The Walking Dead had a decline in viewer ratings when Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) joined the zombie drama, according to data collected from IMDb. The viewer data, collected and analyzed by Broadband Choices, shows audience review ratings began to drop after Negan’s first appearance in the Season 6 finale, “Last Day on Earth,” which also ended with a cliffhanger when it left Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and other fan-favorites at the mercy of the baseball bat-wielding bad guy. TWD dips when that cliffhanger is resolved in the Season 7 opener, which inspired viewer outrage when it depicted the gory executions of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun).
Broadband Choices notes TWD’s season average “dropped ever so slightly” over its first six seasons, but upon reaching Season 7 — where Rick and Team Family spend most of the season subjected by Negan and the Saviors — “the quality of the show falls off a cliff.” A graphic showing episode ratings and season averages then determines “Negan was the worst thing to happen to The Walking Dead.”
The data also shows the Season 6 finale has the lowest rating for a season finale: “Last Day on Earth” is currently rated at a 6.5 out of 10 with 26,108 votes counted.
Broadband Choices adds the show’s average rating on IMDb dropped again in Season 8, which depicted All Out War against the Saviors, before an uptick with Season 9, the first season under current showrunner Angela Kang. The site notes episode ratings “noticeably” increased in Season 9, particularly after a six-year time jump that immediately followed the disappearance of Rick Grimes in 9x05. (Season 10, to resume airing on AMC in February, recently celebrated becoming TWD's highest-rated season on Rotten Tomatoes.)
The Season 7 opener, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” sparked backlash among viewers over its unrestrained violence and the episode was at the center of numerous complaints filed with the FCC. Despite some calling the episode “sadistic, emotional torture” — the Parents Television Council reported the “brutally explicit” episode was “one of the most graphically violent shows we’ve ever seen on television” — 7x01 does have a 9.1 rating on IMDb after 34,653 votes.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Season 7 is the second-lowest rated season among critics (66%), coming in just ahead of Season 8 (64%).
In October, Morgan admitted Negan was “very one-dimensional” during the Saviors’ reign in Seasons 7 and 8.
“I thought the first couple of years that we knew Negan was very one-dimensional. To me, when Negan came out of the RV for the first time, we didn’t learn anything about him for two years, three years. And that was hard,” Morgan said at Walker Stalker Con Atlanta. “I felt like everything that I said coming out of that RV is sort of what I said for the next two years, and never shifted. I think with the introduction of Judith (Cailey Fleming), and that relationship, we got to see a little different side of him.”
Seasons 9 and 10 also helped rehabilitate Negan into even more of a fan-favorite: a poll conducted by The Walking Dead Twitter in October showed a majority of fans are now rooting for Negan despite past deeds.