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‘The Walking Dead’ Premiere Ratings: Negan Helps Smash Records, with Huge Gains vs. Last Year

Critics panned the show's ultraviolence, but viewers flocked in droves to find out which characters would live or die.

‘The Walking Dead’

Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead” viewers have gone batty for Negan.

The drama’s brutal Season 7 premiere scored some of its best ratings ever, while aftershow “Talking Dead” attracted its largest audience ever.

According to Nielsen ratings obtained by IndieWire, the season opener of “The Walking Dead” scared up 17 million viewers in live+same day ratings, up 16 percent from last year’s Season 6 bow (14.6 million) and on par with the Season 5 opener (17.3 million) in October 2014, which was the show’s highest-rated episode.

READ MORE: ’The Walking Dead’: Negan’s Victims Speak Out About Being Killed in Season Premiere

In the money demographic of adults 18-49, “The Walking Dead” premiere averaged an 8.4 rating (which translates to 10.7 million viewers), up 14 percent from last year (7.3 rating). The show was also within spitting distance of the Season 5 premiere, which still holds the show’s adults 18-49 record at an 8.7 rating.

“The Walking Dead” did pummel records when it came to the adults 25-54 demographic, averaging an 8.7 rating (or 10.5 million viewers). That made it the highest-rated episode in series history in that measurement.

And that’s just the beginning; AMC execs are believed to be bullish on time-shifted and digital viewership as well. (Live+3 ratings, which include three days of DVR and VOD usage, will come out on Friday).

Insiders predict that the Season 7 opener may ultimately be the most-watched episode in “The Walking Dead” history once all platforms are counted. (For example, the network had 750,000 digital views on Sunday night into late Monday morning).

READ MORE: ‘The Walking Dead’ Preview: Producer Greg Nicotero Says Negan’s Kill Will Drain Viewers

The ratings, of course, were buoyed by the show’s cliffhanger, in which viewers were forced to wait all summer to find out which character had been murdered by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) via “Lucille,” his barbed-wire baseball bat.

It turns out two fan favorites were eliminated: Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). The gruesome killings may have garnered huge ratings, but the reaction among critics was decidedly negative, with many arguing that the show had become too graphic and bleak.

But nonetheless, the huge “The Walking Dead” opening numbers were astounding for a show entering its seventh season, and came after the drama suffered some ratings declines in Season 6. The opener was up 20 percent with total viewers and up 22 percent with adults 18-49 vs. last spring’s season finale.

“The Walking Dead” halo also extended to aftershow “Talking Dead,” which aired an extended 90-minute episode live from a rainy Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles.

“Talking Dead” averaged 7.6 million viewers (its best performance ever in total viewers, and up 34% from last fall’s premiere) and a 3.7 rating with adults 18-49 (nearly matching its best-ever and up 28% from last year). “Talking Dead” also posted a 3.9 rating with adults 25-54, its top marks ever in that demo.

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