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Welcome Back, 'The Walking Dead,' for Part II of Season 10
February 23, 2020  | By David Hinckley

It's no secret that the Walking Dead franchise has a slight wobble in its gait these days. Don't launch a GoFundMe quite yet.

The Walking Dead, the franchise anchor and one of the most successful television shows this century, returns to AMC Sunday at 9 p.m. ET with its mid-season premiere, meaning the second half of its tenth season.

Because TWD quite reasonably frowns on spoilers, it's hard to say anything specific about the episode. What can safely be said are these three important points.

1. Because the first half of the tenth season ended with most of our team walking into a dangerous cave, that's where the second half picks up.

This means much of the episode is filmed in deep darkness, which may accurately reflect lighting in a cave, but does nothing for viewers trying to figure out what's going on.

Squint all you want. Much of what you think you see will be, at best, a reasonable guess.

There are those among us who find this annoying. But based on how TWD has been filming for years, the producers' ultimate goal often seems to be total darkness.

With this episode, they're closing in on it.

2. Carol (Melissa McBride) undergoes noticeable changes. Carol has always been a great character and remains so. She will surprise a few fans this time.

3. There's a scene late in the episode that you will never unsee. It comes with a brief but clear run-up. Be aware. Just saying.

In the wider arc, The Walking Dead is fighting to hold onto its world in some of the same ways its characters are fighting to hold onto theirs.

Its Sunday night "live" viewership plummeted from 17 million for the Season 7 premiere in October 2016 to 4 million for the Season 10 premiere this past October.

That's not the death spiral it might seem. More and more viewers don't watch TWD, or any other show live these days. The number of viewers who watched that Season 10 premiere episode jumps to 6.32 million when you count those who DVR'd it and watched over the next week.

Other viewers don't watch it on AMC at all, just on Netflix. Some hard-core fans subscribe to AMC Premiere, which offers episodes 48 hours early. AMC doesn't reveal Premiere viewership, which probably isn't enough to boost the total audience back up to 17 million.

Any show that's going into its tenth season is going to suffer some viewer drop-off and fatigue. A lot of fans also haven't been enchanted with the storylines the last couple of years, for valid reasons, and that has to have cost some viewers.

Fear the Walking DeadTWD's first spinoff, drew 10 million live viewers for its premiere in August 2015. The finale of Season 5 in September drew 1.5 million.

Again, alternative viewing would pump up those numbers. But Fear also had a bad creative year, following the departure of star Kim Dickens, and its immediate task is getting its storyline back on track.

It has that chance. Fear has been renewed for a sixth season, just as TWD has been renewed for an eleventh.

The next spinoff, The Walking Dead: World Beyond, launches April 12, the same night as TWD's season finale.

World Beyond, set in Nebraska, plans to explore the story of the first generation coming of age after the zombie apocalypse. Expect different pop-culture references.

World Beyond is planned as a closed-end series, with two 10-episode seasons.

AMC also has, for some time, been planning a movie featuring Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the leader of the Walking Dead group for its first nine seasons. Rick was last seen on TV being carried away to somewhere in the wake of what many assumed was a fatal explosion.

The Rick movie would air in theaters, as the Downton Abbey sequel film did. But AMC certainly hopes it would help promote the TV franchise – which it's important to remember doesn't just serve a U.S. audience.

Now that Game of Thrones is over, TWD is again the most popular TV series worldwide. That's the kind of statistic that cushions any corporate disappointment over its falling U.S. numbers.

Maybe AMC can plow some of those profits into a few more lights for the set.

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