On Halloween Night back in 2010, AMC debuted its zombie-apocalypse drama “The Walking Dead,” becoming an immediate hit with fans and critics. Nearly 7 years later, the series is about to reach the major milestone of 100 episodes, something that few shows are able to do in this day and age. Over the past 7 seasons, fans have witnessed their favorite characters be put through unimaginable horrors, but the real draw of the series is the humanity. Survival, love, family, friendship, sacrifice and community are what keep viewers reeled in and excited to watch new episodes each week. While there have been plenty of hiccups and poor elements of the series, it’s hard for me to say that there has been a genuinely “terrible” episode as I can honestly find something great in each chapter. Join me as I look back and rank the series ahead of Episode 100.
MAJOR SPOILER WARNING for all 99 episodes of “The Walking Dead.”
99. Dead Weight (Season 4, Episode 7)
The first part of this two-episode catch up on The Governor is ranked higher in the list, but this episode really suffers from the fact that it should have been combined with its predecessor. Several new characters are introduced, but they are basically just nameless redshirts that serve the sole purpose of being fatalities in the next episode’s Prison Battle. It’s clear that this side-story is meant to humanize The Governor, but considering he and everyone in this episode (sans Tara) are killed off in the next chapter, it all feels rather pointless. That being said, David Morrissey really shines in this episode and gives one of his most terrifying performances as The Governor.
98. Always Accountable (Season 6, Episode 6)
Smack dab in the middle of the “No Way Out” story arc, the narrative hits the breaks to introduce Sherry, pre-burned Dwight and the Saviors. The clunky dialogue and the confusing threat of the Saviors really weigh this episode down. The Saviors and Dwight don’t become crucial to the story until much later in the season, so this premature focus seems like a way to force Daryl into conflict unnecessarily; I’m not really keen on watching Daryl stumble through the forest for an hour, although the setting is fantastic, specifically the burnt walkers. Also, the sudden romantic tension between Sasha and Abraham feels incredibly off-putting (even though I did come to love their relationship the more it developed).
97. Hostiles and Calamities (Season 7, Episode 11)
This episode is basically the third tour of Negan’s Sanctuary, offering only a few new tidbits of information about the Savior lifestyle. While I do appreciate the fact that Eugene is given his own important storyline, one that plays a major role in the rest of the season and likely the next, it feels like a rehashed version of Daryl’s “The Cell” and Carl’s “Sing Me A Song,” with the singular notable change being that Eugene becomes “Negan.” The highlight of the episode is actually Dwight’s character development, especially in regards to his relationship with Sherry and his decision to frame Dr. Carson. To put it bluntly, this is a case of a bottle episode done wrong.
96. Twice as Far (Season 6, Episode 14)
The untimely death of Denise at the hands of Dwight kicks off a series of poor choices by the characters, specifically Daryl. Denise, who positioned herself to become a more independent survivor outside of her doctor duties is wiped away in the single shot of a crossbow bolt. There is also the forced altercation between Abraham and Eugene that really feels empty, but does allow for their reunification in the finale. Carol’s decision to flee Alexandria in the middle of a crisis is somewhat understandable, but also feels forced and contrived for the sake of getting her away from the action and setting up her Season 7 storyline.
95. Sick (Season 3, Episode 2)
This is worst of the season because of the heavy focus on the group of Prisoners, two of which are dead by the end of the episode (the rest are dead by Episode 10). Watching our band of characters train these Prisoners in the art of killing walkers is irritating and much of the dialogue is tiresome and cringe-worthy. Hershel’s touch-and-go medical state does provide some tense and emotional moments, lifting the episode up and serving as development for the others characters.
94. Self Help (Season 5, Episode 5)
The GREATM side-story provides some incredible development for the six characters involved, but mostly serves to pad out the season while the rest of the storylines wrap up. The reveal that Eugene isn’t a scientist is a major plot point and the definite highlight of the episode, but this small group’s decision to split away from their fellow survivors and head to Washington DC early feels pointless, especially since they return 3 episodes later. Abraham’s flashbacks provide insight to his character and his relationship with Eugene, but are choppy and could’ve been more elaborate.
93. East (Season 6, Episode 15)
Dumb and inconsistent decisions are something that characters make from time to time, but logic pretty much goes out the window as half of the characters leave Alexandria to search for Daryl and Carol. Why is Rick in such a good mood even though Denise, who saved his son’s life, was just murdered by an enemy combatant? To be fair, the group is completely unaware of the full scale of the threat of the Saviors, but leaving the community relatively unguarded feels amateurish. Daryl being shot in the shoulder is one of many cheap cliffhangers that plague this season and leads absolutely nowhere. That being said, the brief bonding moments between the characters are undeniably important, especially considering the tragic events of the next two episodes. Melissa McBride’s powerful performance is another redeeming factor.
92. Say the Word (Season 3, Episode 5)
The juxtaposition between life at the Prison and at Woodbury is something that I never really cared for. Just one episode after the horrific deaths of Lori and T-Dog, viewers are forced to watch a cheesy celebration hosted by the Governor. The drama created as Michonne sleuths is enjoyable and sets up her conflict with the Governor, but there is far too much focus here as opposed to the grieving characters at the Prison. Rick’s descent into madness serves as a fascinating transition that his character undergoes, one that lasts for the rest of the season. The supply run for baby formula says a lot about what kind of people Daryl and Maggie are, but lacks any real depth as they barely discuss what has just happened.
91. I Ain’t A Judas (Season 3, Episode 11)
Andrea goes from a well-liked character in Season 2 to one that makes irritating and hard to defend choices in Season 3. Her visit to the Prison and reunion with her fellow survivors completely falls flat because of these poor decisions. The desire to save the citizens of Woodbury is noble and is consistent with Andrea’s character, but leaving her family behind is difficult to defend and really seems to be a result of Glen Mazzara’s (the showrunner at the time) sabotage of the character. That being said, there are many strong conversations and tidbits of dialogue in this episode as Andrea catches up on what Rick and Co. have been through.
90. Now (Season 6, Episode 5)
The “No Way Out” story arc serves to heavily develop the Alexandrian characters while blending them into the main group and this episode provides excellent growth for Aaron, Jessie, Deanna and Denise. Aaron’s need to find some redemption and help Maggie is beautifully executed, especially her revealing to him that she is pregnant. Deanna’s new spark of life sets up the role she plays in her final few episodes and even after her death. The sudden relationship between Denise and Tara is a highlight, but is difficult to watch knowing how things ultimately end between them. Finally, Jessie’s decision to embrace her freedom from Pete’s abuse is rewarding…until she and Rick hook up.
89. Say Yes (Season 7, Episode 12)
Richonne shippers rejoice! This episode is an absolute treat for those that love the romance between Rick and Michonne, although the fact that they both act rather dumb when the stakes are so high make this feel more like fan-service than a well-crafted arc. Plus, there is more Rosita nonsense that comes across as filler while also continuing her highly emotional revenge storyline. A few touching callbacks to Glenn, the amazing carnival setting, Tara’s bonding with Judith, philosophical Gabriel and the lighter tone help to make this episode enjoyable. We can’t forget the atrocious and inexcusable CGI deer though…what a shame.
88. Arrow on the Doorpost (Season 3, Episode 13)
Rick Grimes and The Governor finally come face-to-face in an infuriating episode that spends far too much time on a conversation that leads absolutely nowhere. The offer to handover Michonne is introduced, which does lead to some interesting moral debates, but this conversation is mostly just two alphas flexing their muscles. The Rick we know should have just shot and killed The Governor on the spot, but that wouldn’t have made for great television. There is also Andrea’s irritating decision to stick with Team Woodbury rather than join her family at the Prison, effectively setting up her death. The interactions between the various characters are the definite highlight and really help to delve into their respective personalities.
