‘The Walking Dead’ Backlash Over Season 7 Premiere Caused Drastic Changes Amid Ratings Slide

There’s no doubting that the season premiere for The Walking Dead was shocking and more than a little gruesome. The violence in that episode as Negan killed two primary characters prompted some heavy backlash and negative responses. AMC listened to that feedback and pushed producers to tone down the violence in upcoming episodes.

Per Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer on The Walking Dead, they were able to look at the feedback on the level of violence. Because of it, “we did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later in the season.”

Hurd was speaking at the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) at a panel with AMC Networks President and CEO Josh Sapan and Colman Domingo, star of Fear the Walking Dead.

The visceral violence of the Season 7 premiere prompted adjustments to the back half of Season 7 of the walking dead

Hurd wanted it made clear that the feedback from the fans was heard and paid attention to. To her, the visceral reaction that fans had to the premiere only emphasized how much they had invested in the show. “This is not a show that is torture porn,” she said during the panel. She also made it clear that the producers and writers made sure that they never crossed that line.

Considering the gruesome death of Spencer in the midseason finale, “When something matters a lot and it has a universality, then you’re bothered by it and you care about it,” noted Sapan during the panel.

Both Hurd and Sapan made comments about how The Walking Dead became the top-rated scripted primetime series on both cable and broadcast television. Hurd said that she expected the show to make a good solid double, or two-season show. For his part, Sapan went around to comic book shops in New York City to ask what people thought of zombie comics to gauge what the response to The Walking Dead might be.

Still, ratings in Season 7 have had a steady slide, perhaps due to the graphic violence of the premiere. Critics of the death scenes for Abraham and Glenn pointed not only to the visuals, but also the audio elements. The brutal beating that Negan applied with Lucille seemed almost gratuitous, almost as if to compensate for fan backlash over the Season 6 cliffhanger.

According to Variety, the Season 7 midseason finale managed to attract 10.58 million viewers, with over 6.5 million in the 18-49 demographic. That number, impressive as it is, was still down over 25 percent from the Season 6 midseason finale and a drop of 40 percent from the season premiere.

The violence of the season premiere prompted changes in the walking dead

Even though the Season 7 premiere was up from the Season 6 premiere, after Episode 2, viewership began to slide. Even more problematic is how far the numbers have fallen when it comes to the C3 ratings. C3 ratings measure the viewership of commercials associated with a program within the next three days. The Walking Dead is losing this crucial metric, which means that the show is losing its advertising punch.

However, The Walking Dead is in its seventh season, and having a ratings dip is hardly a rare occurrence. What remains to be seen is how the adjustment and changes made to the second half of the season affect the ratings.

Season 7B looks to up the positive vibe of the show, which will be a welcome change after the vicious morale beating that Rick and the Alexandria survivors took at the hands of Negan and The Saviors. The back half of the season is leading into the Total War arc of the comics with a fight with The Saviors on one side and The Kingdom, Alexandria, and The Hilltop on the other. In a deviation from the comics, a new group written specifically for the television show is being introduced. These “Garbage Pail Kids,” as they are being called, live in a dump, and were hinted at in the midseason finale and will start out as allies to Alexandria before turning on Rick and allying themselves with The Saviors.

[Featured Image by AMC]