At long last, the end is nigh. When “The Walking Dead” first premiered on Halloween in 2010, little did we know what a behemoth it would become, sparking a zombie outbreak that consumed network television, streaming services, and movie theaters. What began as Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) story morphed into a universal saga about how humanity managed to survive in an apocalyptic wasteland. Eleven seasons later, “The Walking Dead” has cemented itself as one of the greatest TV shows in history. By this point, it’s hard to imagine AMC without its flagship show, even though there are numerous spin-offs currently on the air, with even more on the way, including a limited series about Rick and Michonne. Despite the conclusion of the original series, “The Walking Dead” universe has never been more alive.
Throughout the years, the adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s blockbuster comic series has made us cry, laugh, and perch nervously on the edges of our seats. While the storylines might’ve been rocky, the characters always kept us hooked. “The Walking Dead” has rarely been light on the chills and thrills, and now, with the finale on its way, it’s time to comb all 177 episodes to celebrate the cream of the crop. Grab a drink and a box of tissues, and get ready for a stroll down memory lane.
25. What Happened and What’s Going On (Season 5, Episode 9)
25. What Happened and What’s Going On (Season 5, Episode 9)
The group has barely managed to pick up the pieces following Beth’s (Emily Kinney) accidental death when it’s hit with another heavy loss. “What Happened and What’s Going On” opens on a memorial service, leading the audience to believe that Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) is giving a sermon for Beth. In actuality, the service is for Tyreese (Chad Coleman).
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and a group of other survivors vow to get Noah (Tyler James Williams) back to his hometown in Virginia, as it’s what Beth wanted for him. The trip goes off without a hitch, but once they arrive, they’re met by ghastly horrors. The settlement has been bombed and raided, and corpses line the streets. Noah discovers his mother’s body in his childhood home, and takes a moment to grieve. Meanwhile, Tyreese wanders throughout the residence, where charming family photographs line the walls, and gets some glimpses into his new friend’s life. Thus distracted, Tyreese is unexpectedly bitten, and Noah flees to find Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Rick. But it’s too late. The fever and visions arrive swiftly. Even amputation isn’t enough to stop the inevitable.
From the setup to the editing, this standout season 5 episode is a poetic depiction of how, even when the world crashes and burns, some of us are just not cut out for an apocalypse. Tyreese was a good guy until the bitter end.
24. Evolution (Season 9, Episode 8)
“The Walking Dead” made a remarkable rebound with its ninth season. In the wake of Rick’s departure, the story jumps ahead a few years and adds several new characters. With Maggie (Lauren Cohan) also away, living in Georgie’s (Jayne Atkinson) community, the situation in Hilltop undergoes some changes. Primarily, Jesus (Tom Payne) has been unanimously chosen as the new leader, with Tara (Alanna Masterson) serving as his trusty right-hand.
During the mid-season finale, the group encounters a new threat that calls everything they’ve ever known about human dangers into question. After saving Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Daryl (Norman Reedus), and Jesus trek through a heavy, suffocating fog into a secluded cemetery. Its walls and wrought-iron gate give the group a chance to breathe, as well as the ability to funnel in walkers one-by-one to make dispatching them easier. What they don’t know, however, is that a group of survivors called the Whisperers is hiding among the herd, wearing walker flesh as masks to camouflage themselves.
Riding the high of killing countless walkers, Jesus moves to slice another in half. Surprisingly, it dodges his attack and stabs him in the back. “You are where you do not belong,” the man whispers. It’s a moment straight out of a classic horror movie. It’s also a proper send-off for Jesus. While he never really received much story over the course of his run, at least he shines brightly in his final hour.
23. TS-19 (Season 1, Episode 6)
Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich) is one of the most fascinating characters to appear on “The Walking Dead.” Towards the end of the first season, Rick, Shane (Jon Bernthal), and the rest of the crew make the tough decision to head to the CDC headquarters for help. Jenner, the last scientist alive, is initially unsure about letting the group in, especially since he doesn’t have clearance needed to reopen the ground-level doors.