87. Go Getters (Season 7, Episode 5)
After the tragic deaths of Glenn and Abraham in the premiere, viewers don’t get to see the now-widowed Maggie and Sasha until 4 episodes later (part of the pacing issue of this season). The return to the Hilltop features great character development for Maggie, who really begins to position herself as leader while pushing cowardly Gregory out. Sasha and Jesus really stand out in their newly formed adviser roles, as well as defenders of the community. The lighthearted moments between Carl and Enid are also noteworthy and serve as rewarding progressions of their characters. The confusing walker attack brings the episode down, but Simon’s visit and conversation with Gregory helps to make up for the issues.
86. Crossed (Season 5, Episode 7)
This episode has never really stood out and mostly serves as a culmination of the multiple storylines to set up the Mid-Season Finale. Beth being sneaky at the hospital to save Carol really demonstrates her strengths and helps to raise the stakes for the next episode. Rick’s plan to storm the hospital and save Beth and Carol makes a lot of sense, but Tyreese proposes a more humane, yet flawed alternative. Team GREATM is mostly at a standstill, but there is a decent amount of development for Abraham and the others. Sasha’s out-of-character decision to help one of the cops at the end is ridiculous and feels like manufactured drama.
85. Chupacabra (Season 2, Episode 5)
Starting off with an incredible opening scene showing the bombing of Atlanta, this episode tapers off towards the middle as Daryl becomes trapped in a ravine. The hallucinations of Merle become rather annoying after a while, but really serve wonders for Daryl’s character development; he won’t stop for anything in his search for Sophia, not even his guilt surrounding Merle’s disappearance. Andrea’s recklessness is shooting Daryl feels like more unnecessary tension, as does Lori hiding her pregnancy from Rick, while lambasting Glenn for showing concern. The reveal that Hershel’s barn is filled with walkers is a major twist and really shakes the story up in a terrifying way.
84. Infected (Season 4, Episode 2)
The flu-storyline isn’t all that well-executed, but the first initial cell block attack is thrilling and establishes a terrifying new threat. Life at the Prison becomes extremely grim as people catch the virus, die, turn and attack, all the while walkers outside continue to cluster around the fences and threaten to overrun the community. This episode features some really strong character interactions, specifically Michonne and Beth’s talk about caring for each other and Carol’s bond with Lizzie and Mika. There’s also Tyreese’s discovery that Karen and David have been murdered and burned.
83. Claimed (Season 4, Episode 11)
Rick isn’t really given much to do this episode, aside from sneaking around a house to avoid being spotted by Joe and The Claimers. While his escape from the house is quite intense, I’m not really sure it needed to be spread out across an entire episode. That being said, the interactions between Michonne and Carl are fantastic and really serve to strengthen their relationship while revealing some crucial backstory. There is also the unification of Glenn and Tara with Abraham’s Army as they find themselves on opposite sides of what to do next; the dramatic reveal that Eugene is apparently aware of a cure becomes a real driving force for the remainder of the season.
82. Coda (Season 5, Episode 8)
Mid-Season Finales are always heartbreaking, but Beth’s untimely death at the end of this episode has always been a haunting reminder that sometimes character exits aren’t always handled well. Sure, this episode is wildly intense and emotional, but it is filled with out-of-character decisions and shock-factor elements that really weight it down; why on Earth would Beth try to stab an armed police officer with a small pair of scissors? The reactions of everyone to Beth’s death, specifically Maggie and Daryl, do make up for the shortcomings and add an extra layer of tragedy. There’s also the epic opening scene where Rick hits Officer Lamson with a car before shooting him in the head; what a savage.
81. Triggerfinger (Season 2, Episode 9)
Rick, Glenn and Hershel get caught in a shoot out while trying to escape a bar. I love seeing this trio work together, especially because this is the first time Hershel really embraces the new world and begins taking on a more active role in fighting and making difficult decisions; there’s a powerful bond that forms here between Glenn and Hershel, establishing a father-son dynamic between the two. Lori fighting off walkers after her ridiculous car crash is another highlight and Shane’s accidental reveal that she is pregnant serves to create more interesting drama.
80. Live Bait (Season 4, Episode 6)
The first Governor-centric episode is a step above its successor and really helps to bring some humanity back to the madman who previously slaughtered his own soldiers. By introducing the Chambler family, The Governor is given a new lease on life and David Morrissey’s phenomenal acting allows the viewer to actually have a small bit of sympathy for him, even after all of the atrocities he committed. While this episode does halt the main plotline, it does perfectly set up the catastrophic Mid-Season Finale. Plus, we meet Tara, who goes on to be a major player in the series and the prominent comedic relief.
79. Prey (Season 3, Episode 14)
Andrea’s troubled Woodbury-storyline hits its critical point as she flees the town on foot to make her way to the Prison. The frightening game of cat-and-mouse between The Governor and Andrea is thrilling and reinforces the fact that “The Walking Dead” is still a horror series. The moral quandary that Tyreese and Sasha find themselves in over the conflict between the Prison and Woodbury proves to be compelling and sets up both characters to join Rick’s group later on. Andrea is an absolute soldier and she really proves it here, making me even more disappointed that she was preemptively killed off two episodes later. The tone and overall feeling of urgency really make this episode stand out.
78. Swear (Season 7, Episode 6)
Tara’s standalone adventure ranks as one of the worst episodes among a large portion of the fanbase, but I view this episode as a completely essential expansion of the world that also develops the character. With her awkward humor on full display, Tara becomes separated from Heath and stumbles upon Oceanside, which becomes more relevant later in the season. The change of environment and tone, as well as the intriguing new characters of Cyndie and Natania lift this episode up; it’s far from the best bottle episode, but it serves its purpose and really gives Tara the chance to have her moment in the spotlight. Plus, Alanna Masterson kicks ass!
77. The Other Side (Season 7, Episode 14)
Rosita and Sasha teaming up to take down Negan? What an iconic duo! Sure, Rosita does continue to act irrationally and her attitude is hard to defend, but the fact that she gets on good terms with Sasha makes up for some of the negative aspects of her character. Their plan flat out sucks, but Sasha’s decision to enter the Sanctuary alone is a truly emotional moment that showcases her desire to keep her family safe at all costs. The Hilltop being visited by the Saviors allows for an absolutely gut-wrenching and necessary conversation between Maggie and Daryl as they clear the air about Glenn’s murder. The hilarious relationship between Simon and Gregory is also furthered and intensified.
76. New Best Friends (Season 7, Episode 10)
The Scavengers are disgusting people and their Junkyard home is even more sickening; their introduction is definitely unique with Jadis and her strange leadership and speaking style being a polarizing aspect of the season. Rick’s fight with Winslow the walker is just one highlight and really reminds viewers that the makeup/prosthetic/stunt-people are world class. Gabriel taking charge and proclaiming her unwavering support and loyalty for Rick is another powerful part of the episode that really moves his character up in the ranks. Daryl and Carol reuniting has to be mentioned as it is quite possibly one of the most well-crafted emotional moments of the season.
75. Alone (Season 4, Episode 13)
The concept of losing one’s group and being the sole survivor is something that is explored frequently in the series and Bob is the prime example of this. Being with Sasha and Maggie on the road really allows him to flourish into a new person; the start of his romance with Sasha is moving and provides more depth to their characters. Maggie’s quest to find Glenn is harrowing, but does feel slightly irritating when she puts Bob and Sasha in danger. There’s also Beth and Daryl, who come across a seemingly abandoned funeral home where they allow their relationship to develop further (it’s never been clear if their bond is romantic or purely friendly). Beth’s disappearance is chilling and plays into the meaning of the title; over the course of the episode, Maggie, Bob, Sasha, Daryl and Beth are all alone at some point.
