The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead Season Nine, “The Calm Before” — now infamous for its shocking pikes scene displaying the decapitated and reanimated heads of victims claimed by Whisperer leader Alpha (Samantha Morton) — saw the long-running zombie drama hit an all-time series low with 4.15 million viewers in live/same day numbers, TV By the Numbers reports.
Its 1.5 rating in the coveted adults 18-49 rating is down from the 1.7 won a week prior, and that 4.15 million is the lowest since 2010 Season One episode “Guts,” the second episode of the entire series watched by 4.71 million viewers. Despite its widely agreed upon critical acclaim, “The Calm Before” is now the least-watched episode in series history, taking that title from previous record holder 911, “Bounty,” which reached 4.39 million viewers.
Even amid its shrinking viewership, The Walking Dead remains the top scripted series for Sunday nights, and is the only scripted series in the top ten as well as the only non-sports program above a 0.9 in 18-49.
The drops come as The Walking Dead’s ninth season, under the stewardship of newly minted showrunner Angela Kang, has earned its best critical response in series history: Season Nine is the highest-rated season on Rotten Tomatoes at 93 percent, toppling its previous series best, Season Five’s 89 percent.
Network AMC is unfazed by the decline in viewership: a third Walking Dead series is now in active development and AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan said in September the company has a plan to manage the growing Walking Dead Universe “over the next decade, plus.”
That plan includes a budding film side of the universe, to be launched with an Andrew Lincoln-led Rick Grimes movie, planned as the first entry in a television movie trilogy overseen by Walking Dead chief content officer Scott Gimple and creator Robert Kirkman, who is reported to be heavily involved.
“We’re working on a number of things right now, they’re getting very close,” Gimple said on the most recent episode of live aftershow Talking Dead when teasing the future of the interconnected universe, which has already grown to include four-season spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. “We’re gonna have a steady flow of announcements through the rest of the year, and then 2020 is gonna be bananas.”
Fear launches its fifth season in June under returning Season Four showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg ahead of the October return of The Walking Dead Season Ten, again shepherded by Kang, a veteran writer-producer on the series since 2011. That season will be the last for Michonne star Danai Gurira, who is anticipated to make a leap to the movies after exiting the mothership series.
The Walking Dead has also signed its last-remaining Season One stars, Daryl Dixon star Norman Reedus and Carol star Melissa McBride, to three-year contracts that allow for appearances outside the flagship show. Though Reedus hopes to stay on The Walking Dead until its end, the star said in recent weeks it would be wise to plan for an endpoint.
“I started the show and I’d like to bookend the show. I’d like to be there when it ends. I just don’t know when the endgame is,” Reedus said. “I just don’t want the brand to get watered down too much. You got this goose that lays the golden egg, sooner or later you got to let the goose fly free. You don’t want to kill it. I don’t know if that’ll happen, we’ve got a lot of good, creative people on the show, but if this show went on for 20 years, it would get watered down, there’s no way around it.”
Until The Walking Dead reaches that point, it’s found new life under Kang.
“I love the risks that she’s taken,” Reedus told EW ahead of the Season Nine closer.
“I love what Angela’s doing to the show. She’s very punk rock, Angela Kang. She jumps in. There’s a confidence with our crew and with our cast and with our storytelling that we’ve earned over the years. If you’re going to take risks, now’s the time to take them, and they’re all paying off. After nine years, you have to reinvent yourself a little bit. I just want to make the show that we want to make, and it feels like that’s what we’re doing. You can feel it in the crew. You can feel it in the cast. You can feel it in the scripts. It’s the show that we want to make.”
The Walking Dead premieres its snow-covered and game-changing Season Nine finale Sunday, March 31 at 9/8c on AMC. Season Ten is due out in October.
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