When “The Walking Dead” begins its seventh season Sunday night, it will have a chance to reverse the first season-to-season ratings decline in the show’s history.
Even if it doesn’t, though, the show will likely still be the top-rated series on cable, and the top scripted show across all of TV. And it probably won’t be close.
Even with a (not very large) decline for Season 6, “The Walking Dead” is still on a pretty remarkable ratings trajectory. It debuted to huge-for-the-time ratings on AMC back in 2010 — when the channel was getting a little over 2 million viewers for an episode of “Mad Men” — and grew in each of the following four seasons, often substantially so.
Here’s a look at the show’s 18-49 ratings by season:
And its total viewers by season:
Both charts show live + same-day figures. With three days of DVR and on-demand viewing, “The Walking Dead” averaged a 9.1 in adults 18-49 and about 18 million viewers for Season 6.
Even if “The Walking Dead” had stayed at the level of its first two seasons, it would still be among the two or three top-rated shows on cable (excluding live sports) and AMC’s top series ever. But after growing by 33 percent in adults 18-49 and 32 percent in viewers in Season 2, the show really took off with its third season.
That season, which introduced key character Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the show’s best-regarded villain to date, the Governor (David Morrissey), reaped ratings gains of 50 percent in both the 18-49 demo and viewers, averaging a 5.4 rating in adults 18-49 and 10.4 million viewers. DVR and on-demand viewing made the show even bigger.
The growth slowed down some over the next couple of seasons, but “The Walking Dead” peaked with Season 5, averaging a 7.4 in adults 18-49 and 14.4 million viewers. The Season 5 premiere, in which Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Co. fought their way out of Terminus, was the show’s highest-rated single episode with an 8.7 and 17.3 million viewers.
Last season’s numbers were down, although not that much: 12 percent in adults 18-49 (to 6.5) and 9 percent in viewers (to 13.15 million). Regardless, it was still the No. 1 show not involving the NFL on TV by far.
“The Walking Dead’s” Season 6 ratings among adults 18-49 were 48 percent higher than the top show on broadcast TV, “Empire.” The next-best show on cable, “Game of Thrones,” had its top-rated season ever with a 3.9 in adults 18-49 and 7.69 million viewers. “The Walking Dead” beat it by margins of 67 percent in the demo and 71 percent in viewers.
Just about all shows decline as they age, and it would be no great surprise if “The Walking Dead” fell some in the ratings with Season 7. But it would have to drop a pretty long way for any other show to come close to beating it.