74. Slabtown (Season 5, Episode 4)
The highly anticipated return of Beth is pretty polarizing to fans, but I have always appreciated the sinister tone and growth of Beth’s character. This return to Atlanta is thrilling even though the overall Grady Memorial Hospital storyline doesn’t reach its potential. Introducing Dawn Lerner, Dr. Steven Edwards and Noah helps to expand the world and create some interesting drama about the concept of paying off debts in the apocalypse. Beth’s desire to escape the hospital with Noah is an intense part of the story and really gives her character far more to do than ever before.
73. Rock in the Road (Season 7, Episode 9)
This packed episode features the three main “hero” communities as they link up and prepare for war with the Saviors. Watching Rick’s group meet Ezekiel to persuade him to join the fight is hilarious and gripping; there’s a sense of culture shock that everyone experiences when they first enter The Kingdom. There’s also the mystery of Gabriel’s disappearance and the introduction of the Scavengers, who play a major role in the rest of the season. The scenes on the highway, including the rapid bomb diffusing and the steel cable walker mass killing are pretty ridiculous and feel rather gimmicky.
72. Save the Last One (Season 2, Episode 3)
The evolution of Shane is seriously fascinating to watch and this episode signifies a tipping point for his character. The decision to sacrifice Otis to save Carl puts Shane in a unique place in the story and really allows for the character to become an “antagonist” among the group. Him shaving his head represents Shane’s change and entry into a new era, playing into the show’s concept of being “too far gone.” Jon Bernthal really establishes himself as one of the strongest performers in the series here. This episode also contains some amazing conversations between Rick and Lori, and Daryl and Andrea.
71. The Suicide King (Season 3, Episode 9)
Rescuing the Dixon brothers from The Governor’s sick games and reuniting with the rest of the group at the Prison gives everyone a chance to catch their breath. Merle really shakes things up and causes tension among Glenn, Michonne, Rick and Daryl as his past prevents everyone from getting along; this is an example of a strong conflict within the group as Merle is especially difficult to get along with. The bubbling drama between Glenn and Maggie is another highlight as it shows that even the unbreakable power couple isn’t perfect all the time. The material in Woodbury, especially Andrea’s forced speech to the annoying residents is problematic and not all that well executed.
70. 30 Days Without an Accident (Season 4, Episode 1)
While this is certainly the weakest Season Premiere, it does allow for the series to establish a new set of motivations for the characters against the scope of a refreshing tone. With the Ricktatorship over, Rick is shown to have taken up farming while relegating leadership to others at the Prison; seeing Rick in such a different light is quite off-putting, especially when he risks his life to follow creepy Clara through the forest. The introductions of Bob, Lizzie and Mika are all noteworthy and help to set in motion the various plot lines of the season. The Big Spot supply trip provides some great action and allows characters such as Sasha and Tyreese to demonstrate their skills.
69. Secrets (Season 2, Episode 6)
In the midst of the search for Sophia, the characters on the Farm really begin to settle into their new home, but trouble arises after Glenn discovers walkers in the barn. This causes a compelling rift to form between Rick’s group and Hershel’s family as Glenn struggles to keep this revelation to himself. There’s also Lori’s annoying quest to keep her pregnancy a secret all the while lambasting Rick for keeping secrets of his own; this is where Lori really starts to become irritating, although her reveal to Rick that she and Shane were together is a definite highlight. The team up of Andrea and Shane also provides some great material as they join forces to train and search for Sophia, although their sexcapade is honestly pretty unnecessary.
68. Isolation (Season 4, Episode 3)
Following the murder of Karen, Tyreese really becomes a main player as he searches for answers and lashes out at Rick for not taking the situation seriously; his fight with Rick proves to be an intense release of pent up emotions. Chad Coleman really shines in this episode and the developments of Tyreese are especially interesting as they give him the motivation to join Daryl’s quest to find medicine. Glenn and Sasha becoming infected with the Prison virus creates an enhanced sense of urgency and allows the viewer to have a real reason to fear the invisible threat. Hershel’s speech about saving lives is the best moment of the episode and perfectly sets up his final story arc.
67. Strangers (Season 5, Episode 2)
Coming down from the escape from Terminus, the survivors meet Father Gabriel and there is a real impactful sense of distrust that plays into the show’s theme of who can be trusted and who can’t. Allowing the group to settle at the church creates the opportunity for several remarkable character interactions, most notably between Rick and Carl. Abraham’s speech, the food bank walkers and Daryl spotting the Grady car are all memorable moments, but the best part of this episode is the reveal that Bob has not only been captured by Gareth, but that his leg is being eaten by the surviving Terminians. Seth Gilliam, Andrew J. West and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. all give stellar performances this episode.
66. Inmates (Season 4, Episode 10)
Our first time checking in with the majority of the survivors after the fall of the Prison is a great catch-up episode and the change in structure gives everyone a moment in the spotlight. The juxtaposition of individual members of the group really serves to explore each character’s mental state and outlook on the world; Beth, Maggie, Bob and Glenn all wish to find other survivors, while Daryl and Sasha believe everything is hopeless. We also start to see the extent of Lizzie’s illness as she nearly suffocates Judith just seconds before the triumphant return of Carol, creating a tense atmosphere as she reunites with Tyreese. This episode also introduces Abraham, Rosita and Eugene in a somewhat cheesy first appearance that does pay homage to the graphic novels.
65. Something They Need (Season 7, Episode 15)
The penultimate episode of the season sees the return to Oceanside as Rick’s group become the “bad guys” for a moment to take guns from the community by any means necessary; this mission really allows for the idea of who is truly evil to be explored as Oceanside is left defenseless by our heroes so that they may save themselves. Tara’s decision to break her promise to Cyndie gives her character the chance to move past being just a comedic element and really get her hands dirty. At the Sanctuary, Sasha deals with her botched assassination plot and tries to use her intelligence as a last ditch effort to save her family by tricking Eugene; her interactions with Negan really showcase how strong Sasha is and how insanely talented Sonequa Martin-Green is.
64. Cherokee Rose (Season 2, Episode 4)
The relationship between Daryl and Carol is widely cited by fans as being a major highlight of the series and the disappearance of Sophia really helps to form their bond early on. Daryl’s story of the “Cherokee Rose” as a sign of hope to Carol makes it clear to viewers that he truly has a good heart and cares about people. This episode also establishes the beautiful romance between Glenn and Maggie, beginning things with their iconic sex scene in the pharmacy. The “well walker” is a fun gag, but the entire sequence is quite ridiculous and puts the characters in unnecessary tension. The big reveal that Lori is pregnant really helps to complicate the fascinating love triangle that she finds herself caught in with Rick and Shane.
63. Wildfire (Season 1, Episode 5)
Following the first real walker attack of the series, the characters are left shell-shocked by the countless deaths at the Atlanta camp. Andrea finds herself unable to put Amy down, that is until she reanimates and begins snapping, forcing Andrea to step up and put an end to her sister. Rick and Shane debate where to go looking for refuge as they also deal with Jim, who has been bitten and is slowly succumbing to the infection; while a minor character, the ill-fated arc of Jim is emotional to watch. There is also the stunning CDC cliffhanger that mixes the feelings of dread and hope.
