Best Walking Dead Episodes, Ranked

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of The Walking Dead fans crying about the sad reality that their favorite dystopian drama is coming to an end. For 11 bloody seasons and nearly 200 episodes, we’ve journeyed through the world of walkers, meeting some interesting people along the way. Some people we love to hate, and others we hate to love. One of the impressive feats of this series (aside from spanning 11 years) is the fact that nearly every episode has a significant plot point, character interaction, or memorable moment that will play a key role in the series’ evolution. Since highlighting all of those moments would be a pretty arduous task, let’s look back at just some of the episodes that stood out from the pack.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, but be careful, there’s going to be a lot of walkers.

[Editor’s note: Major spoilers ahead!]

11. “Killer Within” Season 3 Episode 4

This episode serves us a big ol' scoop of character development for both Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the residents of Woodbury. Michonne (Danai Gurira) is tired of giving the Governor (David Morrissey) the benefit of the doubt, and confronts him about his shady behavior. Why are there bullet holes in the trucks? What really happened to the soldiers? Is this so-called protector guy really who he says he is? Of course, he manages to get out of the tense conversation, but Michonne is no fool. Andrea (Laurie Holden) on the other hand, seems to be mesmerized by the charming, heroic persona of the Governor, and isn’t exactly ready to jump ship quite yet. She also tells Merle (Michael Rooker) how to find his brother, Daryl (Norman Reedus). The ruthless Woodbury leader indulges her in some personal details over a private chat and a drink. For the first time, we learn that the Governor's real name is Philip, and that his wife died in a car accident. (We also know that he lost his daughter, though she will make a startling reappearance.)

Juxtaposed with the faux-serenity of Woodbury is the constant panic at the prison. Rick’s crew barely has a chance to celebrate the fact that Hershel (Scott Wilson) survived his nasty leg bite, as they are thrust into chaos when the prison is overcome with walkers. (The alarm sounding off certainly doesn’t help the situation.) In the midst of an escape to safety, T-Dog (Irone Singleton) is bitten by a walker. He holds on as long as he can to make sure Carol (Melissa McBride) stays safe. While Carol does get away unscathed, T-Dog gets devoured by walkers.

As Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) suddenly goes into labor, she begins to bleed heavily, leaving her and Maggie to fear that she might not survive childbirth. Lori, Carl (Chandler Riggs), and Maggie show a tremendous amount of growth this episode: Lori selflessly surrenders herself to a C-section in order to save her baby, Maggie proves that she is able to perform in high-risk situations (she performs the C-section for Lori), and most of all, Carl’s strength proves that he is ready to face the new, brutal world. Rather than leave his mother dead in the prison, he takes it upon himself to shoot her in the head to prevent her from turning. At his young age, he’s already able to make tough decisions and be a leader.

RELATED: 'The Walking Dead': The 9 Most Controversial Decisions Made By Rick Grimes

10. “Alone” Season 4 Episode 13

This episode does a splendid job of incorporating tender moments between characters without it feeling forced into the plot. It focuses on two small groups on their own journeys: one including Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), the other, Daryl and Beth (Emily Kinney). Maggie wants to follow the signs to Terminus to track down Glenn (Steven Yeun), but Sasha doesn’t want to take any more chances with exploring. In the middle of the night, Maggie leaves Bob and Sasha behind to continue her quest to Terminus, a presumed sanctuary. While Sasha, Bob, and Maggie might disagree with how to approach Terminus (Sasha rightfully thinking that they shouldn’t at all), their concern for each other outweighs everything else. Sure, at first Sasha is reluctant to follow after Maggie, but by the end of the episode, the three of them reunite, emphasizing the importance of sticking together.

Alone” also features quality time with Daryl and Beth, one of the best duos of the series. Pairing the innocent and optimistic Beth with the tough and jaded Daryl allows for plenty of character growth and genuinely sweet moments in a world where those are hard to come by. Beth proves she’s come a long way from the farm when she shows off her walker hunting skills (though she does still have a long way to go) and Daryl reveals his suppressed softer side. In a particularly lovely moment, Daryl quietly listens to Beth as she sings and plays the piano in the abandoned funeral home they are staying in. He even goes as far as encouraging her to keep singing, as he drifts to sleep in a vacant coffin. Despite having completely different outlooks on the world, the two need each other. This makes the ending of the episode, when Beth gets kidnapped and whisked away to Grady Memorial Hospital, even more brutal, as Daryl’s fear of losing someone he's grown close to becomes true. To make matters worse for Daryl, he comes face to face with The Claimers, who are seeking revenge on Rick.