Onside inside, the team enjoys a long-overdue reprieve from the outside world, complete with wine, food, and hot showers. The following morning, Jenner replays a video depicting one person’s devolution into a zombie. That’s when the backup generators run out of fuel, and a clock begins counting down towards a facility-wide decontamination. The survivors panic and Jenner quickly seals the doors. It takes a little coercion to get him to open them again, but as he reminds the group, the “topside is locked down.” Using a small explosive device, Rick blows out a window panel, allowing his group to escape to the RV.
However, Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) stays behind and waits out the explosion. So does Andrea (Laurie Holden), telling Dale she has nothing else to live for, although he eventually convinces her to leave the building. “TS-19” holds up as exemplary storytelling because of how it delves into both the science behind the walkers as well as the dire emotional state in which the characters find themselves. Their situation is hopeless and they know it, but they keep fighting for another day regardless.
22. The Rotten Core (Season 11, Episode 14)
Little Hershel (Kien Michael Spiller) was bound to run into Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) sooner or later. In “The Rotten Core,” Maggie, Lydia, and Elijah (Joshua Lamboy) plot a mission to save Gabriel and Aaron from the Riverbend apartment complex, where a new group is living, one that includes Negan and his very-pregnant wife Annie (Medina Senghore).
Carlson (R. Keith Harris) and his cronies sweep the building searching for our heroes. In the chaos, Negan ends up looking after Hershel. To Negan’s surprise, Herschel knows exactly who he is: the man who killed his father. Hershel points a gun at Negan as the rest of the group look on in shock, worrying that their hiding spot could be exposed at any minute. But Negan pulls Hershel back from the proverbial ledge, and later tells him that, if Hershel feels the same way when he grows up, he knows where Negan is. Elsewhere, Daryl and Rosita (Christian Serratos) are forced to carry out a confounding heist by Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson).
“The Rotten Core” contains the right amount of edge-of-your-seat action while also delivering a huge payoff with Hershel and Negan. This is also when Maggie finally learns that Negan has really changed for the better, a plot beat that was long overdue.
21. Bounty (Season 9, Episode 11)
Alpha (Samantha Morton) comes to Hilltop to retrieve her daughter, Lydia (Cassady McClincy), in her very first face-off with the regular cast. Flanked by her swarm of Whisperers, Alpha promises there doesn’t need to be any sort of conflict. The Hilltop residents simply need to return Lydia.
The tension that follows is so thick that you can cut it with a knife. When Daryl approaches Alpha, he notices that one of the Whisperers is holding a newborn infant. “Why you have a baby out here?” he asks. Icily, she replies, “Animals have babies.” The infant then starts crying, drawing stray walkers. “If a mother can’t quiet the child, then the dead will,” shrugs Alpha, instructing the Whisperer to place the baby on the ground. As the walkers close in, Connie (Lauren Ridloff) darts out from the cornfield and snatches up the infant in her arms. Being deaf, she must rely on sight to navigate the reeds. It’s one of the show’s most heart-pounding sequences.
Eventually, Daryl hands Lydia over. Meanwhile, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Carol (Melissa McBride) embark on a mission to find a projector bulb so that the communities can watch a movie during the upcoming festival. It’s a trivial suplot, but it suggests that, perhaps, things can get back to the way they were in the pre-apocalyptic times. “Bounty” blends humor and horror perfectly, establishing a new big bad while giving the main characters a sliver of hope.
20. Vatos (Season 1, Episode 4)
Episode 3 of “The Walking Dead” left viewers with a gruesome sight: Meryl’s (Michael Rooker) severed hand. “Vatos” picks up moments later, with Daryl understandably upset. He aims his crossbow directly at T-Dogg, who confesses that he dropped the handcuff key down a sewer drain. For his part, Glenn suggests that they retrieve Rick’s bag of guns, which, as far as they know, is still below the tank.
Daryl and Glenn climb down the fire escape and arrive on the street below, where they’re met by two strangers. A scuffle follows, and Glenn is abducted and taken to a small community run by the Vatos gang. An old abuela (Gina Morelli) interrupts the standoff that follows and guides the group into the nursing home, where many other elderly people are hiding. Their leader, Guillermo (Neil Brown Jr.), tells their story, describing the early days of the zombie apocalypse and how the other workers fled and left everyone else behind. It’s a touching moment, giving more weight to an otherwise shallow storyline.
