'The Walking Dead' Ratings Set Record, Rush Past NFL Sunday Night Football

The Walking Dead midseason finale on AMC pulled in about 15 million viewers and again surpassed NFL Sunday Night Football in a head-to-head matchup.

Sunday night's episode, the eighth installment of Season 5, also set a record in surpassing the 12 million total viewers who watched last year's midseason finale, which aired on December 1, 2013, representing a strong increase of 23 percent.

In the fragmented TV universe, the zombie-apocalypse opus also significantly captured 9.6 million viewers in the 18-49 age group demographic particularly sought after by advertisers. As everyone knows by now, Sunday night's episode featured the heart-wrenching death of series regular Beth (Emily Kinney) in the botched prisoner exchange at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital.

Each episode of The Walking Dead picks up several million more viewers when time-shifting DVR watchers are included in the mix.

As far as its rivalry (if it still can be called that) with the National Football League is concerned, Variety reported that "The Walking Dead once again beat NBC's Sunday Night Football in adults 18-49 (roughly 7.6 to 7.0), marking the fifth time in eight tries it has accomplished this feat. Walking Dead currently ranks ahead of SNF as the fall's No. 1 series in adults 18-49, and towers over the football package when seven-day DVR playback is included."

The NFL, which is generally a ratings powerhouse in its own right, won't have to be concerned about losing viewers to The Walking Dead until fall 2015, however. The Walking Dead returns for the second half of Season 5 on February 8, one week after the Super Bowl, the final game of the NFL professional football season.

Filming for the entire 16-episode Season 5 on location in Georgia has already wrapped. Earlier this fall, AMC renewed the hit show for a sixth season. A spin-off is also in the works.

The Walking Dead established an overall cable television viewership record with the Season 5 premiere episode on October 12, with more than 17 million viewers tuning in (11 million in the 18-49 cohort).

The Talking Dead after-show also gained more eyeballs over any previous post-midseason finale chatfest, with 6.6 million viewers. An emotional Emily Kinney appeared on Talking Dead Sunday night and repeatedly broke into tears while discussing her departure from the show, primarily in terms of the close relationships she developed with other members of the cast.

Creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman made some news on Talking Dead by confirming that while fan favorite Daryl Dixon is straight, Season 5B will feature a gay character. Much speculation is that the new character is Aaron, who in the original comic book is a resident of the Alexandria safe zone (a locale not yet introduced in the TV version).

Insofar as what lies ahead for the survivors in the remaining eight episodes, showrunner Scott Gimple told Deadline Hollywood that Beth's shocking demise "isn't the last devastating event to befall these characters. They are being tested and they are being pushed and this isn't the end of that." He added that "In the next half of the season there will some deviations but then we are going to get to some areas of the comic that will be very true to the comic."

Do you expect that The Walking Dead will continue to be a ratings juggernaut indefinitely?