Is 'Walking Dead' feeling bite of too many dystopian dramas?

Robert Kirkman says 'Walking Dead' season 7 is 'insane'
Robert Kirkman says 'Walking Dead' season 7 is 'insane'

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    Robert Kirkman says 'Walking Dead' season 7 is 'insane'

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Robert Kirkman says 'Walking Dead' season 7 is 'insane' 01:18

(CNN)"The Walking Dead's" declining ratings -- dipping down to third-season levels -- have inspired a lot of thoughtful analysis regarding why. The cited factors range from the brutality of the Negan arc to the show's disjointed format to viewers simply tiring of being manipulated by the producers with gimmicky twists.

As the show preps for its midseason finale on Sunday, there's another, more nebulous aspect worth considering: whether TV's glut of dystopian dramas and alternate futures amounts to overplaying a winning hand, perhaps especially amid a time of heightened real-life apprehensions.
People watch television for a host of reasons, and escapism is only one of them. Indeed, one of the strongest attributes of the current TV era has been more provocative shows with the latitude to tell stories that don't necessarily have to attract mass audiences or fret about alienating sponsors.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan in the 'The Walking Dead.'
Still, the sheer weight and at times crushing darkness of these shows is one factor to consider, after a protracted political campaign filled with talk of Russian-backed hacking and rising levels of extremism, or at least more open displays by such fringe groups.
    Granted, there's an abundance of virtually everything on television now -- a byproduct of what has come to be called "peak TV," with more original shows than ever. Moreover, part of that is due specifically to "Walking Dead," which by garnering huge ratings on once little-seen AMC helped embolden other networks and streaming services to try emulating that model.
    Nevertheless, the dreary worldview embodied by "Walking Dead" -- which has only become nastier through the years, with humans (and now the dictatorial Negan) supplanting zombies as the true monsters -- has grown especially prevalent. As a consequence, the AMC show's huge cultural cachet is being pecked at by newer series that its popularity, ironically, helped birth.
    Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood in HBO's "Westworld"
    This week, for example, saw both the season finale of HBO's "Westworld," a revival built around a world where near-sentient robots are more humane than actual people; and the second-season debut of "The Man in the High Castle," an Amazon series that explores an alternate reality in which the Nazis and Japanese won World War II.
    Syfy's new drama "Incorporated" is set in 2074, where the globe has experienced a corporate takeover, with governments falling due to the ravages of climate change. AMC's "Humans," due back in February, mines terrain similar to "Westworld," as synthetic helpers begin to turn against their human owners.
    An image from "Black Mirror," a British anthology series about technological threats.
    Netflix also recently premiered new episodes of "Black Mirror," a British anthology series that conjures a variety of technology-based nightmares, with stories set about 10 minutes in the future.
    There's a demonstrable audience for such fare, particularly within smaller niches. But the gradual tune-out for "Walking Dead" -- whose most recent episode drew an estimated 10.4 million viewers with its initial airing, versus 17 million for the seventh-season premiere in October -- indicates some people are abandoning the show, even if those numbers still dwarf most of what's on TV.
    The "why" of that can't be traced to any one factor, including something as vague as the national mood. With ratings that high, obvious explanations -- like age and the TV version of simple gravity -- shouldn't be dismissed.
    That said, one suspects at least some of those wayward viewers have concluded, consciously or not, that real life is scary enough.
    "The Walking Dead" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.