9/8c on AMC.