I have been watching “The Walking Dead” from day one. I remain a huge fan and will continue to watch until they either find a cure for the virus or the last human has been devoured by the walkers. There are few shows on TV that still have urgency to view, or binge-watch in the case of streaming services that drop whole series. Most shows just fill up space on my DVR or my Netflix or Amazon queue, begging me to watch them. Not the case with the “Dead.”

I generally watch “TWD” on Monday morning for two reasons. I find it hard to sleep at night after watching an episode. I start every episode with a sense of dread and am actually relieved when it’s over. Second, the Masked Wife won’t watch it with me, but I’ve found that on Monday mornings, she sort of pops in and out, especially if I’m talking to the set — which I do a lot during the show.

I love the characters and I have my list of the “unkillables,” who for me are Rick, Carl, Daryl, Carol, Glenn and Michonne. Everyone else is a candidate for zombie chow. As many of you know, one of them is no longer with us, and that got me to ponder the reasons why we saw a significant drop (40 percent) in the same-day rating for the premiere.

First of all, as others have pointed out, that 40 percent drop is inflated by the fact that the Season 7 premiere was the resolution of a massive cliffhanger and resulted in the death of two significant characters. If you compare the premiere 5.0 rating in adults 18-49 with the Season 6 debut of 7.4, we’re still looking at a 32 percent drop.

That 5.0 rating is not chopped liver, but something is happening.

“Kill a character, get a number” is a maxim in the television business, and the anticipation was huge for last season’s premiere. I have never read the comics, so the deaths were shocking to me — not just who, but also the brutality involved. Not only have we not recovered from those killings, but, and this may sound bizarre, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan just may be too effective a villain.

What he did to start Season 7, and everything he has done since, makes it uncomfortable for me to watch the show. I know that means he’s doing his job, and props to him, but this is such a dark world that his character has pushed it to very uncomfortable limits.

This gets me to a second aspect of the show that may be repelling viewers. “TWD” has evolved from us vs. the zombies to a show about the inhumanity of man/woman to man/woman. The zombies have almost become wallpaper at this point in the series. They no longer evoke fear in our heroes; they have become irritants or weapons to use against other human beings. When zombies show up now, there is even some eye-rolling going on.

As the real world has gotten darker and darker over the past two years, I think the show is no longer an “escape” and an alternative to our reality. “TWD” has in some ways become a reaffirmation of our current existence. That makes it more painful to watch. Remember, “The West Wing” came along at a time that we were looking for a different kind of president. Shows like “This Is Us” and “The Good Doctor” are providing us with aspirational programming at a time when many are looking for it.

I have another theory about that 5.0 rating. This one is a little strange. When I returned from several weeks abroad and looked at my loaded DVR, I noticed my “to do” list had several episodes of “The Walking Dead” set to record prior to the premiere. When I investigated what they were, they were all sorts of “specials” leading up to the premiere. I started deleting them since I never watch that crap. It dawned on me that AMC, in trying to be cute and labeling all these specials as new episodes of “The Walking Dead,” may unintentionally find that several people deleted recording the premiere episode. Just a theory, but it immediately crossed my mind.

I’m not worried about the show. I’m still a fan and accept the dark world that it inhabits. Everyone in the biz would kill for these numbers, but times are changing, and I do believe for some, that world has become far less inviting.

Posted by:The Masked Scheduler

The Masked Scheduler is a former broadcast network executive. Hailing from parts unknown, he now comments on the TV business for TV by the Numbers.

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