Back at camp, the group is preparing a fish fry, but Amy (Emma Bell) is bitten by a walker while looking for toilet paper, and all hell breaks loose. See, a herd has made it to the camp, resulting in a bloodbath. Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and T-Dogg manage to keep the entire group from being wiped out, but it’s not a pretty outcome. Ultimately, “Vatos” is as heartbreaking as it is brutal and violent.
19. The Same Boat (Season 6, Episode 13)
The weight of this world is a heavy burden for both Maggie and Carol. Captured by a small group of Saviors, including Paula (Alicia Witt), the two fan-favorites find that they must kill or be killed. “The Walking Dead” has always raised questions about morality, what it takes to survive, and the price of killing, but “The Same Boat” peels back the veneer even further to reveal how scarred and broken both characters have become due to their experiences.
Paula and her comrades keep Carol and Maggie hostage at an old slaughterhouse, where Paula begins a conversation with Rick about a prisoner exchange. However, Paula immediately suspects that Rick isn’t being honest and has been tracking them. In the interim, Carol plays the hapless, scared victim in order to make the group let its guard down. Ultimately, Paula and her group are inept leaders, and their past traumas become their Achilles’ heel. Carol and Maggie get the opportunity to take them down, and do so in excruciatingly brutal ways. When reinforcements show up, Carol traps them inside the gasoline-soaked kill floor and drops a lit cigarette inside, incinerating them.
Once Rick and the group appear, it’s not necessarily a joyous reunion. “I can’t do this anymore,” Maggie whimpers to Glenn. It’s a crushing line that captures her entire arc leading into the season 6 finale.
18. A (Season 4, Episode 16)
The season 4 finale says farewell to one group of baddies only to introduce another. First, “A” ties up loose ends regarding Joe (Jeff Kober) and his Claimers in a nerve-splitting sequence. As Rick and Michonne camp out for the night, Joe pops out of the dark and aims his revolver at Rick’s head. Another Claimer targets Michonne, while a third peeps in on Carl in the car.
Always well-intentioned, Daryl attempts to convince Joe that Rick is a good person. However, as Joe points out, Rick killed one of his men and let him turn into a walker inside of their bathroom. That requires a strict punishment — specifically, assault and then death. The situation continues to escalate until Rick headbutts Joe, then tears out the man’s Adam’s apple with his teeth, a brutally visceral moment that gives Michonne and Daryl the opportunity they need to kill their respective attackers. Finally, Rick guts the Claimer who attempted to rape Carl.
Bloody and drained, Rick and company recuperate the following morning before embarking on the last stretch to Terminus. Upon arriving, Rick suspects that things are not as they appear to be and sneaks in through a back entrance. He then holds one of the community members hostage, but it’s all in vain; lookouts begin shooting at the group’s feet, corralling them into a train car. There, the group reunites with Maggie and the others. “They’re screwing with the wrong people,” Rick promises, ending the episode with one of the show’s most memorable lines.
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17. Coda (Season 5, Episode 8)
In music, a coda is a transition that brings a piece of music to an end. In “The Walking Dead,” “Coda” represents the conclusion of both Beth’s life and the hospital arc. Toward the end of season 4, Beth is abducted and taken to a hospital in Atlanta, where she is treated for her injuries and forced into a caste system. Officer Dawn (Christine Woods) leads the facility, and enforces its unique set of rules and punishments. She’s a stern leader who frequently follows her ego rather than what’s right.
In this mid-season finale, Dawn haggles with Rick over a hostage exchange: two of her men for Carol and Beth. Naturally, things don’t go smoothly. The trade goes off without a hitch, but then Dawn demands that Rick include Noah in the bargain. “I knew you’d be back,” she snidely tells him. Beth freezes in place, turns to Dawn, and replies, “I get it now.” Then, she pulls out the scalpel she’s hidden in her cast and stabs Dawn in the shoulder. In reaction, Dawn shoots Beth in the head. It’s utterly devastating — all that work, only for Beth to die in a heated moment anyway.
