While some series are just barely hanging on by the time they reach a sixth season and beyond, The Walking Dead is working on all cylinders, having just put up what I thought was its best episode yet in the Season 6 premiere. But the ratings, while notably high in general, were not that exceptional for the show itself. Is this a sign that attention is starting to wane, or are things as smooth as ever?

Here’s how things shaped out. The Walking Dead Season 6 premiere, “First Time Again,” brought in 14.6 million viewers, which is down 16 percent from the crowd that watched the Season 5 premiere, which had an audience of 17.3 million people. It was also watched by fewer people than those that watched the Season 4 premiere (16.1 million), the Season 4 finale (15.6), the Season 5 finale (15.7 million) and several other episodes during Season 5’s run. The show also took a 16% dip in the key 18-49 demographic as compared to last year’s premiere, with 9.4 million viewers fitting into that age bracket, according to TVLine.

It’s normal for shows to take dips during the seasons themselves, and The Walking Dead has given itself an advantage by offering up dedicated midseason finales and premieres that boost ratings at the seasonal hiatuses. But still, season premieres are generally the highest rated episodes of the year, and if fewer people are now watching The Walking Dead on Sunday nights, that decline could spell danger for the show’s future, although almost definitely not immediately.

On the flip side, 14.6 million is still a huge number of people to attract to any TV show, especially on a Sunday night. For three of the past four years, Sunday Night Football on NBC has been the ratings champ, which has certainly not helped out The Walking Dead, especially when the games aren’t total bores. Sunday’s contest between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants was watched by around 16.1 million, although the 5.8 demo rating was less than Walking Dead’s 7.3 rating. So that’s a victory in and of itself.

Plus, by the time the DVR numbers come in, I’m sure that another million or two will be added to those final numbers. Football is always more important to watch live, and though I’d assume that the spoiler-heavy internet culture we thrive in might force fans to watch The Walking Dead as quickly as possible, a lot of people still don’t feel the need to do that.

In the end, it’s not like anyone at AMC is going to be arguing over whether to keep The Walking Dead on the air or not. It’s still bringing in more viewers than most cable shows, and will probably stay toe-to-toe with a lot of the broadcast networks’ best efforts. But it’s possible the zombie drama may be on the downward side of its Season 5 peak, and that’s never the best thing. What do you guys think?

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