62. Consumed (Season 5, Episode 6)
Going back to the Carol and Daryl dynamic, this episode is one of the best cases of why their relationship just works. Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus are fantastic performers on their own, but they really compliment each other when paired up. This episode allows for a change in environment from the forests back to Atlanta, where the stakes are incredibly high due to the large amounts of walkers in the city. While searching for answers about Beth’s kidnapping, they come across Noah, who becomes an official member of the team. The scene where the van falls from the bridge is quite terrible, but the developments of Daryl and Carol make up for that.
61. The Cell (Season 7, Episode 3)
This episode gives viewers and Daryl the first chance to see Negan in a completely different situation and setting than that ill-fated night when he murdered Abraham and Glenn. Playing into the theme of psychological torture, Daryl is left in a tiny cell and forced to eat disgusting food while listening to “Easy Street,” which is essentially a meme at this point. Daryl’s strength is put to the test once again as he remains true to himself even with offers to better his situation. The dynamic between Negan, Dwight and Sherry is furthered while teasing viewers with the sick “marriage” situation at the Sanctuary. Dwight’s brief side mission is a negative within this episode, but it does show how not all Saviors are evil.
60. When the Dead Come Knocking (Season 3, Episode 7)
The split between life in Woodbury and at the Prison is shown in full force as Michonne finally meets Rick’s group and alerts them to Glenn and Maggie’s capture. Carol reunites with the group and meets Baby Judith for the first time in an absolutely heartwarming moment. At Woodbury, Merle tortures Glenn and demands answers, but he isn’t giving anything up and is forced to face a walker while tied down to a chair in an epic showdown. The Governor’s creepiness reaches a new height when he sexually harasses Maggie, all the while she remains strong and unafraid.
59. The Same Boat (Season 6, Episode 13)
Referred to as the “girl power” hour of “The Walking Dead,” this episode pits Maggie and Carol against a group of Saviors following Alexandria’s attack on an outpost. Paula, the leader of the group and played by the amazing Alicia Witt, has this engrossing back-and-forth with Carol about their similarities and growth in the apocalypse. What makes this episode really stand out is the fact that Maggie and Carol save themselves and aren’t damsels in distress; this is really refreshing and makes complete sense considering these are two of the most badass survivors in the group. McBride, Witt and Lauren Cohan all shine in this episode, giving impeccable performances.
58. Service (Season 7, Episode 4)
Negan’s first visit to Alexandria is a tense ride of fear as he meets several characters for the first time, most notably Spencer, Gabriel and Olivia. Negan is slightly overdone here and some of his lines feel over-the-top as he and the Saviors raid and pillage the quant community. Rick is completely submissive as he is forced to watch his home be torn apart, while his people are threatened; there is a real sense of danger that a conflict may form and that someone may die, especially considering Negan doesn’t give second chances. Rick’s conversation to Michonne about how Judith isn’t his biological daughter is a definite highlight of the entire season and solidifies their relationship.
57. TS-19 (Season 1, Episode 6)
The CDC storyline really expands the “TWD” universe and while it does seem to give away too much information about the state of the world, it certainly does make things feel more hopeless. Dr. Jenner is a fascinating character and his discussions with Rick’s group make this episode feel far different from any of its predecessors. It completely establishes the fact that no place is safe anymore and the characters can never fully settle. Andrea and Dale’s escape, as well as the deaths of Dr. Jenner and Jacqui give the episode a feeling of finality and climax. That being said, the Season 1 budget is very much apparent with the abhorrent CGI explosion.
56. The Distance (Season 5, Episode 11)
The journey to Alexandria is absolutely terrifying because of the numerous villains and untrustworthy folks that Rick’s crew has come across. Aaron feels eerily similar to Gareth, making it difficult for the characters and viewers to trust him initially. That being said, the development of his character and the introduction of his boyfriend Eric make the situation feel a little more hopeful. This episode marks the first appearance of Alexandria and the group’s arrival at the gate has some powerful symbolism that this will be the group’s new homestead for years to come.
55. Us (Season 4, Episode 15)
On the frantic trip to Terminus, alliances were built and characters were separated. This culminated into the highly-anticipated reunion of Glenn and Maggie after they were ripped apart during the Prison battle. Tara’s unwavering loyalty and desire to atone is shown in full force, as is Abraham’s mission to get Eugene to Washington at all costs. The epic end scene introduces Terminus with a haunting, yet comforting tone that perfectly sets up the finale.
54. Walk With Me (Season 3, Episode 3)
To first episode to not feature Rick follows Andrea and Michonne as they stumble upon The Governor and are eventually taken to Woodbury. The return of Merle and the unveiling of Woodbury’s darker side are both highlights, specifically the reveal of the fish tanks full of heads in The Governor’s apartment. This episode serves as a juxtaposition of life in the quant southern town to that of the grungy Prison.
53. Indifference (Season 4, Episode 4)
The dynamic of Rick and Carol is explored greatly this episode as the two take a trip to a local neighborhood in search of supplies. Following the reveal that Carol killed Karen and David, Rick takes the time to figure out her motivations and eventually banish her from the group. There is some truly incredible dialogue featured here, specifically the final scene between Rick and Carol. The supply trip led by Daryl helps to showcase Tyreese’s grief and Bob’s struggle with alcoholism.
52. Vatos (Season 1, Episode 4)
The trip back into Downtown Atlanta to find Merle takes a tense turn when Glenn is captured by a gang, who is later shown to be protecting a nursing home. The episode also follows Jim’s deteriorating mental state and the growing sense of worry at the camp just before they are attacked by a herd of walkers; this is the first time we see a herd attack and it is downright terrifying, especially with the deaths of Amy and Ed, adding a sense of finality.
51. Hounded (Season 3, Episode 6)
Rick’s post-Lori arc allows Andrew Lincoln the opportunity to express pure grief and he absolutely kills it. He really loses it as he begins hallucinating phone calls from deceased members of the group, including Lori. The Woodbury storyline isn’t the strongest, specifically Andrea’s flourishing romance with The Governor. That being said, Merle’s hunt for Michonne and eventual capture of Glenn and Maggie provides some tense material that delves into his desire to please The Governor.
50. Still (Season 4, Episode 12)
The placement of this episode this high up on the list is sure to cause some disagreement, but I have always appreciated the simplicity of Daryl and Beth’s standalone adventure. Sure, it doesn’t progress the plot at all, but the relationship forged between two unlikely friends is powerful to watch. This episode serves as a reawakening of both characters and really allows them to start their new lives in the apocalypse, free of those that previously held them back. The cathartic end scene is especially noteworthy for its use of fire and music to symbolize rebirth.
49. Them (Season 5, Episode 10)
Following the traumatizing deaths of Beth and Tyreese, the group finds themselves at their lowest point yet. Watching our mourning band of heroes stumble along the road is difficult to watch, but it only makes their arrival in Alexandria all the more rewarding. This episode has a heavy focus on Maggie, Daryl and Sasha as they are most affected by the recent losses; all three actors nail the grieving process and provide some really heartbreaking performances here. The introduction of Aaron is haunting and perfectly establishes the next story arc.
48. Nebraska (Season 2, Episode 8)
Coming after the devastating Sophia reveal, the characters are left spiraling out of control. Rick and Glenn must leave the Farm in search of Hershel, who has begun to loose his faith; meanwhile, Maggie tends to Beth and Shane continues to become even more unhinged. The conflict that arises between Dale and Shane is unnerving to watch, mostly because of the performances from Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey DeMunn. This episode marks the first time in the series that Rick ever kills another human being, sending him down a dark path that changes him forever.
