The Walking Dead Has Risen From The Grave By Taking The Netflix Top 10 By Storm

For a lot of folks, "The Walking Dead" hasn't been relevant since around 2016 or so. Viewers were already struggling with the show's willingness to put its characters through a seemingly never-ending cycle of torture and death, and for a lot of viewers, Negan swooping in and basically taking over the show for two seasons straight was just too much. It was too dark, too slow, and too repetitive. The show would arguably return to form in later seasons, but the ratings never came close to reaching the height of the season 5 premiere again. 

But with all 11 seasons now available on Netflix, the show seems to be discovering a newfound popularity. It's currently the fifth most popular show on the platform, which raises the question of whether this trend will continue. Other shows like "The Office," "Community," and "Friends" have also experienced a big Netflix bump. More serious shows like "The Sopranos" also got a new surge in popularity in recent years thanks to streaming services but back in 2020, it'd be forgivable to think "The Office" was still on the air, given how often young people were talking about it. 

Although most shows slowly fade out of relevancy after their series finales, the boosts provided by streaming services can sometimes make it so the show ends up becoming more popular than it ever was while airing. While it seems impossible for "The Walking Dead" to ever truly recapture its former stranglehold on pop culture, it's worth wondering if Netflix might give the show a second life on streaming.

A show perhaps best suited for a binge

One point in the show's favor is the fact that the era of the show that killed its popularity — the slow, sprawling seasons 7 and 8 — are seasons that are a lot less frustrating to watch under the binge format. After Negan bashed poor Glenn and Abraham's heads in with a spiked baseball bat, all fans wanted was for Rick and his group to successfully fight back, and for Negan to get his long-earned comeuppance. However, it took two seasons for this to happen or four half seasons with months' long waits in between. 

At the time, it was hard to forgive the show for dragging things out as much as they did, but in 2023 these two seasons are far less agonizing. Fans are no longer waiting an entire week just to be disappointed by another episode with little payoff; only waiting the ten seconds it takes for Netflix to autoplay the next episode. 

The binge format also helps audiences appreciate the good things the show was doing, as there's a ton of interesting world-building in these seasons. Most of the main characters spend long periods split apart from each other, interacting with brand new communities of survivors. The world of "The Walking Dead" expands massively in a fresh, interesting way that the show never stops building on. It was hard to appreciate at the time because it was not what fans wanted to see in the immediacy.

Those cliffhangers seem far less obnoxious today

Beyond simply making the wait for a villain's well-deserved comeuppance more bearable, Netflix also helps ease the sting of this show's biggest sin: those cheap, manipulative cliffhangers. 

Most famous of course is the season 6 finale, which comic-savvy viewers went into assuming it'd end with the famous scene where Negan bashes in Glenn's head. It would've been the perfect way to end the season with a big, shocking moment that shook up the status quo and got viewers excited for a season dedicated to taking Negan down. Instead, "The Walking Dead" did something that was far less respectful to the audience's time. After an extended episode where not much happened, it ended on a cliffhanger, leaving the audience to spend nearly six months speculating on who would die. 

Season 4 also spent its final eight episodes building up to some kind of explosive, climactic finale in the Terminus sanctuary, but instead saved the finale for next season's premiere. The first half of season 6 focused on Alexandria getting increasingly swarmed by walkers, and again saved what should've been the big, jaw-dropping midseason finale for February. 

These are moves that come across as weirdly desperate. It's the sort of gimmick you'd expect a show to do in later seasons when the ratings had already plummeted, not when it was still at the height of its reign. Did the show seriously think viewers wouldn't return without these cheap cliffhangers to motivate them? Luckily, the frustration these cliffhangers caused are smoothed over by the binge model. New viewers no longer have to wait months just to get a resolution to storylines the show should've resolved already, and that makes for a far more pleasant experience. 

Will The Walking Dead's reputation improve?

Of all the shows that got a posthumous boost thanks to streaming services, "The Sopranos" is probably the best comparison. Like "The Walking Dead," this was a show about morally ambiguous characters who seemed to get increasingly dark with each passing season. "The Sopranos" also got a lot of flak for dragging things out or for being anti-climactic. This criticism was particularly popular during the final season, which was not only split in two but famously denied viewers a satisfying conclusion with its final scene. (Or rather, with its lack of a final scene.) Yet as time passes, the anger over that ending subsidies and most of the frustration viewers had has been smoothed over. 

Overall, "The Walking Dead" may never have been as good as "The Sopranos" was, but both shows have earned a place in TV history for being massive hits for a significant period of time. Just as so many of the viewers who got into "The Sopranos" these past few years are people who were too young to appreciate the show when it first aired — assuming they were even alive at all — it's likely that plenty of young viewers will want to try out this cool zombie show they remember seeing posters for when they were kids. And hey, maybe they'll appreciate those later seasons far more than audiences did at the time.

"The Walking Dead" may have ended, but as long as it's available on one streaming service or another, as long as there's a constant stream of young potential viewers who missed out on the show's initial run, it looks like the show won't completely die anytime soon.