“Coda” fades to black with Maggie and the group surrounding Daryl, who holds the lifeless Beth in his arms as the cityscape towers over them. The episode shocks you, and demonstrates how uncertain, dangerous, and random an apocalyptic world really is.
16. Acts of God (Season 11, Episode 16)
“Acts of God” uses swarms of locusts to create a parallel with the group’s treacherous circumstances. In the episode, Stephanie (Chelle Ramos) schemes with Connie, Kelly (Angel Theory), and the others to expose Commonwealth leader Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) for the conniving, elitist scum she really is. Connie pens an exposé about many of the community’s shady practices, while Stephanie makes sure the story goes to print.
Elsewhere, Leah (Lynn Collins) meets her match in one of best-choreographed fight sequences in “The Walking Dead” history. Tasked with killing Maggie, Leah knocks her prey unconscious, hauls her to a secluded cabin, and ties her up. But Maggie manages to break free, and the two go head-to-head, each of them more than holding her own. It appears that Leah has the upper hand when she nearly chokes Maggie to death, but Daryl appears in the knick of time and delivers a fatal shot to Leah’s head. It’s an epic conclusion to an epic battle.
While”Acts of God” includes many triumphant moments, it ends with Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) declaring sovereignty over Hilltop, Alexandria, and Oceanside. “Acts of God” perfectly marks the end of the mid-season, and positions the last run of episodes of “The Walking Dead” to be must-see television.
15. No Sanctuary (Season 5, Episode 1)
As we learn in intermittent flashbacks, Terminus was once a haven for those seeking refuge, but after a tragedy the survivors turned to cannibalism to survive. In “No Sanctuary,” our main group is gassed, removed from the train car, and lined up in front of a cow trough. One by one, the victims are unceremoniously killed. When it’s Glenn’s turn, however, an explosion distracts Gareth and gives Rick and company an opportunity to escape. Absolute savagery follows.
We soon learn that Carol is behind the explosion. First, she harpooned a gas tank with one of her rifles. Then, she opened the gates and let a horde swarm the streets, covering herself in walker guts to camouflage herself. Eventually, Carol confronts Mary, who she shoots in the leg and leaves for the walkers. Rick never hesitates to do what needs to be done, either, mowing down groups of men with an automatic rifle.
Despite the violence, “No Sanctuary” ends on a hopeful note. Rick discovers that his infant daughter Judith is very much alive, and that Carol was behind their escape. Tyreese and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) enjoy an emotional reunion as well. This episode hits all the sweet spots, delivering action and emotion in equal measure and demonstrating how “The Walking Dead” can balance both with ease.
14. The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be (Season 7, Episode 1)
Long-time fans will never forget the six-month gap between the season 6 finale and the season 7 premiere. It was excruciating, although not nearly as painful as what unfolded when “The Walking Dead” returned. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” a reference to Dr. Jenner, revealed who received the blunt, barbed-wired end of Negan’s bat. With Negan hauling Rick away in the group’s RV, a series of flashbacks slowly divulges the sequences of events, as well as the identity of Negan’s villains
After playing a little “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” Negan swings his bat into Abraham’s (Michael Cudlitz) head. And then he does so again, and again, and again, pulverizing Abraham into the earth. In response, Daryl punches Negan in the face. Unfortunately, this moment comes with a heavy cost. Negan turns his bat on Glenn, who dies, but not before blubbering, “Maggie, I’ll find you” as his eye literally pops out of his head. The graphic, stomach-turning nature of the episode pushed away many fans, but the brutality sells the characters’ peril with startlingly fresh clarity.
In the aftermath, the group reverently gather Glenn and Abraham’s bodies and packs into the RV, setting their lonesome, tired eyes on home. Even by the standards of “The Walking Dead,” “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” is as grim and nihilistic a piece of television as there ever was.
13. No Way Out (Season 6, Episode 9)
Weird plot inconsistency aside, “No Way Out” serves up a deliciously faithful comic adaptation for the small screen. As Rick, Carl, Michonne, and Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge), as well as her two boys, Sam (Major Dodson) and Ron (Austin Abrams), make their way through a horde of walkers, Sam freaks out, recalling Carol’s threats to him about being eaten alive by walkers. He freezes, leaving the group vulnerable.
