Declining Ratings

"If you keep thinking everyone's an enemy, then enemies are all you're gonna find." - Tara, "The Walking Dead."

Seven seasons is a long time for a TV series. It's understandable that audiences grow weary, characters leave the series and things can become stale. That, inevitably, leads to declines in ratings. It would be easy to look at "The Walking Dead," a series in the midst of its seventh season, and chock up some of the ratings decline to age and audience fatigue.

After all, this isn't a hopeful show or a hopeful world. It's essentially been doom and gloom for seven seasons, and that's not likely to change. There is no happy ending coming for these characters. Even survival isn't reason for rejoicing in the world of "The Walking Dead" because there is always something dire around the corner.

But I think there's more to it with season seven. This is a show that, for me, was top 10 through season six and now has become a show I dread watching. Why? Is it just fatigue with the world? I don't think so. I think it's the stories themselves, and the whole feel of the season.

Our heroes have been through so much. We've lost many favorite characters, and seen others continue to suffer. The theme of the show has always been that the heroes we follow are the Walking Dead. It's not the zombies that are the threat, it's the other people. But the stories have been told in a rich way, a way that's drawn audiences into the bigger narrative.

That's been the difference between this series and "Fear The Walking Dead," the prequel/spin-off that seems lost in the weeds of Mexico with a cast and crew of characters we can't begin to care about. Now, it seems the mothership is heading in the same direction.

I read a lot of complaints about Sunday's episode being one of the most pointless in the series' history. Perhaps that's true, but I hardly think that's the root of the problem. We've had six episodes of season seven, and so far only one has been interesting to me. That's a problem.

Worse yet, several of them have been deeply unsettling, beginning with the premier. I get what they're trying to do with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but the premier was a completely dark and unsettling hour that crossed a line. This is a show that's never shied away from violence, but there was a masochistic aspect to the premier that didn't sit right. After six months of waiting for resolution, to have that be the outcome was deeply disappointing.

They've followed up with characters who are shells of their former selves. The argument has been made by many, including fans of the comics that I've never read, that this is necessary to add gravity to the battle that's to come. Perhaps that will be proven true. But for now, it's rendered an already gloomy show a complete bummer and a chore to sit through. That's problematic.

Two episodes remain in the first half, and I doubt much about that will change. Then we'll have to wait until after the Super Bowl to see how the rest of this season plays out. The question is, how much of the audience will be left. And, worse yet, how many people will be left to care?


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