With The Walking Dead ending its landmark run, it’s undeniable that this AMC series completely changed the television landscape. What began as what seemed like little more than a horror series became one of the biggest hits in TV history and explored every genre imaginable throughout its eleven seasons.
Every fan has their favorite episodes, but some are simply a cut above the rest. Whether they’re action-packed thrill rides, individual character studies, or heartbreaking dramas, these are the best and most unforgettable installments of the show.
Updated On November 21st, 2022 by Jordan Iacobucci:
The Walking Dead has finally closed the book on the first chapter of its shambling franchise, with the flagship series taking a final bow after eleven seasons on television. Though the franchise will continue with several exciting spinoff series revolving around fan-favorite characters, this truly is the end of an era for AMC’s post-apocalyptic world. Now that every episode of the hit zombie series has aired, fans can now look back at the definitive best episodes of the entire show.
“Days Gone Bye”
(Season 1, Episode 1)
The Walking Dead‘s first episode, “Day’s Gone Bye,” is also one of its best, introducing audiences to Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes, who wakes up from a coma several months into the zombie apocalypse, desperately searching for his missing wife and son.
“Days Gone Bye” is the most integral episode of the entire show. Being the first episode, it gives viewers an amazing insight into the world that Rick Grimes now inhabits. It also introduces Morgan and Duane. Willing to help a stranger and show him mercy, Morgan gives the audience its first sense of lasting humanity even in the apocalypse.
“18 Miles Out”
(Season 2, Episode 10)
After Rick tells Lori that he’s known about her affair with his best friend Shane, he must face Shane and make him understand that he is now a man in charge of his own family. They argue and eventually break out into a brawl, eventually pulling together once more to defend themselves from several walkers that happen upon their location.
Rick and Shane take center stage in this episode, attempting to work through their ongoing issues. Their conversation and subsequent fight reminds the audience of the bond these two men share–and just how deeply they feel for each other and for Lori.
(Season 2, Episode 12)
In the aftermath of Dale’s death, the group is broken. With the characters previously divided, everyone finally seems to be on the same page–until Shane takes matters into his own hands and attempts to kill Rick, forcing his best friend to kill I’m in order to save his own life.
One of the episode’s best scenes involves a conversation between Rick and Carl about mortality, telling him that they are all going to die and that there is no way to be prepared for it. Moreover, the episode’s final moments wherein Rick must kill Shane are tremendous. The pain that Rick feels, having to kill the man who was once his brother, is heart-wrenching to watch, but viewers realize that it was necessary.
(Season 3, Episode 4)
“The Killer Within” has become one of The Walking Dead‘s most memorable episodes of all time, featuring the deaths of two major characters. T-Dog sacrifices himself heroically after saving Carol from a group of walkers, while Lori dies giving birth to Judith, leaving Carl to put his mother down before she turns.
This episode begins with peace and tranquility, but it quickly turns devastating and deadly. Showcasing what The Walking Dead would soon come to be known for, “Killer Within” gave viewers one of the show’s most shocking series of events.
(Season 3, Episode 12)
“Clear” features the return of Morgan Jones, as Rick, Carl, and Michonne find him living alone in the city. It becomes apparent that Morgan has lost some of his faculties after the death of his son, and they are forced to leave him to his own devices rather than bring him back to their group.
Keeping with the intensity of Season 3, “Clear” hardened the alliance between Michonne and Rick. The audience sees them really come together and form a stronger team thanks to their relationship.
Moreover, the interaction between Rick and Morgan helps Rick regain his composure after Lori’s death.
“Welcome To The Tombs”
(Season 3, Episode 16)
In the Season 3 finale “Welcome To The Tombs,” the group goes on the offensive against Woodbury. Andrea is murdered and all of her efforts for peace die with her, though she makes up with Rick before passing. Finally, Carl shoots a surrendering Woodbury teenager, finally showing how affected he has become by the world he inhabits.
This episode expertly pays off the building conflict between Rick’s group and the Governor, ending the war with major casualties on both sides. Rick’s final decision to allow the remaining citizens of Woodbury to join the prison community shows his superiority over his enemy, as he was diligently working to create a new and better world.
“Too Far Gone”
(Season 4, Episode 8)
“Too Far Gone” is the amazing culmination of the Governor’s return, leading to the horrendous murder of Hershel and the destruction of the prison. Like many other impeccable episodes, The Walking Dead supplied yet another intriguing shake-up to the standards that had been set for its characters.
This assault on the prison, in which the Governor uses a tank to execute his plan, was the biggest spectacle seen on the show at that point. The villain shows fans the worst of what his world has to offer, decapitating Hershel in one of the most tragic scenes in the entire series.
(Season 4, Episode 12)
“Still” follows Daryl Dixon and Beth Greene after they manage to escape the destruction of the prison. Isolated from their friends, whom they believe to be dead, the two struggle to get along given their extremely different personalities, eventually forming a loving and hopeful bond.
One of the fan-favorite pairs that formed after the destruction of the prison was between Beth and Daryl. It was a striking juxtaposition of character types that hadn’t been depicted often in the show, adding to each character’s traits and personality. In a season as bleak and desolate as Season 4, “Still” gave viewers hope by allowing Beth to keep Daryl from slipping into primal survival mode.