Jessie attempts to convince him to keep moving. However, Sam’s cries alert the swarm, and a walker takes a bite out of his face. Shocked, Jessie grabs Carl’s wrist. She’s swiftly eaten alive as well, and Rick is forced to chop off her hand to free his son. Ron emerges and points a gun at Rick, Michonne comes through with a torso skewering, and Ron pulls the trigger and shoots Carl in the eye. It’s a tense sequence that borrows a lot from the source material, and one that’s made even greater when a whimpering Rick scoops Carl up in his arms and dashes through the darkness.
“No Way Out” culminates with Rick and the entire community storming the streets of Alexandria, fighting all through the night. The combat sequence is filmed via quick vignettes that show each character killing walkers. Pieced together, it’s like a relentless flipbook of human-on-zombie carnage, and remains one of the series’ most striking moments.
12. JSS (Season 6, Episode 2)
We get a glimpse into Enid’s (Katelyn Nacon) backstory in “JSS,” which stands for “just survive somehow,” a mantra that she turns to during dire circumstances. In flashbacks, we learn that, after Enid’s parents were eaten by walkers in front of her, she lived on uncooked turtle and other critters and as she did all she could to survive. Eventually, she arrives at the gates of Alexandra with “JSS” written in dirt on her hand.
In the present, Alexandra comes under attack by a new group of villains known as the Wolves, who have a predilection for severing their victims’ limbs and torsos. The wilderness cult’s sole mission seems to be nothing less than total destruction. It’s even vaguely hinted that this is the same group that once ravaged Noah’s neighborhood. Anyway, as the streets flood with blood and bodies, Carol once again takes charge and saves the group, pretending to be a Wolf as she kills every invader she can. Morgan, however, believes that “all life is precious.” Much to Carol’s frustration, he refuses to partake in any of the killing.
Alexandria comes out on top, but not before many redshirts meet a gnarly demise, including pasta-maker Shelly (Susie Purcell). “JSS” works so well because elements of surprise and shock are intertwined with each story beat. In addition, this is when Carol begins to crack under the weight of so much killing, a character shift that will cause much bigger problems very, very soon.
11. Four Walls and a Roof (Season 5, Episode 3)
Rick turns up the savagery in “Four Walls and a Roof,” which ties up the loose ends involving Gareth and his cannibals. After chopping off Bob’s (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) foot and serving up the meat, Gareth leaves his victim on the lawn outside the church. Sasha hears something outside and discovers her boyfriend in pain. The group brings him inside and hatches a plan to search for Gareth, leaving Tyreese and several others behind to watch over Judith and Bob.
Rick realizes that Gareth is likely hiding out nearby, so he pretends to lead the charge away from the church. Gareth, Martin (Chris Coy), and more peep out from the darkness and enter the building, surrounding two vestibule doors and threatening to light them up with weapons. Then, Rick, Sasha, Maggie, and the rest launch a surprise attack and gut the cannibal group. That’s when Rick delivers on his promise to kill Gareth, wielding a red-handled machete in a particularly vicious fashion.
The hardwood floors are now covered in blood. Gabriel laments what they’ve done to God’s house, but Maggie reminds him that a church is “just four walls and a roof,” giving the episode its title. “Four Walls and a Roof” showcases Rick at his most barbaric, reminding us that he may be the show’s protagonist, but he’s not always a hero. Still, the “Walking Dead” writers make sure that this moment of brutality is more than earned.
10. Too Far Gone (Season 4, Episode 8)
“We’re not too far gone,” an alarmed and emotional Rick says as he pleads with the Governor (David Morrissey) not to kill Hershel (Scott Wilson) and Michonne. His poignant monologue lies at the heart of “Too Far Gone,” the midpoint of season 4. Leading up to this moment, the Governor has ridden up to the prison fence on his tank, flanked by a few dozen other survivalists he’s recruited for his revenge mission.
