The Walking Dead cliffhanger turned out to be very good for the show’s Nielsen numbers: Sunday’s episode of the AMC thriller drew a massive audience of 17 million same-day viewers, a 16 percent jump from last fall’s opener — and, once delayed viewing is tallied, it will very likely be the most-watched episode of the series ever. While big numbers are nothing new for TWD, the show had seemed to be losing a (tiny) bit of ratings steam last year, with the season-six premiere attracting nearly 3 million fewer eyeballs than season-five’s start. But these numbers, while no doubt boosted by audience anticipation over discovering which cast member was being killed off, should quiet any talk of a ratings decline.
Sunday’s episode was particularly strong in key demo groups, earning a series-best 8.7 rating among adults 25 to 54, and a near-record 8.4 rating with adults under 50. Among the latter demo, TWD doubled the under-50 audience of last month’s Empire season-three premiere and also easily outdid CBS’s The Big Bang Theory. TWD also boosted the audience for a 90-minute post-show Talking Dead: The Chris Hardwick-hosted talker notched an amazing 7.6 million viewers and a 3.7 rating among adults under 50. As for whether TWD will set a new record in total viewers, it’s already close: The 17 million same-day tune-in for Sunday’s season premiere is just 300,000 fewer than the 17.3 million same-day audience for 2014’s season-five launch. If TWD can manage ever-so-slightly higher DVR replays and digital streams than its 2014 premiere, it will end up with a record. Look for the delayed viewing numbers from Nielsen and AMC on Friday.