9. “Clear” Season 3 Episode 12

The premise of this episode is very straightforward: Rick needs to find more guns. But rather than falling into the trap of being a “filler” episode, (as supply runs can become quite the monotonous and passive experience for the viewer), the audience is treated to some interesting surprises. As Rick, Carl, and to Carl’s frustration, Michonne, drive through a quiet area, they are interrupted by a man on the side of the road begging for help. The first surprise of the episode comes when Rick and Michonne don’t even budge in their seats. Shouldn’t Rick show some compassion for a helpless man considering he was one himself?

This brings us to surprise number two. The three of them finally arrive at a deserted strip mall that is filled with graffitied messages, barricades, and traps. As they inch closer, they are shot by a mysterious masked man. Once the man falls unconsious, Rick rips off his mask, and like the viewer, is stunned to see Morgan (Lennie James), his old friend. Perhaps feeling a bit guilty from neglecting the poor hitchhiker from earlier, Rick stays with Morgan in his home and waits for him to wake up. It’s clear that Morgan’s life since he last saw Rick has been utter mayhem. The walls of his room are filled with spray painted words (the word “clear” being one), and short statements. “Duane turned,” on the wall sticks out to Rick, as that was the name of Morgan’s son.

Aside from the surprise visit from Morgan, this episode shows that not everyone copes with trauma the same way. When he wakes up, he cannot recognize and proceeds to scream at Rick, despite the fact that Rick calmly tries to jog his memory. Morgan is so traumatized from not being able to protect his wife and son that he lashes out at—and even stabs—Rick, who he sees as a potential threat. Over the course of the episode, Rick slowly realizes the gravity of his actions up until that point. Morgan explains that Rick was his last hope, and that he trusted that he would be there on the other side of the walkie-talkie like he promised. Rick does his best to justify his absence (the signal wouldn’t reach) but Morgan struggles to accept it. To make matters worse, on the ride home, Rick sees the remains of the hitchhiker he ignored at the beginning of the episode, along with his abandoned backpack.

8. “Forget” Season 5 Episode 13

Rick and his group are finally able to breathe easy behind the sturdy walls of Alexandria as they adjust themselves to the easy living and forget all they've been through. Well, not everyone can forget. This episode is a much-need departure from what viewers are used to. Deanna Monroe, the leader of Alexandria, explains to Rick and Michonne their new roles as police officers, and tells Maggie how she can help bring political structure to the community. Carol leans into her friendly neighbor persona in the hopes of becoming “invisible.” She laughs with the other women about recipes only to whisper to Rick about the different ways they can break into the armory. The highlight of this episode is when Sam, a young boy from the community, catches Carol stealing guns. When he threatens to tell his mother that he found her, Carol keeps her composure and delivers a menacing monologue to Sam about his fate. (If he keeps quiet, she’ll bake him cookies, but if he tattles, she’ll tie him to a tree so he can be eaten alive.)

Deanna even throws a welcoming party for the new arrivals. Beer, food, flirting, and fancy clothes? Is this an episode of Riverdale or The Walking Dead? Things are too good to be true, and people seem to have forgotten about the true horror that awaits them beyond the walls. How long can this idyllic lifestyle last?

7. “Pretty Much Dead Already” Season 2 Episode 7

An appropriate alternative title for this episode is “division,” as the slow simmering resentment some of these characters have for one another finally boils over. While Hershel has been a life-saving and generous host, his naivete and stubbornness has Rick’s crew rightfully fed up. On top of that, Glenn reveals that Hershel is keeping walkers inside of the barn in the hopes that a cure for this outbreak is on the horizon. (If that were the case, this would be a really short series.) There’s also a tense exchange between Shane (what else is new) and Dale, when Shane figures out that Dale is hiding guns. (This seems to be Dale’s go-to move, as he does this with Andrea, too.)

The big reveal comes when Shane furiously rips open Hershel’s barn full of walkers. Not only is Hershel defenseless, but the crew is reunited with a member they lost long ago: Carol’s daughter, Sophia. Tragically, however, it was too late, as Sophia had turned into a walker. While Shane had been one of the group members who wanted to abandon the search for a lost Sophia episodes prior, seeing her growl and slowly creep out of the barn was a humbling moment for everyone. The episode ends with Rick doing what no one else wanted to do. He slowly approaches Sophia and shoots her in the head.

It’s important to note that a busy episode doesn’t always equal a great episode. But in this case, the audience is satisfied in several ways: the Sophia saga ends, Hershel's barn walkers are killed, and Shane’s aggressive behavior is at an all-time high, setting the stage for his startling demise just a few episodes later.