In the first half of season 4, Rick replaced the “dictator Rick” hat with a “farmer Rick” hat, spending his days tending to the group’s crops and adhering to a far more peaceful order than he followed previously. Now, there’s even a council that must make decisions together about how the survivors should proceed. However, here Rick is faced with the big truth that informs the series: Regular human beings, not the walking dead, are this world’s biggest and most dangerous threat. And so, Rick continues his heartfelt monologue, asserting that “we all can live in the prison, or none of us can” and that the humans “get to come back” from the terrible things they’ve done.
But the Governor calls him a liar and decapitates Hershel in front of everyone. A battle for the prison, as well as revenge, ensues. Bullets fly, bodies drop, and the group is torn apart. “Too Far Gone” goes for a sucker-punch straight to the jaw, and not only does it land, but it’s one that takes years to recover from.
9. The Calm Before (Season 9, Episode 15)
“The Walking Dead” aimed for its own Red Wedding-style episode in this 9th season standout. Accordingly, it’s a mostly soul-crushing episode. Alpha closes ranks around the group and plots to kidnap 10 people from various communities. While everyone is having fun at the fair, she infiltrates the Kingdom and scoops up her victims, which include Tammy Rose (Brett Butler), Enid, Tara, and Henry (Matt Lintz).
Next, their heads are severed and put on spikes that mark the borders to Alpha’s land. Alpha also shows Daryl her massive zombie horde, which is on a scale beyond anything “The Walking Dead” has attempted to this point, and promises that, if the main survivors venture into her territory again, she’ll send the walkers to destroy their settlements. On the way back, Daryl, Carol, and several others find Siddiq (Avi Nash) bound to a tree. He proceeds to take the group up to a knoll on the border, giving them a first-hand view of the grisly display.
“The Calm Before” is a well-made episode. The core group was long-overdue for a knockout punch; Henry’s death is especially shocking, given that he seemed to be growing into a main character throughout the season. Years later, the reveal of the heads on spikes remains one of the most effectively shocking moments on “The Walking Dead.”
8. Better Angels (Season 2, Episode 12)
Jon Bernthal’s turn as the unhinged Shane cannot be praised enough. In “Better Angels,” things come to a head between Shane and Rick after they struggle to agree on what should be done with Randall (Michael Zegen). Well past the point of no return, Shane makes it look like Randall escaped by taking the prisoner out into the woods and twisting his neck. Shane then gives himself cuts and bruises to further convince the group that his story is true.
Once night falls, Daryl and Glenn break off to track Randall, while Rick and Shane venture deeper into the countryside. As they travel, Rick realizes that Shane plans to execute him. “So, this is where you plan to do it?” Rick asks. Moonlight glistens across an open cow field, and their silhouettes cast a haunting shadow. Shane has his gun drawn, ready to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice. But Rick manipulates Shane long enough to create an opportunity to stab his best friend. “You made me do this!” Rick wails as he pushes the knife in deeper and deeper until, finally, the deed is done.
As kids do, Carl sneaks off and finds Rick and a very-dead Shane, who quickly reanimates and stumbles toward them. Carl shoots Shane, and the gunshot draws a horde of walkers right to the farm’s doorstep. “Better Angels” surprises with its questions about life, death, and humanity’s crumbling moral integrity. It’s a clear turning point for Rick, and he’s irreversibly changed.
7. Days Gone By (Season 1, Episode 1)
Few pilot episodes have captured our collective imagination like “Days Gone By.” When it first premiered in 2010, the episode (written and directed by Frank Darabont) raked in 5.35 million viewers to become AMC’s most-viewed premiere ever, and for good reason. “The Walking Dead” opens on a man named Rick Grimes, who has been in a coma following a near-fatal gunshot wound. Society has crumbled while he’s been unconscious, and he has no idea that zombies have taken over the world.
Once Rick leaves his hospital room, he’s immediately introduced to the new world order. Bodies line the hallways. The words “dead inside, don’t open” are written in blood across a chain-locked double door. Soon, Rick finds an exit and witnesses the full extent of the brutality that’s unfolded around him. He makes his way back home, but finds no sign of his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), or son, Carl (Chandler Riggs). Soon, Rick meets a man named Morgan (Lennie James) and his son Dwayne (Adrian Kali Turner). Together, they tell Rick what happened, much to the man’s shock and confusion.
