The return of AMC's The Walking Dead was greeted Sunday with series-low premiere ratings, falling 43 percent in total viewers from last year's Season 7 debut.
That kind of decline would send most networks into crisis mode, but it's important to point out that the horror drama remains a ratings monster, devouring virtually everything else on television. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, only NFL Sunday Night Football outperformed The Walking Dead's Season 8 premiere, and it remains cable's No. 1 series.
What's more, the divisive Season 6 cliffhanger led to increased viewership for the Season 7 premiere, boosting viewership to about 17 million as people tuned in to find out who fell victim to Negan's bat, drawn not only by the resolution but by a robust marketing campaign. In that regard, comparing Sunday's season premiere to last year's may not provide an accurate picture of the state of The Walking Dead.
In any case, according to Nielsen's same-day ratings, Sunday's episode, "Mercy," averaged 11.4 million viewers, 6.5 million of whom fall in the coveted adults 18-49 demographic; it earned a 5.0 rating in that key demo. That makes "Mercy" the least-watched season premiere of The Walking Dead since 2012's Season 3 return, which drew 10.9 million viewers.
We'll have a better idea of where The Walking Dead stands once Nielsen releases its DVR ratings, which takes into account both replays on television and viewers who watched on streaming platforms.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Josh McDermitt as Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.