Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks: Who's Still Watching The Walking Dead?

Watched the latest episode of The Walking Dead last night. Against my prior inclinations, I'm glad I stuck it out this far. Things have picked up quite a bit since the second half of season two started up a month ago, with more human vs. human and human vs. zombie conflict in the last two eps than in most of the seven previous (even if there are still overlong stretches of dialogue). Sure, about half the characters behave in ways charitably described as "really?" but with the appearance of new -- and unfriendly -- humans, questions about how the zombie virus is transmitted, and news that the Governor has been cast, there are hopeful signs.

The news of showrunner Frank Darabont's departure was shocking, but the glacial pace of the first part of the season sent many people packing. So who besides zombie-obsessed pop culture writers like myself is still following the show?

If numbers are any indication, plenty of TWD fans are sticking around. "Nebraska," the mid-season premiere, pulled in over 8 million viewers (7.6 million more than the average audience for Luck, in other words).

Hey, you don't need to justify your zombie fixation to me, who has seen all the entries in the Return of the Living Dead franchise (including Rave to the Grave). It's true I sort of hit a saturation point when the Walking Dead comic came out, only following along for a dozen issues or so, but a lifelong fascination with the undead keeps me soldiering on.

And that has to be it, right? Minus the walkers, it's hard to make a compelling case for sticking it out. Hell, TWD is only the third-best show on its own network, yet still routinely draws three times the viewers of Breaking Bad or Mad Men.

It's not a value judgment, mind. Sure, I know some people like Max von Sydow's character from Hannah and Her Sisters ("Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?"), but I'm not one of them. There's plenty of good stuff on TV these days, and you don't have to hunt very hard for it.

My question remains, though: Is there a baseline level of popularity for the show regardless of its quality? The Walking Dead maintained 6 million viewers per show throughout a stretch where just about everyone was registering their disgust throughout the world, Comic Book Guy style. It reminds me of George W. Bush maintaing approval ratings in the low 20th percentile. The guy would've had to pick Barney up by his ears like LBJ to lose those people. And even then...

Six months ago, I wouldn't have put The Walking Dead on a list of "superior" TV shows. Now it'd definitely be a possibility. The first half of season 2 felt like -- permit me some tangential nerdism -- the first half of season 6 of Supernatural: uncertain of how to proceed in the wake of unexpected news (renewal for Supernatural, Darabont's firing for TWD), aimless and prone to filler episodes, and just not that compelling. Supernatural has righted itself somewhat, and The Walking Dead seems to be headed in the same direction.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar