And the zombie apocalypse looks to be alive and well (in a manner of speaking).

Last night AMC (AMCX -0.42%) debuted the back half of The Walking Dead's fourth season and despite competition from the Olympics and CBS' Beatles special, the zombies stayed on top of the ratings.

(Credit: AMC)

The breakdown

The episode was watched by 15.8 million viewers -- while slightly down from its record opener back in October (16.1 million), it ended up earning the same 10.4 rating in the all-important 18-49 demographic.

More impressive is that those numbers are a 30% jump from the midseason finale, which was watched by 12.1 million and had a 7.7 in the demo. Compared with last season's premiere, Dead surged, topping the 13 million viewers and 8.4 demo rating it pulled last February.

However, it wasn't just the drama that had a good night. Companion show Talking Dead also had a strong outing; in fact, it was record-breaking. The Chris Hardwick-hosted series, which welcomed producer Greg Nicotero and fan favorite cast member Danai Gurira as guests, saw 5.9 million viewers (3.9 in the demo), a new series high.

To put that into perspective, those numbers are very close to what some scripted broadcast series pull, which shows just how loyal and massive the show's fans are.

The buzz also spilled over onto social media. The program was the number one show of the night on Twitter across both broadcast and cable networks with 1.24 million tweets from over 526,000 unique authors. The bulk of that coverage came at the start of the show, according to SocialGuide, which represented 86.6% of all TV-related Twitter activity at that time. A Twitter chat leading into the show with cast member Norman Reedus didn't exactly hurt things either.

The analysis

So what does that all mean? Basically it means neither the Winter Games nor a celebration of the Fab Four are any match for zombies. The Olympics may have had more viewers (25.4 million), but they fell shy of a 7.0 in the demo. Remember during that epic 16.1 million viewer premiere back in October, Dead also had fewer viewers, but still topped NBC juggernaut Sunday Night Football in the demo despite a rivalry matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. Dead's only other real competition was CBS' Beatles special, which put up very respectable numbers (13.95 million viewers), but a much smaller demo of 2.1.

Getting back to Dead, the numbers also represented the third straight gain for a midseason return, which traditionally gives the show one of its highest-rated episodes of the season. With last night's numbers now in and looking very strong, the show stands a real chance of breaking the 20 million viewer mark with either its finale or season five premiere in October. Should that happen it would push the show into a new stratosphere of success.

AMC will still be watching these numbers carefully as the back half of season four will follow a different structure than usual, and that could scare off viewers in the coming weeks. Following the events of last December's finale, the Dead crew are now scattered and will look to spend the majority of these eight episodes searching to reconnect with each other before March's season finale. This means more character-driven episodes centered on a few select people versus the collective group.

Based on last night's numbers, there may not be that big of a concern.