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There's no denying that the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead had a lot more heated anticipation going into it than the Season 8 premiere did, since the big reveal involving Glenn and Abraham's deaths was one of the biggest TV moments of 2016. One might have thought the quasi-resurrection of Team Family through the All Out War storyline would have been enough to secure the AMC hit a similarly massive audience for Season 8's callback-filled debut, but that wasn't the case at all. Though it marks 2017's best cable TV premiere so far, "Mercy" earned the smallest Walking Dead premiere audience since Season 3.
The Walking Dead's Season 8 premiere was watched by roughly 11.44 million people, which is obviously nothing to be ashamed of, especially on cable. That number, however, was dwarfed by every season premiere of the show since Season 3 brought in 10.87 million viewers, with that season serving as the real turning point for The Walking Dead's numbers game. Season 5's series high of 17.29 million and Season 7's 17.03 million clearly weren't going to be toppled by anything Season 8 brought to the table, but 11.44 million is almost startlingly low for this show, and it's perhaps as big a sign as any that a lot of longtime fans have stopped watching, at least as far as the Sunday night airings go.
Similarly, The Walking Dead saw a dip in the key 18-49 adult demographic for the Season 8 premiere, which earned a 5.0 rating, according to TVBytheNumbers. Another stat that most shows would go berserk to achieve, to be sure, this was actually the lowest demo rating for a Walking Dead premiere since Season 2. Yowzah yowzah bo-bowzah.
For celebratory news, The Walking Dead's premiere did manage to beat out Game of Thrones' delayed Season 7 premiere, which was watched by 10.11 million people, earning a 4.7 demo rating. And there's little doubt that the AMC hit will again win out the year in terms of the demo rating, breaking its own record for how many years that's happened.
All in all, this wasn't the biggest disaster that The Walking Dead could have faced, but it's interesting that the premiere (usually the most-watched episode of any given season) barely ranks higher than the average audience for Season 7 as a whole -- 11.35 million -- and those numbers were also some of the biggest lows since the early years. Perhaps some fans were just holding out to see what the overall hubbub would be after "Mercy" aired, and will end up getting back into the show in the near future, just in time for some big deaths. We'll also be looking out for how the episode does in delayed Live+7 stats.