47. 18 Miles Out (Season 2, Episode 10)
Towards the end of the Farm-arc, questions of morality are raised when the group must decide what to do with Randall. Rick and Shane’s trip off the Farm to send Randall away is one of the final nails in the coffin when it comes to their relationship; they nearly kill each other in their fight, but are able to patch things up (for at least two more episodes). There’s also the first real development that Beth receives as she attempts to take her own life, but finds herself caught in a discussion about if suicide in the apocalypse is acceptable. This episode features the song “Civilian” by artist Wye Oak and it still remains as one of the best uses of music in the series.
46. Welcome to the Tombs (Season 3, Episode 16)
The rampant breakdown of The Governor’s leadership is simply fascinating to watch, especially when he mows down dozens of his own soldiers. While the “war” between Woodbury and the Prison is rather anticlimactic, this episode stands as one of my favorite’s for The Governor. That being said, the piss poor treatment of Andrea remains as one of the worst mistakes in the history of the show; there was no reason she needed to die and I will never change my opinion on that. Still, the end sequence and the unification of the two groups, along with Rick no longer being haunted by Lori, makes this episode memorable.
45. Heads Up (Season 6, Episode 7)
The return of Glenn after 4 straight episodes of #Dumpstergate. What a relief this episode is, although the gimmicky way Glenn is revealed to be alive is problematic; that being said, the friendship that forms between Glenn and Enid as they work to get back to Alexandria is truly beautiful. Rick and Carl train Ron to fire a gun (for some reason), while Denise helps Morgan with the “Wolf problem,” all the while Carol sneakily investigates. There’s also Spencer’s attempt to leave the community, which is both tense and frightening to watch. The episode culminates into one of the best cliffhangers in the series, the collapse of the lookout tower, which bring down part of the wall.
44. Tell it to the Frogs (Season 1, Episode 3)
The heartwarming reunion of Rick with Carl and Lori stands as one of the most emotional moments in the series; this kicks off the dramatic love triangle between Rick, Lori and Shane, which lasts through the next season and still resonates today. This episode marks the first appearances of fan favorite characters, Daryl and Carol; while they’re not main characters right off the bat, the viewer is still able to connect with these two over their family struggles. The stunning end scene shows Rick and his team arriving on the Atlanta rooftop only to find Merle’s amputated arm and him completely missing.
43. Thank You (Season 6, Episode 3)
I’m not a fan of the Glenn fake-out death, specifically for the reason that it feels manipulative and like a ratings grab. However, the episode in which it takes place is notable for many reasons and while the Glenn situation doesn’t work for me, the emotional pull that follows the “death” scene is remarkable. Losing Nicholas and several other Alexandrians establishes a feeling of absolute hopelessness; the growing threat of the herd and the desire of the characters to get back home makes this episode one of the most intense. The callbacks to Glenn and Rick’s friendship and Michonne’s speech to Heath are both highlights.
42. Knots Untie (Season 6, Episode 11)
Following the discovery of Jesus, Rick leads a team to the first new community of the larger world, the Hilltop Colony. The action prior to arriving at the Hilltop feels slightly forced, but once the group reaches the grand gates, its all uphill (literally). The introduction of Gregory and the exploration of the Hilltop’s culture give the episode a refreshing feel; there’s never really been any place like this before in the series and Gregory is simply one of a kind. The beginning of Maggie’s leadership arc, as well as Abraham’s relationship struggles are both elements that boost this episode up.
41. Sing Me a Song (Season 7, Episode 7)
The Carl and Jesus mission to infiltrate the Sanctuary is quite infuriating to watch, specifically because of Carl’s complete lack of a real plan. Still, his chilling interactions with Negan and the further exploration of the Sanctuary give this episode an odd unsettling feeling that does help to explain more about the Savior way of life. Rosita roasting Eugene is annoying, but it helps to set up his “betrayal” arc later in the season, while furthering Rosita’s own instability. Negan’s demeaning talk with Olivia and his first interaction with Judith are other prominent moments within the episode.
40. Bloodletting (Season 2, Episode 2)
The first appearance of Hershel, Maggie, Beth and the Greene Family Farm is a whirlwind of emotions as it comes on the heels of Carl being shot. While his life hangs in the balance, the Greene family welcomes Rick and Shane in with open arms and it’s clear from the start that they are just good people. The brotherly bond between Rick and Shane is powerful and both Lincoln and Bernthal nail their performances here. Shane and Otis team up to collect supplies at a local high school, while Maggie leaves the Farm in search of Lori; this packed episode gives viewers an in depth look at the new characters and location.
39. Last Day on Earth (Season 6, Episode 16)
The notorious cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers may have dominated the discussion surrounding this episode, but the slow build to Negan’s first appearance, as well as the capture of Rick’s group, make this quite possibly the most terrifying episode of the series. The cheap cliffhanger is still the biggest mistake in the show’s history and it does prevent this episode from being higher on the list. Still, this episode is packed with great moments and development that helps to add a heavy emotional weight; Carol and Morgan’s back-and-forth, Abraham and Eugene’s goodbye and Rick comforting Maggie all help to show the forged bond of this group just moments before tragedy strikes.
38. The Well (Season 7, Episode 2)
Coming on the heels of the torturous season premiere, things slow down as Carol and Morgan are brought to the Kingdom where they come face-to-face with King Ezekiel and his tiger Shiva. This dream-like episode is unlike anything the series has ever touched before and it is truly moving. Between Carol’s initial reaction to Ezekiel and the slew of new characters, this episode is a bit jarring at first, but viewers learn more about this community over the course of the hour. The musical score of this episode helps to transport the audience to a medieval time of knights and old Shakespearean talk.
37. After (Season 4, Episode 9)
The first post-Prison episode finds a badly beaten Rick and an emotionally checked out Carl stumbling around until they come across an empty house. This is essentially Carl’s transition from a boy to a man as he must step up to the plate and take care of himself while Rick is unconscious. Chandler Riggs really shines here as he is given some of his best material to date, struggling to come to terms with the fact that everyone may be dead. The development of Michonne is incredible and her backstory proves to be just heartbreaking.
36. First Time Again (Season 6, Episode 1)
This action-packed Season Premiere finds the residents of Alexandria teaming up to lead a massive herd of walkers out of a nearby quarry and away from their community. This episode is noteworthy for giving each character a prominent role; this is one of the best cases of the numerous storylines being flawlessly blended together. The stylistic use of black-and-white and the non-linear timeline come together for a truly unique episode structure; not only does this particular episode feel different from the others, it feels far more ambitious and epic. The introduction of the mega-herd and the cataclysmic cliffhanger help to establish the “No Way Out” story arc of the season’s first half.
35. Try (Season 5, Episode 15)
Tensions run high in Alexandria following the deaths of Noah and Aiden, as well as Carol’s revelation that Pete is abusing Jessie. Deanna’s investigation into the deaths, along with Father Gabriel’s disclosure amplify her anger towards Rick’s group. Jessie is confronted by Rick about Pete’s abuse, leading to a chaotic fight in the middle of Alexandria that ends with Rick pulling a gun on everyone before being knocked out by Michonne. These events are thrilling to watch, especially when compared to some of Shane’s actions earlier in the series. Other highlights of the episode include Carl and Enid’s first date and Sasha’s powerful PTSD struggle.
34. Home (Season 3, Episode 10)
Rick’s hallucinations of Lori help to showcase his fractured mental state and his inability to connect with Judith. As Rick chases Lori around the Prison yard, Glenn is on a warpath and his anger really allows Steven Yeun to experiment with the character unlike ever before. Daryl and Merle are on their own adventure after splitting with Rick, finding themselves rescuing a family from walkers while their own relationship fractures. Everything builds up to an insane battle at the Prison between Woodbury and Rick’s group that leaves Axel dead and the Prison yard overrun with walkers.