“Days Gone By” gives us a much deeper look at the psychological ramifications of what it would be like to watch a zombie apocalypse unfold than we’re used to seeing. When scavenging for gasoline, Rick stumbles across a child-sized walker. It’s his first real encounter with an undead kid, and it stuns him. As far as pilot episodes go, “Days Gone By” is excellent television, gripping and emotional while offering enough mystery to lasso you in.
6. Here’s Negan (Season 10, Episode 22)
By season 10, the reveal of Negan’s backstory was long overdue. Thankfully, “Here’s Negan” delves into how the fan-favorite villain became the merciless kingpin of the Saviors. When Carol claims that the council has voted to banish Negan from Alexandra, she takes the now-disgraced leader to Leah’s cabin. There, Negan reflects upon his past, flashing back to the plight of his sick wife Lucille and her tragic death.
To tell his story, “Here’s Negan” moves between the relatively recent past and the title character’s pre-apocalypse life. Once a gym teacher, Negan got into trouble with a few students and was laid off. Unable to obtain a new job, he began playing video games and splurging on high-priced attire, including his infamous leather jacket. In the recent past, Negan and Lucille hunkered down inside an abandoned house. Lucille had been diagnosed with cancer, and Negan vowed to search nearby for treatments. However, when the freezer they needed to keep the medication cold died, it appeared to be the end of the line. Negan headed off on one last-ditch attempt to find more medication, and returned to find a newly-reanimated Lucille and a handwritten note that reads, “Don’t leave me like this.” It’s a devastating turn that fuels Negan’s vengeance.
“Here’s Negan” ends with Negan returning to Alexandria, deviating from the comics, in which he went off on his own. Despite coming three seasons too late, the episode packs one hell of a wallop, and gives Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his considerable skills a chance to shine.
5. Pretty Much Dead Already (Season 2, Episode 7)
The “Walking Dead” group spends the entire first half of season 2 searching for Sophia (Madison Lintz), Carol’s daughter. Their remaining hope is utterly shattered, however, when it’s discovered that a zombified Sophia has been inside Hershel’s barn the entire time they’ve been on the farm.
While Rick is out hunting walkers with Hershel and Jimmy (James Allen McCune), Shane goes off the rails and charges toward the barn, unlocking the doors and letting a flood of walkers escape. Rick, Andrea, Glenn, and the others have no other choice but to put them all down. Still believing that the dead are merely sick — and, thus, could eventually be cured — Hershel doesn’t take it too well, particularly when the survivors have to kill the people knew before, including his late wife. His delusional thinking has stopped him from grieving properly up to this point, and his dismay spills out with torrential force.
When it appears that all the walkers have been killed, Sophia stumbles into the sun. Carol darts toward her daughter, but Daryl stops her from getting any closer. Ultimately, all she can do is whisper “Sophia” over and over again. “Pretty Much Dead Already” contains minimal action, but more than makes up for it with its emotional twists and turns. If nothing else, it still draws (more than) a few tears.
4. Here’s Not Here (Season 6, Episode 4)
“Here’s Not Here” is one of the most character-driven episodes of “The Walking Dead.” After parting ways with Rick back in season 1, Morgan has quite the arc. In the aftermath of his son’s death, Morgan could only see red, and embarked on a mission to “clear” the world of both the living and the dead. Completely consumed by his guilt, he isolated himself in order to never feel pain or sorrow ever again — as you’d imagine, that didn’t end well.
A cheese maker, of all people, named Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) ends up bringing him back. When Morgan tries to kill his goat, Eastman subdues the man with a wooden staff and locks him inside a jail cell in his cabin. There, Morgan has time to regain control of his senses, a process that takes far more finesse than Eastman may have anticipated. After all, Morgan’s wounds run deep. Through sharing a story about an escaped convict named Crighton Dallas Wilton, who murdered Eastman’s entire family, and his own desire for revenge, Eastman helps Morgan reconnect with his humanity.
