After a Season 6 finale cliffhanger that teased the death of a beloved character, anticipation for The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere was incredibly high. After months of waiting and countless rumors being spread, fans finally learned that the new villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had killed not one, but actually two longtime favorites, Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun). Much like this scene in the comics, the deaths were incredibly brutal, which lead to several fans filing FCC complaints about the episode, with some claiming they'll never watch the show again and that they were traumatized for life. It seems that the show's producers took these complaints seriously enough to tone down the violence for the rest of this season.
The show's ratings weren't necessarily hurt by the brutal episode, at least not at first. Over 17 million viewers tuned into The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere episode, with a whopping 8.4 rating and 10.7 million viewers in the all-important 18-49 demographic. The 17 million viewers was up 16% from the 14.6 million viewers who tuned in for the Season 6 premiere last year, but as the first half of the season wore on, the ratings started to decline. The mid-season finale drew in 10.6 million viewers and a 5.4 ratings, which are still great numbers by most standards, but mark a significant decreas from both the premiere, and also a 25% drop from last season's mid-season finale, which drew in 14 million viewers and a 7.0 rating. Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd was part of a panel session at the National Association of Television Programming Executives (NAPTE) conference in Miami today, where she addressed the backlash over the premiere, and how they toned down the violence as a result. Here's what she had to say below.
"We were able to look at the feedback on the level of violence. We did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later on in the season. This is not a show that is torture porn."
After the strong season premiere episode and the show's second Season 7 episode, The Walking Dead Season 7 ratings sharply dropped in each of the six subsequent episodes, with each posting the lowest same-day numbers the show has seen since 2013. Still, some of that decline is made up for by time-shifted viewing and a surge in on-demand viewing, but it's still possible that there is a chunk of the show's normal audience that simply had enough following the death of Glenn and Abraham. While it's typical for a show to shed more viewers as the seasons go on, this marks one of the biggest drops the show has suffered throughout its run.
The first half of Season 7 wasn't the most uplifting either, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) obeying Negan's every command, just so this leader of the Saviors would spare his people from a gruesome death. By the end of the mid-season finale, though, Rick was finally ready to fight back, with clips from the mid-season premiere teasing that Rick will finally be introduced to King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), leader of The Kingdom. We've seen other footage that shows Rick plans on uniting his Alexandrians with The Kingdom and the Hilltop Colony to take down Negan once and for all. We'll get to see how Rick's plan unfolds when the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead airs Sunday, February 12 at 9 PM ET on AMC, followed by a new episode of Talking Dead.