6. “Here’s Negan” Season 10 Episode 22

We all know Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) by now, right? He’s the obnoxious, foul-mouthed, bat-swinging big bad that has been tormenting and distracting Rick and his group ever since his debut in the Season 6 finale “Last Day on Earth.” Without a blink of an eye, he beat fan favorites Glenn and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) to death with his bat, Lucille. Pretty horrific stuff. But, was he always this way?

In this episode, the audience learns about Negan’s detailed backstory. In the present, he has just killed Alpha (Samantha Morton) per Carol’s request and as an attempt to prove to his foes-turned-allies that he is no longer the Negan they used to know. (He did make quite the first impression, so you can’t really blame them for giving him the cold shoulder.) In a dark and quiet cabin, Negan’s only company are his memories from his life before he became the feared and infamous figure most people know him to be. Flashback to approximately a decade prior, we learn that Negan was doing his best to care for his wife, Lucille (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s real-life wife and actress Hilarie Burton) who was dying of cancer and in desperate need of chemotherapy. Along with his travels to secure the medicine, he’s tied up and threatened by bikers, forced to kill walkers (which he has a tremendous amount of trouble doing) and confronted with his personal demons. As the episode progresses and jumps back further in time, it’s revealed that he was fired from work for anger management issues and was having an affair.

Despite these revelations, at his core, Negan was a good man. He loved his wife deeply, and continuously risked his life to make sure that Lucille’s remaining days were peaceful ones. Even when she was giving up on herself, he was always at her side, staying on top of her medicine doses, making her laugh, and singing to her. What ultimately broke him was losing her, and the fact that she killed herself when he was on a supply run. He never had the chance to say goodbye and from that point on, was tormented by his guilt. While yes, Negan didn’t seem to have the best moral code even pre-apocalypse, this episode manages to make the series’ baddest villain a very sympathetic figure who has the potential for change, which is no easy task.

5. “Coda” Season 5 Episode 6

The mid-season finale of Season 5 surely had viewers on the edge of their seat from the jump. It opens with Rick killing officer Bob Lamson from Dawn’s (Christine Woods) group, as he refuses to listen to Rick and tries to escape from his handcuffs. Over at the hospital, Beth’s good heart and compassion seems to be slowly getting through Dawn’s tough exterior, as Dawn opens up a bit about her old mentor and how, though it may be hard to believe, she still cries and gets emotional in her quiet moments. Like everyone else in this new world, Dawn is broken, and can’t survive on her own. Beth, always able to see the good in others, goes out of her way to help her captor by shoving the confrontational Officer O’Donnell down an elevator shaft. This was an especially heroic episode for Beth, and for a while it seemed like she would get out of the hospital unscathed. Fans knew something was up when she tucked away a small pair of scissors into her cast. What was Beth planning to do?

In the final minutes of the episode, Rick and Dawn meet face to face in the eerie hallway hospital for a smooth hostage exchange: Rick will hand over her officers in return for Beth and Carol. Yay, sounds great, right? Not so fast...Dawn wants Noah (Tyler James Williams) to stay with her. Rick is furious, as this was not their agreement. Nevertheless, Noah agrees to stay with Dawn so Beth (whom he bonded with during their time at the hospital) could go free. In a shocking turn of events, Beth slowly approaches Dawn, slides out her scissors and stabs her in the shoulder. This triggers Dawn to shoot Beth in the head, leaving her to collapse to the ground. A tearful Daryl then shoots Dawn in the head, and carries Beth’s lifeless body in his arms. Losing Beth also meant losing what little innocence was left in the world.

4. “JSS” Season 6 Episode 2

In this episode, the Alexandrians are forced to face the real-world when a new threat breaks through their so-called impenetrable walls. Remember Owen, that guy Morgan met with the “W'' carved into his forehead? Well, thanks to Aaron, who left behind his backpack containing picutres of Alexandria, this bloodthirsty group, collectively known as The Wolves, is able to quickly dismantle the community and submerge it in chaos.

Frankly, this was a long-overdue wake-up call for everyone. Deanna panics and admits to Maggie that she has no clue how to fight. In the midst of the madness, Enid sneaks out of the walls and leaves behind a note that reads "Just survive somehow," for Carl. Finally, Carol swaps her casserole dish for her knuckle knife and takes on The Wolves. (She even paints a “W '' in blood on her forehead to blend in and trick them into thinking she’s one of their own.) Badass Carol is back and ready to show everyone who’s boss.

3. “Days Gone Bye” Season 1 Episode 1

Crafting the first episode of a series is a daunting task. The pilot is the audience’s first impression of the characters they will be spending quality time with each week. Add to that the fact that this is an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s popular and long-running graphic novel of the same name. Sure, we love Rick Grimes on the page, but are they going to do him justice on the screen?

