The prolonged conflict between Rick Grimes' (Andrew Lincoln) survivors and the Saviors commanded by archfoe Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), which played out between two and a half seasons of The Walking Dead, became "a little too hopeless for audiences," admits AMC boss Sarah Barnett. Following the introduction of the Saviors in the later half of Season 6, which ended with Negan's introduction in its season finale, Rick and company were subjected to Negan's rule following his vicious murders of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and father-to-be Glenn (Steven Yeun). 'All Out War' continued through Seasons 7 and 8, determined by data to be the two worst-rated seasons of the show.
"I think that with 10 seasons of television — something like ER or Grey’s Anatomy — shows go through spurts," Barnett told The Los Angeles Times when asked about a sense of critical decline surrounding the sixth, seventh and eighth seasons. "We’ve done a lot of research on the response to it and we certainly have our own thoughts about it."
She continued, "It’s true to say that that season with Negan became a little too hopeless for audiences. I think that there was creative intention behind it that was really smart and thoughtful, but it I think it probably pushed people to a place where it was a lot to take at a time when maybe people just didn’t want to see that."
Barnett was promoted to her current position in November 2018, months after The Walking Dead Season 8 finale ended the Savior war.
An independent research study conducted by Broadband Choices using data collected from IMDb determined Negan's arrival in the Season 6 finale, "Last Day on Earth," marked a point of decline for the zombie drama. In Season 7, where Rick and the Alexandrians were forced to serve Negan and the Saviors until the group began their pushback midway through the season, the quality suffered and viewers' episode ratings dropped.
ComicBook.com previously analyzed IMDb user ratings to determine all but one of the show's ten worst episodes belong to Seasons 7 and 8, the latter the final season under then-showrunner Scott Gimple. The series underwent a refreshment under current showrunner Angela Kang, who delivered the series' highest-rated seasons on Rotten Tomatoes in Season 9 and again with Season 10, which still has eight episodes left to air.
Despite a decline in ratings, the cable charts for scripted programming are often topped by new episodes of The Walking Dead. Viewership reactions are mostly favorable: Season 9 and 10 scored a respective 76% and 81% approval from audiences, up from Season 7 (58%) and Season 8 (49%). The latter ended with Negan's defeat and imprisonment, and under Kang, Season 9 underwent an 18-month time jump giving The Walking Dead a fresh new beginning.
No longer the series' chief villain — that role is currently filled by Whisperer leader Alpha (Samantha Morton) — Negan has found redemption of sorts under Kang: a poll conducted in November showed a majority of fans who voted are now in favor of Negan and are actively rooting for the anti-hero, who is poised for a bigger role in the back half of Season 10.
TWD Season 10 returns with new episodes Feb. 23 on AMC. For more TWD intel, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.