33. Seed (Season 3, Episode 1)
The series really reinvents itself with this premiere as the story jumps ahead to eight months after the Farm is overrun. Without a stable shelter, the group bounces around until they come across the Prison, which they clear of walker and take over. Rick and Lori’s relationship isn’t doing well at all, but things seem to be going rather okay for everyone else as they settle into their new home. Hershel is bit by a walker and Rick is forced to chop off his leg in what remains as one of the most gruesome moments in the series. We also check in on Andrea and Michonne, who have survived together with the two walker pets; this episode provides an legendary first look at Michonne’s skills. The introduction of the Prison and the entertaining action sequences help to make this one of the strongest premieres.
32. The Next World (Season 6, Episode 10)
While its placement after the fast-moving “No Way Out” may be awkward and strange for the pacing, this episode serves as an ushering into the next era of the series. Rick and Daryl leave Alexandria in search of supplies, but come across Jesus instead; they do find supplies, but because of some out-of-character actions, the supplies end up at the bottom of a lake. Jesus immediately establishes himself as a standout character and his fighting capabilities are put on full display here. Spencer’s closure in putting down walker Deanna adds a rich emotional depth to the episode. The best moment comes at the end as Rick and Michonne finally express their love for one another, rallying cheers and joy among the fandom.
31. Start to Finish (Season 6, Episode 8)
As the walker herd invades Alexandria, the characters are left to wonder if their beloved community will survive. There’s a scramble as everyone fights off the walkers and rushes to safety, but in the chaos Deanna is bit and spends the rest of the episode spreading her wisdom to Rick and Michonne. Carl and Ron’s drama comes to a head as Morgan defends the Alpha Wolf from Carol. There’s a lot that happens here, but the peak of the episode comes at the end as Rick leads Carl, Judith, Ron, Sam, Jessie, Michonne and Gabriel out of the house and into the walker-infested street, each wearing a guts-poncho and looking petrified; this ending sequence is totally effective due to Bear McCreary’s musical score (one of his best) and Deanna’s final heroic stand upstairs.
30. Forget (Season 5, Episode 13)
As possibly the most surreal chapter in the series run, this episode focuses on the characters as they adjust to their life in the paradise that is Alexandria. Carol enacts a plan to secure guns from the armory, but ends up threatening Sam with a grim walker death. Rick and Michonne embrace their positions as constables in the community before making an appearance at Deanna’s welcome party; these scenes serve as a fascinating juxtaposition to life outside of the walls where our survivors were literally eating dogs just days prior. The bond built between Daryl and Aaron is interesting to watch, even if it doesn’t really go anywhere.
29. Internment (Season 4, Episode 5)
Described as Hershel’s defining hour, this heroic journey of the farmer-turned-doctor is thrilling to watch. With the high stakes of the flu virus and the ticking time bomb of the walkers at the fence, the Prison becomes more dangerous than ever. Glenn and Sasha both face death, but this episode sees both characters overcome the impossible thanks to Hershel’s unwavering drive to save his people. Carl really steps up to the plate and helps Rick defend the Prison in a truly tense night that shakes up the survivors forever; the return of The Governor the next day is a shocking surprise and sets up the finale of the Prison arc. Scott Wilson’s performance here is mesmerizing and establishes Hershel as one of the best characters in the series.
28. What Happened and What’s Going On (Season 5, Episode 9)
Every once in a while, “The Walking Dead” will drastically shake things up and deliver an episode unlike any before. This Mid-Season Premiere feels like an art film, with its cryptic cinematography, non-linear editing and use of music. The death of Tyreese is handled exceptionally well, reminding viewers that even five seasons in, a single walker can still be a threat; Tyreese’s hallucinations of Bob, Lizzie, Mika and Beth, along with The Governor and Martin, help to tell a story of good vs. evil. Tyreese battles his demons and makes it clear that good people can still live, but unfortunately for him, his time comes to an end. The simple shot of Tyreese’s beanie resting on his grave is one of the most haunting in the series.
27. Not Tomorrow Yet (Season 6, Episode 12)
The first strike against the Saviors comes in the form of Team Alexandria’s attack on the satellite compound to rescue a Hilltop resident being held prisoner. This attack is edited beautifully and really places emphasis on the chaotic nature of a battle; this is notable for the fact that several main characters get their first human kills during this battle, including Glenn, Tara and Gabriel. Carol’s struggle with killing people manifests itself when she visits Sam’s grave before starting up an odd relationship with Tobin. This episode is a perfect example of what is likely to come from the “All Out War” story arc that will surely place focus on battles with strategic planning in between.
26. Remember (Season 5, Episode 12)
The group’s first arrival in Alexandria is unsettling for many reasons, mostly because of their previous run-ins with other survivors; there is a real sense of optimism though as Michonne and others try to embrace the community and its inhabitants. This episode not only establishes Alexandria, which is the primary setting for years to come, but it also introduces notable characters such as Deanna, Jessie, Nicholas, Ron and Pete. The tone here is in stark contrast to the preceding episodes and the cleanliness of the community is unlike anything seen before in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Carol really stands out as she begins playing the role of an undercover spy, slowly gaining information from the unsuspecting residents.
25. Spend (Season 5, Episode 14)
The calmness in Alexandria is shattered as two members of the community meet their grizzly end during a supply run gone wrong. First, Aiden is devoured by walkers after stupidly shooting at a grenade and ending up impaled; the nightmarish revolving door death of Noah is probably the goriest moment in the show and it is still hard to watch. While I would have liked Noah to stick around longer, his death sets in motion the conflict between Glenn and Nicholas. At Alexandria, Carol uncovers the abuse taking place in the Anderson family as Father Gabriel betrays the group by tattling on them to Deanna; this episode sees the rise of Rick’s group as several members are put in positions of power, most notably Abraham on the construction crew.
24. Hearts Still Beating (Season 7, Episode 8)
This season struggled with an over-reliance on bottle episodes, but the Mid-Season Finale packs a lot of punches, featuring the entire main cast and bouncing around to the various communities. Rick and Aaron’s mission to collect guns from a houseboat provides some tense close calls with walkers and allows both to further their desire to fight back against the Saviors. Carol meets with Morgan and Richard to discuss involving the Kingdom in the war as Daryl manages to escape his prison cell at the Sanctuary and flee with Jesus. At Alexandria, Negan disembowels Spencer and Olivia is shot in the head before Eugene is taken hostage; this chaos leads Rick and the others to the Hilltop where some truly heartwarming reunions happen as the march to war begins.
23. Judge, Jury, Executioner (Season 2, Episode 11)
Moral compass-type characters never seem to last long in this series and that is especially true for the OG that is Dale. His time comes to an end, but he sure doesn’t go down without a fight as he attempts to rally the group to save prisoner Randall from execution; this one of the most morally conflicting situations ever explored in the show and the writers do an excellent job at allowing the viewer to see all sides. Jeffrey DeMunn’s final performance here is chilling, raw and really makes me wish he would have stuck with the series for longer as he brought a lot to the table. The chipping away of Carl’s innocence that occurs in this episode also deserves praise; Carl is responsible for Dale’s death and I will never get over it.
22. This Sorrowful Life (Season 3, Episode 15)
Merle was never really a hero in my eyes…that is until his final episode when he sacrifices everything to save the life of his brother and his new family. Having Merle switch sides and turn against The Governor really allows the viewer to look past the atrocities he committed, only to have him die minutes later. His interactions with Michonne and their discussions about what makes someone good and evil are incredible and provide strong development for both characters. The heartbreaking scene where Daryl must put down walker Merle is pure “TWD.” The engagement/marriage of Glenn and Maggie, along with Rick’s speech to the group are both highlights as well.
