As the series seemingly continues to bleed viewers, fans might anticipate that The Walking Dead mid-season finale on Sunday night would give the struggling zombie apocalypse drama a boost, particularly with the rumors/spoilers and/or expectations floating around of a major character death.
Well, yes and no. The extended Season 8 winter finale, entitled “How It’s Gotta Be,” scored about 7.9 million viewers, with a 3.4 rating in the advertiser-desired 18-49 age demographic. This is an improvement over the previous episode (“Time For After,” Episode 7 of this bifurcated season), which logged approximately 7.5 million and a 3.3 rating.
That said, the 88-minute chapter was “the lowest-rated midseason finale since Season 2,” TV Guide explained. “‘How It’s Gotta Be’ drew 25 percent fewer eyeballs than the comparable episode last fall.” TWD is nonetheless still the most popular scripted series on basic cable, even given the downward trend,
With its 11.4 million viewers, the Season 8 opener hit a five-year low in viewership and week two was down 20 percent from there. By way of comparison, the Season 7 premiere, with the big reveal about who among the series regulars Negan killed, attracted 17 million.
In Sunday’s installment, another big reveal occurred, that Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) was bitten by a zombie earlier in the season. This development was a shock and a disappointment to most fans, not because the Carl character was particularly compelling, but more because he and TV dad Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) are the only two remaining cast members from the series pilot.
In Robert Kirkman’s comic book time line, Carl is still alive and is positioned to inherit the leadership torch from his dad, so this is a profound departure. Kirkman is himself leaving AMC for an Amazon production deal (and he is among several plaintiffs suing AMC over TWD profits), but whether that has anything to do the storyline U-turn is speculation, as is perhaps an attempt by AMC to jump-start ratings with a most unexpected development.
It has been widely reported in The Hollywood Reporter and in other media outlets that Chandler Riggs, 18, and his family apparently felt blindsided by the decision to kill off his character, particularly since AMC apparently gave Riggs assurances that he’d be on the show for three more years. He even bought a home in Georgia where TWD is filmed.
Separately, there’s been a bit of chatter that some difficulties in Riggs’ last contract negotiation with AMC allegedly occurred, which, if accurate, may or may not have had a bearing on the situation.
TWD star Lincoln’s contract is also coming up for renewal, so that might also be a factor in the plot moving forward. In interviews, both Riggs and showrunner Scott Gimple claim that Carl is definitely a goner, but presumably the possibility exists of a Glenn-under-the-dumpster swerve, i.e., Carl turns out to be immune to a zombie bite or it actually isn’t a zombie bite, etc.
The Walking Dead has a history of first-tier characters inexplicably flip-flopping from warrior to pacifist and back again, and Carl turned out to be no different, but that might have been a tell that something was up.
Over the years and seasons, TV critics, as well as fans and former fans, have consumed an enormous amount of social media bandwidth discussing issues with the often lethargic and illogical TWD storyline, and judging by what’s being discussed on the web, some people now admit to just hate-watching the show.
The first eight episodes of Season 8, which appear to have taken place over the course of a couple of days in story time, had an unusual amount of action and gunfire, although even video game players have to reload occasionally, but the show never made clear what Rick’s plan was exactly in the battle with the Saviors.
Sunday night’s episode had some good scenes, such as the Carl-Negan interaction at the wall (which was made more poignant in retrospect) as well as the fisticuffs between Negan and Rick, although why didn’t Rick take care of business after he got hold of Lucille?
Other random questions: How were Negan and his crew able to reconstitute so fast to effectively go on the offensive after the siege? Since “the Widow” was one of three people in Negan’s cross-hairs, why did Simon allow Maggie to go back to the Hilltop rather than taking her into custody? (As an aside, actor Steven Ogg always delivers a top-notch performance as Simon when he gets screen time.) What was the point of all the negotiations with the Scavengers when they just ran off in the face of the zombie swarm?
Carl returns on February 25 for the second-half premiere, episode 809, but this apparently is his final appearance. If The Walking Dead ratings don’t spike for that episode as Carl apparently exits the apocalypse permanently in his own personal series finale, it seems unlikely, at this juncture, that the show will ever regain its past popularity.