In “Days Gone Bye,” the viewers are trying to figure out what the bleep is going on at the same time as their protagonist, Rick Grimes. One minute, Rick is driving through an eerily desolate city, eating cheeseburgers with his fellow sheriff buddy Shane, the next minute he is roaming the halls of an empty hospital. What happened? What day is it? Where is everyone? This episode successfully teases the many threats that are to come while not overwhelming the audience with walkers right out of the gate. (Rick seeing the zombified little girl in bunny slippers remains one of the most haunting moments of the series.) We meet Morgan and his son, two characters that will have lasting impacts in the many seasons to come, whether they are on screen or not. The time jump also reveals that back at the camp, Rick's wife Lori is having an affair with Shane. Not only will Rick have to deal with walkers, but his wife and best friend's betrayal.

2. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” Season 7 Episode 1

The Season 6 finale teased what The Walking Dead fans have waited for the entire series. At long last, Negan was here and he wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. As comic book fans expected, Negan brutally bashed someone to death, but we wouldn’t know exactly who for many long months. Season 7’s premiere episode, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” does not hold back. In a series of recent flashbacks through Rick's eyes, we watch as Negan trots around the circle of bound prisoners, slinging smart-ass quips and revelling in everyone’s fear. After an unnerving round of “eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” we learn that Abrahm was who died in the previous episode. Daryl can’t hold back his fury, and punches Negan in the face. That, of course, will not fly, and to prove he means business, Negan proceeds to bash in Glenn’s skull as well.

For the entire episode, no one could predict Negan’s next move. He literally drags Rick and hurls him into a camper, only to make him fetch his ax in a foggy mass of walkers. Negan also demands that Rick chop Carl’s arm off, leaving Rick in a pool of tears. Fortunately, that’s all Negan wanted, and he doesn't make Rick mutilate his own son. But what he did make Rick do was admit that he was no longer the one in charge. It’s Negan’s world, and we’re just living in it...if we’re even that lucky.

1. “No Way Out” Season 6 Episode 9

The mid-season premiere of Season 6 is epic. Alexandria’s days are numbered as walkers swarm the community in droves. Outside the walls, Abraham, Sasha, and Daryl are stopped by a biker group, who demand they hand over their weapons so they can give them to Negan. Though they manage to escape this new threat rather quickly (Daryl blows them up), this interaction was particularly exciting, as it was the first mention of Negan in the series. Back in Alexandria, Rick does his best to lead Jessie and her sons Ron and Sam through the horde of walkers. Everything seems to be going smoothly (they are able to go undetected since they are covered in walker guts), until Sam, the boy that Carol threatened in an earlier episode, has a panic attack. Not only does he attract walkers, but he gets eaten alive just as Carol threatened. (Talk about foreshaowing!) This creates the most gruesome domino effect: Jessie gets eaten, Ron threatens Carl and Rick with a gun, and Michonne shoves her katana into Ron's back. Ron manages to pull the trigger, and shoots Carl in the eye, but thanks to help back at the infirmary, he’ll survive.

Let’s not forget about Owen. While The Wolves may no longer be a threat, he still is. He keeps Denise at gunpoint as they make their way through the walkers. Then, Owen does something that surprises both Denise and himself. Though he has a clear route to safety, he risks his life to grab Denise, who gets stuck in a group of walkers. In the process, Owen gets bitten in the arm, but the two manage to get out alive. Then, on their way to the infirmary, where Denise promises to save Owen, he sacrifices himself for her again and fights off more walkers. Unaware of his heroic behavior and potential change of heart, Carol shoots him repeatedly from a balcony. The rest of the episode is a no-holds-barred walker slash fest, as Rick’s group and the Alexandrians unite. No question about it, the second half of Season 6 was off to a bloody good start.

New episodes of the final season air Sunday nights on AMC and past seasons are available on Netflix and AMC+.

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Emily Bernard (44 Articles Published)

Emily Bernard is a NJ based Senior Feature Writer & Saturday Night Live Recap Writer for Collider and studied History and English at The University of Scranton. She's pretty darn passionate about screenwriting, playwriting, and comedy. She's a Semi-Finalist in Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival for her short screenplay and her feature screenplay is a Finalist for Best Comedy Feature Screenplay in the Houston Comedy Film Festival and a Semi-Finalist in the Big Apple Film Festival. Some of her current favorite shows include Succession, Hacks, Barry, Fargo, Killing Eve, and anything Kristen Wiig does, really. She's not totally sure how she feels about this whole "writing in the third person" thing, but it sounds more professional, so she's going to stick with it.

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