21. Conquer (Season 5, Episode 16)
This finale is a perfect example of the season’s storylines being wrapped up while simultaneously teasing events to come; the conclusion of the Pete drama hits a horrific climax as he stumbles into the Alexandria meeting and kills Reg with Michonne’s sword. This is a turning point of Deanna’s leadership as she orders the execution of Pete at the hands of Rick. Each character battles their own demons and everything comes to a head as some conflicts are resolved (Glenn/Nicholas, Sasha/Gabriel) while others are not (Morgan/The Wolves). Speaking of Morgan, his return is a rollercoaster ride that ushers him into the main narrative while also properly introducing the threat of the Wolves.
20. Made to Suffer (Season 3, Episode 8)
The first real squabble between Woodbury and the Prison survives comes in the form of a shootout in the center of town; before that happens, Rick infiltrates the community with Daryl, Michonne and Oscar to rescue Glenn and Maggie. There is some truly fantastic action sequences as the group tries to flee, but is caught in a battle that claims the life of Oscar and sees Daryl captured by The Governor. The showdown between The Governor and Michonne is simply amazing and stands as one of the best one-on-one fights in the series. This episode is also noteworthy because of the introductions of Tyreese and Sasha, both of which find themselves at the mercy of Carl, who brings them into the fold.
19. A (Season 4, Episode 16)
“Sanctuary for all. Community for all. Those who arrive, survive.” That chilling message is ingrained in the minds of “TWD” fans forever because of this episode; Rick, Carl, Michonne and Daryl make their way to Terminus via the train tracks, but it isn’t a smooth journey. They are stopped by Joe and the Claimers who threaten to rape and kill our band of survivors, but Rick goes completely savage and essentially becomes a walker himself to end the problem. When the group finally arrives at Terminus, they are welcomed with open arms, but soon find out that there is something sinister going on and shit hits the fan; viewers learn just how capable the cannibal survivors are and the cliffhanger that wraps up this season is one to remember. Plus, there are a series of flashbacks to simpler times at the Prison and we get a final goodbye for Hershel.
18. Better Angels (Season 2, Episode 12)
The Rick and Shane feud hits its climatic end on a chilly winter night. Shane leads Rick out into the woods after brutally killing Randall and the two discuss their fallen friendship. This episode really dives deep into how hardened Shane has become, showing just how far ahead of the game he was at this point in the apocalypse. Rick does what needs to be done and puts a knife in Shane, ending their rich back-and-forth forever; this moment really has a negative impact on the relationship between Rick and Carl. The cinematography of this episode, as well as the performances of Lincoln and Bernthal help to make this a heartbreaking, yet necessary chapter.
17. Four Walls and a Roof (Season 5, Episode 3)
The conclusion of the Terminus storyline is absolutely brutal as Rick and Co. lead Gareth’s band into the church for a final showdown. The “I made you a promise” slaughter showcases how strong the group is when they’re together and also demonstrates that they’ll do what they need to do in order to survive. This is also Bob’s final episode and he gets to go out on top, first by nailing the “tainted meat” scene and later getting to say goodbye to his family while imparting wisdom on Rick, which he carries with him for the rest of the season. The revelation of Father Gabriel’s backstory and Daryl’s surprising return cliffhanger are other highlights. The only downside is the splintering of the group as Abraham leads Team GREATM to D.C.
16. Guts (Season 1, Episode 2)
The second episode of the series finds Rick being rescued by Glenn, thus beginning their long-lasting friendship. Rick also meets Andrea, T-Dog, Merle, Jacqui and Morales, who are trapped in a Downtown Atlanta building and must work together to escape. Merle’s racism and other irritating qualities seem to establish him as a villain-esque character for this episode, which makes him being left behind completely justifiable. Glenn and Rick’s tense guts sequence helps to establish the scale of the show and showcase just how dangerous the walkers are, while simultaneously introducing a trick to evade them. At the camp, Shane and Lori’s relationship is furthered as they hook up, letting the viewer know that a love triangle is imminent.
15. What Lies Ahead (Season 2, Episode 1)
“TWD” comes back swinging in its sophomore season premiere as the group searches for a place to call home, only to become stranded on a highway. The horror element is brought in heavily as the survivors are forced to hide from a passing herd of walkers (the first in the series); they’re thrown for a loop when Sophia is chased into the woods by a walker and disappears, kicking off a search for her that lasts half of the season. Meanwhile, Andrea is left to deal with the fact that her choice to die at the CDC was taken away from her by Dale; this drama expertly plays into the recurring idea of some people giving up while others keep fighting. The hunt for Sophia, the scenes at the church and the shocking shooting of Carl all help to reinforce the stakes and establish the many storylines of the season.
14. Killer Within (Season 3, Episode 4)
This is pretty much the episode that turned the series upside down for a bit; with the deaths of Lori and T-Dog, the characters and viewers are left devastated and completely stunned. Few shows have the guts to kill off the co-lead four episodes into a new season, but “TWD” did just that; however, the death of T-Dog is very problematic and was clearly thrown in for additional shock value. The intermixing of the Prison and Woodbury narratives is also an issue as it takes away some of the tension. That being said, this is still a masterpiece and the performances are truly emotionally taxing, specifically those of Callies, Lincoln, Cohan and Riggs. What happens during this hour still resonates to this day and will forever stand as some of the most jarring and shocking material covered.
13. Days Gone Bye (Season 1, Episode 1)
The start of it all! The pilot of “The Walking Dead” is the perfect introduction to the world and does a fantastic job at establishing Rick and his mission, while not giving away everything. Rick waking up in the hospital, confused and scared, and slowly figuring out the new world while also searching for his family allows the viewer to immediately connect with him. The introduction of Morgan and Duane help to catch Rick up to the rules of the apocalypse. Lori, Carl and Shane are shown just enough to make it clear that they will all play major roles in the series. The use of Downtown Atlanta as a setting, along with the large scale and emotional pull make this one of the greatest television pilots to date.
12. JSS (Season 6, Episode 2)
The Wolves are attacking Alexandria and no one knows what to do…except for Carol. This wild ride sees the quaint community being turned into a literal battle-zone as innocent and untrained Alexandrians are slaughtered by insane assassins. This can best be described as Carol’s second defining hour, just after her attack on Terminus, as she really works her ass off to save her home from the invaders; not only is she physically capable, but she’s also wickedly clever, disguising herself as a Wolf and gunning them down in the streets. This kicks off her conflict with Morgan over morality and the sanctity of life. Jessie is given her moment to shine and let out anger as she stabs a Wolf woman to death in her kitchen. The introduction of Denise and her desperate plea to save an injured resident makes her immediately likable. The backstory of Enid that opens the episode is yet another highlight.
11. The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (Season 7, Episode 16)
The conclusion to the “March to War” story arc is brilliant because of the tying together of the various groups. After being slammed into the ground for an entire season, our heroes finally get a win as they fight to save Alexandria from falling. The Scavengers betray Rick’s crew, but the Hilltop and Kingdom come through and help to kick off “All Out War” by unleashing the wrath of Shiva. Sasha’s final sacrifice for her family is totally fitting of her character and is pretty much the best way for her story to come to an end; not only is her death badass in the sense that she is given the opportunity to become a walker and eat a Savior’s face off, but she dies to give her people a chance to reclaim their future. There’s no better way to end the season than with a touching monologue from Maggie that explains the bond of the survivors and how they got to where they are today; “Glenn made the decision, I was just following his lead.”
