“The Walking Dead” premiere drew a horde of 17 million Americans on Sunday night, and a massive 8.4 rating in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic. That’s a little shy of a record, which is still held by the Season 5 premiere (8.7 in the demo, 17.29 million viewers).
Compared to the Season 6 opener, that’s 2.37 million total viewers and an entire ratings point in the 18-49 demo higher, equal to about 1.28 million people in that age range. Presumably no one wanted to run the risk of being spoiled by social media. (The episode did draw a record-setting 8.7 rating in the 25-54 demographic — maybe some of the younger viewers aged up.)
It’s rare for a show in its seventh season to climb back up, much less for a show on a cable network to draw more than double the demo rating of a show like “Empire,” the current broadcast champ by that metric. Even Chris Hardwic’sk after-show “The Talking Dead” drew an absurd 3.7 demo rating and 7.6 million viewers over its 90-minute episode, in which the cast and crew of “The Walking Dead” worked through their grief in a rainsoaked cemetery in front of a large live audience. That’s bigger than every show on broadcast and cable as well.
The Season 7 premiere was not without its controversies, with large swaths of social media and the critical apparatchik decrying it as absurdly violent and nihilistic, even for “The Walking Dead.” Whether that was just the media echo chamber or a real protest on the part of a large portion of fans will be seen once ratings for subsequent episodes come in.
“The Walking Dead” has already been renewed for an eighth season.