Eastman gifts Morgan with an understanding that “all life is precious,” leading him to embrace a more pacifist existence. Unfortunately, Eastman is bitten by a walker during an aikido lesson, and he ends up confessing that he locked Crighton in the cell and let him starve to death. Still, Morgan leaves the camp a changed man. “Here’s Not Here” is quite the showpiece for someone who started as a minor character, and an impressive balancing act between the horror of the walkers and the tragedy of humanity’s sorry state.
3. Killer Within (Season 3, Episode 4)
In the doozy of an episode called “Killer Within,” the group is dealt a terrible hand and loses two of its own. While fighting walkers, T-Dog is bitten, but doesn’t let his life go to waste. As Carol and T-Dog navigate through one of the prison’s inner tunnels, T-Dog sacrifices himself to give Carol a chance to escape. It’s unfortunate that T-Dog never got much of a story of his own, but at least he died a real hero.
Lori’s death is the episode’s second, and the more shocking of the two. When the prison is flooded with walkers, Lori, Maggie, and Carl split off from the rest of the group and find themselves trapped inside a boiler room. That’s when Lori goes into labor. It quickly becomes evident that Maggie will need to perform an emergency C-section. “You’re gonna beat this world,” a weeping Lori says to Carl as part of a devastating monologue. Her life ends with a whispered farewell to Rick: “Goodnight, love.” Then, Maggie takes Carl’s knife and slices open Lori’s abdomen. Lori slowly dies while Carl helps deliver his baby sister, Judith.
“Killer Within” is an emotional tour de force. No matter how you feel about Lori as a character, her willingness to die for her baby more than redeems her past actions. The episode ends with Rick and the rest of the group hearing the news in a roundabout way, and Rick collapsing onto the pavement as he lets out a soul-shaking cry. Even years later, it’s still as pulverizing a moment as ever.
2. What Comes After (Season 9, Episode 5)
You can usually rely on “The Walking Dead” to save its big twists for mid-season or end-of-season finales. However, season 9 unleashes a big shift in the status quo in its fifth episode. “What Comes After” features Andrew Lincoln’s departure from the flagship “Walking Dead” series. After being impaled in the previous episode, Rick breaks free and slowly plods through the woods towards the bridge between communities, a swarm of walkers hot on his heels.
During his journey, Rick sees visions of people from his past. Shane, Herschel, and Sasha impart final bits of wisdom to Rick, all of which boil down to one simple piece of advice: keep fighting. Upon arriving at the bridge, Rick spots an overturned crate of dynamite. He raises his revolver and shoots, uttering, “I found them.” He’s talking, of course, about his family. Michonne and the others look on as the sky lights up and the bridge crumbles into the river.
However, Rick isn’t dead, just incapacitated, and Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) rescues him via helicopter and whisks him away to an unknown location. After a six-year time jump, the audience meets a much older Judith (now played by Cailey Fleming) and a new group of survivalists led by Magna (Nadia Hilker). Despite the bait-and-switch, “What Comes After” wonderfully memorializes Rick, his impact on the series, his legacy, and the people he loved the most.
1. The Grove (Season 4, Episode 14)
It doesn’t get better than “The Grove.” After the prison blows up, the main group of characters is scattered and split into smaller groups. Tyreese, Carol (who killed Tyreese’s girlfriend, Karen), Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino), her sister Mika (Kyla Kenedy), and baby Judith, for example, all make their way to an isolated cabin and set up shop.
For the first time since the farm, they’re settling in a place that actually feels like home. The cabin is nothing less than a haven in a violent world. However, it’s not long before a new kind of violence emerges, and this time it comes from inside the house. The episode veers into psychological thriller territory as we find that Lizzie is unable to differentiate between walkers and people, believing that walkers have simply “changed.” To no one’s surprise, it was Lizzie who fed the walkers at the prison.
In the show’s darkest twist, Lizzie kills her sister while Carol and Tyreese are out collecting water. Upon their return, Lizzie confesses that she did it so that they’d “finally see” that walkers are still human. There’s only one solution: Carol takes Lizzie out to a clearing and, as she tells the girl to “look at the flowers,” pulls out her pistol and fires a single shot. “The Grove” beautifully captures what makes “The Walking Dead” one of the greatest TV shows of all time: It’s brutal, poetic, haunting, and, at the end of the day, unmistakably human.