10. Bury Me Here (Season 7, Episode 13)
In a season filled with tragedy, the most peaceful community of them all is brought to its knees with two sudden deaths that shake things up forever and send the Kingdom down a warpath. An intricate plot by Richard leaves young Benjamin dead at the hands of “rat-faced prick” Jared; this loss flips a switch in Morgan’s head and reverts him back to “clear” mode where his mission is solely to kill enemies. Long gone are the days of his “all life is precious” mantra when he strangles Richard to death to get the Kingdom back on the good side of the Saviors. Not only is the acting truly magnificent, specifically from Lennie James and Karl Makinen, but the use of music adds to the devastating sense of dread that infects the Kingdom.
9. Clear (Season 3, Episode 12)
Considering Morgan is one of my favorite characters, it is no surprise that his first return to the series is ranked this high on the list. As Rick, Carl and Michonne head to King County to collect some weapons for the fight against Woodbury, there is a completely unexpected reunion between the two post-apocalyptic friends. There’s plenty of catching up to do as Rick learns that Duane died at some point, causing Morgan to go a bit crazy; the dialogue between Rick and Morgan is powerful and emotional. Morgan’s “I see red” monologue is quite possibly the strongest performance in the series to date with James knocking it out of the park (he should have gotten a guest-star Emmy nomination). The bond forged between Carl and Michonne is also noteworthy as it is the moment that they come to accept each other and become friends.
8. The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be (Season 7, Episode 1)
The most feared episode in television history manages to be more horrific and gruesome than anyone could have predicted. While honoring its comic origins, this torturous hour leaves the characters and viewers absolutely dead on the inside. The deaths of Abraham and Glenn at the hands of Negan and Lucille are brutal, disturbing and change the game forever; the chilling performances from the entire cast, specifically Lincoln and Cohan make this scene even more difficult to watch. The non-linear storytelling, Rick’s struggle to potentially cut off Carl’s hand, the musical score, the depressing “what could have been dinner scene” and the raw performances from the entire cast make this the most traumatizing piece of entertainment I have ever come across.
7. Here’s Not Here (Season 6, Episode 4)
Oh look…another Morgan episode! While its placement after the Glenn fake-out death is problematic, this is probably the best executed episode of the entire series, from cinematography and writing to the acting and musical score. Seeing the evolution of Morgan from his “clear” mode to a place of peace and newfound hope is truly rewarding. Eastman is the best single-episode character and John Carroll Lynch portrays him beautifully as he reveals his own dark past and subsequent path to peace. The aikido training montages are a major highlight of the episode, as are the deep conversations between Morgan and Eastman about morality and the fragility of life. Plus, who could forget Tabitha the goat?
6. Beside the Dying Fire (Season 2, Episode 13)
7 seasons in and this remains as the best finale of the bunch simply because it has a little of everything. The herd overrunning the Farm in the middle of the night allows for some epic walker slaying, as well as two minor character deaths. Hershel is forced to flee his home, but luckily reunites with his daughters later; this marks a massive change in his character as he become far most trusting of Rick. There’s the stunning reveal that everyone is infected with the zombie virus, making sense of why people were previously turning without being bit. We also get our first look at the show’s best character, Michonne, who enters the scene to save Andrea and establishes herself as a badass right off the bat. Finally, the start of the Ricktatorship and the tease of the Prison at the end help to cap off the show’s sophomore season.
5. Pretty Much Dead Already (Season 2, Episode 7)
This one still hurts all these years later. After an exhausting search for Sophia, she is finally revealed to have been in the barn as a walker. All of that energy and emotion spent searching for her comes spilling out in this jaw-dropping scene that still remains as the most shocking moment to date; this kickstarters Carol’s evolution from a meek woman into the most badass slayer of man and zombie. Shane’s outburst at the barn helps to position him for his final set of episodes; Bernthal proves himself to be the best actor on the show at the time with this stunning performance. Hershel and Rick’s back-and-forth about the group’s future on the Farm really hits a peak here and the massacre at the barn only complicates things further.
4. The Grove (Season 4, Episode 14)
This one still hurts too. What seemed like the tamest post-Prison group turns out to be the most wild and shocking as Lizzie’s rapidly deteriorating mental state comes to the forefront at a pecan farm. She’s talking to, playing with and feeding walkers, but no one wants to acknowledge the fact that she may be dangerous. That is until Lizzie stabs Mika to death, before cheerily telling Carol and Tyreese “don’t worry, she’ll come back,” having no understanding of how death and walkers work. Carol has no choice but to shoot Lizzie in the back of the head while reciting the chilling phrase, “just look at the flowers.” Things still don’t slow down as Carol reveals to Tyreese that she was the one who killed Karen and David at the Prison; his decision to forgive her is pretty much the only “happy” moment in what is otherwise the darkest episode of the series to date. The performances from the entire cast are fantastic, but this is McBride’s finest hour and she was wholly robbed of an Emmy.
3. No Sanctuary (Season 5, Episode 1)
The horror aspect is ramped up to 100% in one of the most hyped up episodes. Rick’s group find themselves trapped in a Terminus train car with no weapons or means of escaping; the opening trough scene establishes just who they are dealing with and things are not looking good. This opening scene is frightening and brutal, but makes the rest of the hour all the more rewarding as Rick and Co. get back on their feet and slaughter the evil cannibals; meanwhile, Carol goes full Rambo-mode and launches a full assault on the compound, causing people to be eaten and burned alive as she snipes and slashes her way inside. The action here is some of the best and the ending reunions help to make the group feel whole again; Morgan’s surprising return in a post-credits scene is another one of the most shocking moments in the run.
2. Too Far Gone (Season 4, Episode 8)
Ouch, this one really hurts. This is the final chapter in the show’s Prison era and what goes down here really affects everyone and everything. The Governor’s standoff at the the gates with Michonne and Hershel as hostages allows for the viewer to see the conflicting leadership styles clash for a final time; Rick tries to negotiate, but ultimately stands strong as he refuses to cower to The Governor’s tyranny. With the chilling line “liar” and the swift slash of a katana, the moral compass of Hershel is left decapitated and an epic war between the groups commences. This battle is all for naught as everything is destroyed and The Governor’s side is left decimated; Rick’s group is left splintered after the Prison becomes overrun with walkers. The final showdown between Rick and The Governor, as well as Michonne’s last minute save make this episode even more traumatizing. Hershel’s death is still a touchy subject with fans and many cite it as being the most gut-wrenching.
1. No Way Out (Season 6, Episode 9)
99 down and we’ve finally reached the greatest episode of “The Walking Dead” to date. Prior to its original airing, this episode was hyped up beyond measure and it certainly surpassed expectations. Some episodes of the show feel like a punch in the gut while others feel rewarding, but this is a mix of both. The deaths of the Anderson family reinforce the stakes of the apocalypse and give Rick some emotional devastation, but the real kicker comes when Ron shoots Carl in the eye. That reverts Rick back to the days following Lori’s death and he unleashes hell on the walkers that have invaded his home. Witnessing all of the survivors come together to hack and slash walkers and save their community is why I love this show so much; people joining hands in the name of survival isn’t always easy, but the residents of Alexandria proves that it is necessary here. The musical score, editing style and utilization of every single character in a prominent role is the reason that this number one on the list. Will the show ever top “No Way Out?” Maybe a chapter in the upcoming “All Out War” story arc will claim this title.
Do you agree with my rankings? What are you favorite and least favorite episodes of the series? Feel free to comment below with your own list. Be sure to stay tuned to the Niner Times for continuing coverage of “The Walking Dead” as it enters its 8th Season, beginning on Oct. 22.