(Season 4, Episode 14)
In “The Grove,” Carol and Tyreese settle in an abandoned home as they continue to care for Lizzie, Mika, and Judith. When Lizzie murders her sister, however, Carol is forced to put her down before she can kill anyone else.
Despite some inklings of hope still lingering throughout the last half of season 4, “The Grove” kept viewers from becoming too optimistic. Carol’s difficult choice in killing Lizzie juxtaposed with Tyreese finally forgiving her for murdering Karen creates a tragically complex episode that focuses on the new morality of the post-apocalyptic world.
(Season 4, Episode 16)
In “A,” the series manages to do the impossible and push its limits even further. With Rick embracing his darker, primal instincts to survive at any cost, the audience is treated to one of the most shocking kills in The Walking Dead history when Rick bites a man’s throat out. Finally, the group is reunited at the cannibal-infested Terminus, where they are imprisoned in a train car.
What sets the episode apart is the way the story is told. While seeing Rick reach his darkest moment, fans also see how Hershel pulled him out of the depths and taught him to farm. Viewers are introduced to the beginnings of farmer Rick stepping out into the light, while the present Rick burrows back into darkness in order to survive.
(Season 5, Episode 1)
In the most explosive season premiere the show has seen to date, Carol storms Terminus and helps the group massacre the evil Terminites. When Rick finds that Carol has saved them, he officially allows her to return to the group and, before leaving, makes sure to leave a sign warning that there is no sanctuary in Terminus.
With non-stop action, important character moments, and plenty of walker killing, “No Sanctuary” shaped up to be one of the best episodes in the entire series. It also firmly established Carol’s character as one of the most capable in the group, a far cry from her original personality in the first season.
(Season 5, Episode 8)
“Coda” follows Rick and his group as they attempt to free Beth and Carol from captivity in Dawn Lerner’s hospital community. Though a prisoner exchange offers hope, things take a turn when Beth tries to kill Dawn. Instinctively, Dawn shoots Beth, killing her and leading Daryl to retaliate in turn.
“Coda” is a tragic episode that ultimately sets the group back on the road in need of a place to stay. With Beth’s death, the last shred of innocence in the group is finally dead, with everyone else a hardened killer. This marked the beginning of a long and arduous journey for the show’s characters as they entered a dark phase in their story.
“Here’s Not Here”
“Here’s Not Here” took a diversion from season 6’s walker herd arc to fill in the gaps of Morgan Jones’s story. In flashbacks, Morgan comes to be trained by a mysterious loner who teaches him the value of humanity, helping him regain his faculties and strive to live a better life, even in the apocalypse.
This episode is an expertly written character study that asks if one can ever truly be redeemed for their horrific actions. With the introduction of Eastman, a one-shot character who fans will remember forever, Morgan’s story is changed, molding him into a brand-new character that has proven to be essential to the Walking Dead universe.
“No Way Out”
“No Way Out” depicts the Alexandrians trying to regain control over their community after it is infested with a walker horde. Several key characters die, including the entire Anderson family, Carl is shot in the eye, and the Saviors are seen for the very first time in this action-packed midseason premiere.
The episode pays off building tension between Alexandrians and Rick’s group, forcing them to work together in order to save their home, and it’s a memorable installment because it manages to be shocking, horrifying, and hopeful.
“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”
After the introduction of Negan in the previous episode, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” finally reveals the identity of his victims. Abraham and Glenn are brutally beaten to death before their loved ones’ eyes, leading Negan to subsequently break Rick down piece by piece until he pledges his allegiance to the Saviors.
This episode is brutal, bloody, and difficult for fans to relive, but it is also a masterclass in television horror. Every moment therein is rife with tension, as both the audience and Rick isn’t quite sure what Negan will do next. By the time the credits roll, viewers are just as broken as Rick is, unready to face the might of Negan and the Saviors.
“What Comes After”
Rick Grimes’s final episode follows the wounded post-apocalyptic protagonist as he desperately tries to make it home to his family. Though he comes within moments of being reunited with his loved ones, Rick instead makes the decision to sacrifice himself in order to keep a herd of walkers from crossing the newly built bridge leading to the Sanctuary.
This episode functions as the perfect ending for Rick’s character, even with the announced spinoff following his continued adventures. Along his journey, he sees visions of those who helped him become a true leader, causing him to make yet another sacrifice for his family and friends.
“The Calm Before”
The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead‘s ninth season depicts the long-awaited fair at the Kingdom, uniting the communities in jubilation and celebration. However, Alpha and the Whisperers ruin the events by kidnapping and killing ten characters, placing their reanimated heads on pikes at the border of her territory.
“The Calm Before” is masterfully shot, allowing the suspense to build as viewers wonder who Alpha’s victims might be. Its closing sequence reveals each victim one-by-one, as emotions reach their breaking point. However, the episode chooses to end on a note of hope, with Siddiq delivering a passionate speech about these characters’ heroic final moments.
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