Photo of Ethan Embry on 'The Walking Dead,' by Gene Page/AMC

After years of ratings growth, The Walking Dead faced the inevitable on Sunday, premiering its sixth season to 14.6 million viewers, down from last season's record-breaking 17.29 million who tuned in for the season five premiere.

According to Nielsen's same-day viewing report, the AMC thriller averaged a 7.43 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic, which was down from last fall's 8.65 tally.

For episode-to-episode comparison, the show's season five finale, which aired this past spring, attracted 15.78 million viewers overall with an 8.16 rating in 18-49.

It wasn't all bad news for Dead, which still triumphed over NBC's Sunday Night Football, beating its 7.4 rating in the 18-49 demo. Live plus three-day ratings, due this Friday, will likely give the AMC vet an additional boost.