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As The Walking Dead's Ratings Hit Bottom, How Does The Show Rebound From Here?

Well, that wasn’t too much of a surprise. After its blockbuster premiere, The Walking Dead had seen four straight weeks of ratings declines, and that streak was not broken in week five by an odd Tara-centric episode that was as far removed from the main show as just about any episode has ever been.

The show lost another 600,000 viewers, with “only” 10.4 million tuning it. For an AMC show, that’s still great, but it’s a long way from the 17 million of the season 7 premiere, and 12 of the 16 episodes in season 3 of The Walking Dead four years ago got higher ratings than that.

I have to believe, however, that with tonight’s “Sing Me a Song” episode returning to the main storyline, and bringing back main cast members like Rick, Michonne, Daryl and Negan, that we’re going to see ratings rebound a bit and not continue this descent. I mean, whatever this episode is, it will almost have to be more relevant than the Tara episode. From the trailers, it seems like we might see an iconic Carl comic moment tonight, but it’s possible they might be saving that for the midseason finale, which could be a good call.

But the fact remains that the show remains on the wrong track in a number of ways, and it’s going to take more than just refocusing on the main cast to get people interested again. Last week, I went through five reasons that viewers are fleeing the show at this point, but now I want to talk a little bit about possible solutions I hope to see implemented soon. Some minor comic spoilers will follow in this discussion.

Negan Needs Some Redemptive Qualities And/Or A Backstory

Right now the biggest problem with Negan is that he’s a dick. I mean, he’s supposed to be a dick, that’s just his persona, but he is only a dick, and nothing else, which has created this unlikable-for-the-wrong-reasons character that pales in comparison to many of the show’s past villains. The Governor, arguably the show’s best villain, had a sad backstory where he was keeping his zombie daughter alive, and we got to see his humanity in a few “Brian-centric” episodes to show he wasn’t all bad. Even the Terminus cannibals were given a story about how they were once a group that helped people, but that backfired on them, so they became monsters.

We have none of that with Negan. Seven episodes after his introduction, and the show hyping him up for many before that, we have really gotten nothing about who the man is other than some power-hungry loon that speaks in non-stop innuendo. We don’t know anything about his past or how he became this way, and his interactions with most characters are all the same. I hear that Negan will be getting some backstory in the future, and if they handle his Carl comic plotline correctly, that could humanize him a little bit. But for now, it’s easy to see why people think he’s not a great villain in a show that has had many better foes.

Daryl Needs To Get Out of His Pajamas

We are sort of in uncharted territory with this Daryl plotline, where once it seemed like he might be taking over Carl’s bit in the comics, but now Carl himself is on his way, and Daryl is currently a Negan slave for who knows how long.

It’s just stomach-churning to see Daryl in a position like this. We have never this seen this character degraded and humiliated to this degree, and he seems even more broken than back when Merle or Beth died, which is saying something. I get that this is building to some big Daryl revenge plotline, but it would be nice if that started sooner rather than later.

Rick Needs To At Least Act Like He’s Forming A Plan

One of the keys of the comic version of this story is that while Rick is acting like Negan’s humble servant, the entire time he’s starting to formulate a plan about how to take the man and his Saviors down. We seem to be on the verge of that happening in the show, but for now, like Daryl, Rick seems totally broken by Negan, and it’s characters like Michonne and Rosita who are the ones who seem determined to fight on while Negan has shaken Rick to his core.

Again, this is sort of exhausting to witness as a viewer. Everyone knows Rick will get his groove back eventually, but every week that goes on where he doesn’t, and shows no indication that he will, just feels like wasted time. If Rick doesn’t have a plan yet, he needs to get one, and if he has one, he needs to share it with both his friends and the audience so we know this is heading somewhere productive.

Hurry This Whole Thing Along

While many aspects of the Governor’s Woodbury/Prison war plotline were solid, one that wasn’t was that the entire thing dragged on way too long, longer than it ever did in the comics with more false endings than Return of the King. At a certain point, The Walking Dead was on pace to run for 20 seasons, given how much they were stretching out comic material, and I worry that they’re going to do the same thing with Negan’s war here, and it’s going to be even worse.

“All Out War” is a 12 part comic plotline that ends at issue 127. We are currently at approximately issue 104 tonight. That means it’s taken us 7 episodes to get through 4 issues of this plotline, which is in keeping with the show usually taking longer to get through storylines than the comics. So what does that mean for 23 more issues of the Negan war to come?

I worry that this will stretch on for years in its current form. At the very least, it’s easy to see the Negan war lasting through the end of season 8, meaning it will run for two years and have been promoted for about two and a half. Given the fatigue already setting in, unless the action picks up soon, I just don’t know how long fans’ attention will be held.

Take A Page From Game of Thrones’ Editing Book

At this point, it’s sort of unavoidable that The Walking Dead is going to be split across four or five locations for the foreseeable future. That could work in theory, but the show is handling it poorly. Remember Carol and Morgan? Characters we have literally not seen since episode 2, and probably will not see tonight?

The show is splitting up its cast but is failing to properly edit itself to show multiple locations at once. A show like Game of Thrones, where the cast is scattered to at least a dozen locations does this incredibly well, and at most, we usually go only two weeks or so without seeing a major character. The Walking Dead seems content to let us see someone like Carol twice a season at this point.

The show may be getting better about this. This week we have Michonne, Rick, Negan, Daryl and Jesus all in different places in one episode, but overall, they really need to be cutting in people like Maggie and Sasha and Morgan and Carol when they can, or else they end up like Tara and Heath where we totally forget they exist until they’re randomly given a bottle episode.

Obviously there’s more work to be done, but these are my major suggestions going forward. I feel like the show is about to pick up the pace again, and ratings may start to turn around as soon as tonight, but this season in general has definitely been cause for concern. Hopefully we are moving toward a better place.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Pick up my sci-fi novels, The Last Exodus, The Exiled Earthborn and The Sons of Sora, which are now in print, online and on audiobook.

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