As The Walking Dead prepares to air the final episodes of its ninth season and begin production on Season 10 for its October premiere, the current season currently stands as one of the most critically acclaimed since the Image Comics adaptation first hit airwaves in 2010. While it has struggled to retain its strong ratings, the AMC series remains the most-watched cable television series and is still popular with fans.
With enough professional reviews in for the current season for review aggregate sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to post an official score for the entire season, here is a comprehensive ranking of how each season was received by the critics, averaging the scores between the two sites. The audience scores for each season on Rotten Tomatoes are also included to provide perspective, though they are not factored into the average.
8. SEASON SEVEN - AVERAGE SCORE: 60.5
The seventh season picked up immediately from the cliffhanger ending of its predecessor as Rick Grimes and the residents of Alexandria came face-to-face with Jeffrey Dean Morgan's villainous Negan. The cunning, brutal leader of a survivor faction known as the Saviors, Negan demanded that Hilltop and Alexandria begin paying him regular tribute or face his wrath, leading to a bloody conflict between the two groups.
Morgan's performance as Negan received a mixed reception, with Kelly Lawler from USA Today calling his inclusion the worst part of the season, noting, "If AMC wants The Walking Dead to last for years to come, as its producers say, it needs to kill Negan, and quickly. And it needs to learn from the mistakes it made during his seemingly endless tenure on the series." Luke Holland from the Guardian argued the entire season felt overly drawn-out, writing, "It can be dull, or miserable, but not both -- and definitely not for this long."
The season has a critic score of 63% on Rotten Tomatoes, and while Metacritic does not have enough professional reviews to post an official score, an average of the reviews it has received comes in at a score of 58. Season 7 of The Walking Dead currently has an audience score of 58% on Rotten Tomatoes.
7. SEASON EIGHT - AVERAGE SCORE: 64
After over a season of build-up, the eighth season saw Rick and Negan lead their respective factions of survivors in an all-out war that took up the entire season. As the conflict escalated and both sides suffered tremendous losses, including the surprise death of Rick's son Carl, the series veered away from the grim, survival horror of previous seasons and became more of a war series.
Critics were divided whether the long-running series was able to maintain its intensity and originality throughout its eighth season, with Noel Murray from Rolling Stone declaring, "the series is clearly in decline," while Phil Owen from TheWrap wrote that the series had become fun again after seasons of somber, heavy-handed storytelling. "The AMC blockbuster has given viewers a welcome respite from getting kicked in the teeth," Owen wrote, "and that's made it much more enjoyable."
The season has a critic score of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. While Metacritic does not have enough professional reviews to post an official score, an average of the reviews it has received comes in at a score of 64. Season 8 of The Walking Dead currently has an audience score of 49% on Rotten Tomatoes.
6. SEASON SIX - AVERAGE SCORE: 78
The sixth season saw Rick continue to settle into a leadership role among the community of survivors in Alexandria as characters continued to face new and familiar challenges and threats to their survival while teasing a greater external danger to come by the season finale.
Critics largely praised the series for maintaining its horror sensibilities while deepening the relationships of its characters, six years in. "The Walking Dead looks very much at the top of its game," wrote Brian Lowry for Variety, while the Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara observed that, "The Walking Dead, more than any other show, takes responsibility for its carnage. The characters who remain carry the burden of those who do not."
The season has a critics' score 77% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score 79. Season 6 of The Walking Dead currently has an audience score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. SEASON FOUR - AVERAGE SCORE: 79
Continuing from the third season's change in setting, the fourth season marked the beginning of longtime producer Scott M. Gimple's tenure as the series showrunner. The first half of the season saw the prison refuge led by Rick facing both internal threats and external ones from the Governor, while the second half took the series on the road as the characters left their maximum security home to find a new safe haven.
Critics praised the change in direction under Gimple, with Kevin Yeoman from Screen Rant observing, "Fresh blood isn't only welcome and promising from a behind-the-scenes perspective; it can give the onscreen story a sense of vibrancy as well." New York Daily News' David Hinckley praised the series' pitch black sense of humor, calling the fourth season "lethal and funny."
The season has a critic score of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 75. Season 4 of The Walking Dead currently has an audience score of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.
4. SEASON TWO - AVERAGE SCORE: 80.5
A creative shake-up behind-the-scenes loomed over much of Season 2 after original showrunner Frank Darabont departed the series following much-publicized reports of him conflicting with network execs over the show's production and budget. As such, writer and executive Glen Mazzara replaced him as showrunner in a season that saw Rick lead the survivors to take refuge on a remote farm as tension between him and his former best friend Shane came to a head.
While not as well-received as its inaugural season, critics praised the series for its added moral complexity and character development throughout its second season but criticizing its static location and lack of narrative progression. "I still need convincing that The Walking Dead is anything more than a hackneyed apocalyptic melodrama with borscht-like guts spilling out all over the place," wrote Matthew Gilbert dismissively for The Boston Globe. A more favorable review from the New York Daily News' David Hinckley cited the season as "Coming out of the starting blocks, at least, the show is still clinging to its complexity, darkness and humor."
The season has a critics' score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score 80. Season 2 of The Walking Dead currently has an audience score of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes.