Warning: contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead seasons 1-7.
The world of The Walking Dead is a cruel one. That’s the lesson its showrunners have impressed upon viewers time and again through seven seasons of Walker attacks, bloody beheadings, surprise crossbow bolts to the brain, tiger attacks and bludgeonings by psychopaths wielding barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bats.
That’s why you won’t find much fun in the selection below. The Walking Dead isn’t really a birthday-parties-and-puppies kind of place; it’s more a viscera-and-machine gun sort of deal.
Bear that in mind as you join us on this tour of the show’s twenty-one most memorable moments so far…
21. Meet Shiva (season 7, episode 2 The Well and season 7 episode 13 Bury Me Here)
One of the best aspects of the seventh season of The Walking Dead is Shiva, the pet tiger of King Ezekiel. Any time you’re going to get “pet tiger” and “King Whoever” in the same sentence, you’re looking at the potential for comedy gold (and also mayhem, because that tiger’s going to maul someone sooner or later). Whenever Shiva is on screen, something funny is going to happen.
Take, for instance, Carol. No-nonsense Carol, who can be a soccer mom or a commando. She can love up the neighbour kids, she can make them look at the flowers, or she can teach them to be knife-wielding zombie slayers. Or some combination of the three. But, introduce Carol to a tiger on a chain? Yeah, even Carol can’t deadpan her way through that. Rick’s group comes wandering in without a warning to meet the King? Yeah, that’s a reaction shot that will stick with viewers for quite some time.
It’s not all that often that The Walking Dead allows itself to be funny, but when it does, it really works. See also Nabila, the terrified member of the Kingdom who says that Shiva literally took her to Pee Pee Pants City.
20. Tainted Meat (season 5, episode 3 Four Walls And A Roof)
As explained by Rick in the aftermath of the first season’s adventure in the CDC, everyone in the Walking Dead universe is already infected by the zombie reanimation virus. Die from the flu, and you come back as a walker, as we saw during the prison years. Bitten by a zombie, and you definitely come back as a walker, assuming the wound isn’t taken care of promptly. The show hasn’t really exploited this aspect of the infection all that much, but zombie bites are basically a death sentence.
Whether Bob’s bite was going to kill him or not didn’t really matter. It’s a safe assumption that, given how dirty the human mouth is, whatever bite he got would become infected pretty quickly in an environment with no real medical care to speak of. Bob is already looking a little sickly before Gareth and the former Terminus cannibals take a knife to him and roast up a nice leg of man.
Given that Bob’s already ensured death before he’s captured by cannibals, it’s nice that he’s given a chance to really rub cannibal noses into it by yelling, “Tainted meat!” at the retching, vomiting cannibals. I personally like to think that Tainted Bob is what caused their demise, because they were too weak and confused from hunger to see they were falling into Rick’s trap at the church.
19. Glenn’s “death” (season 6 episode 3 Thank You)
Glenn, trapped on a dumpster, is faced with a choice. All around him are ravenous zombies. On the dumpster with him is a suicidal coward by the name of Nicholas. Nicholas wants to take the easy way out and does so, putting a bullet into his head and toppling towards the zombie crowd below. Glenn grabs him, trying to keep him from becoming dinner and gets dragged down with him.
In the show’s view, Glenn survived this incident by hiding under Nicholas’s body and then dragging himself under the tallest dumpster ever made. Of course, it took the show a few weeks to get around to revealing that Glenn survived, and by that time, the viewing audience had already taken to Twitter, Tumblr, and online forums, sobbing with grief or raging with anger, depending on whether or not they wanted to believe.
Schrodinger’s Glenn was a huge talking point, and whether you liked it or didn’t, the “death scene” was gripping and gory and tragic. It was everything you want a good Walking Dead death to be, only without the finality. Don’t worry; Glenn didn’t get to enjoy not being dead much longer.
18. Glenn and Abraham (season 7 episode 1 The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be)
Did you like the introduction of Lucille? Did you loathe the introduction of Lucille? Whether you loved it or you hated it, the vampire bat was introduced to great effect. In a show where brutality and bloodshed happen every week, it takes something special to really make jaded viewers respond. And they did, to record ratings and reams upon reams of passionate responses.
All feelings about what happened pushed aside, can you think of a more shocking moment to appear on television? Not one character, but two, brutally beaten to death in graphic detail. Sure, it pushes it almost to the point of comedy (if not past it in my opinion), but it’s an image that will stick with the viewer. It was a coming-out party for Negan, and a reminder that the threats of this world grow more and more heightened with every passing week, as the weaker survivors die off and the strong, dangerous sort carry on, remaking the world in their blood-soaked image.
This is the moment in which we all truly became Negan. Glenn’s death might not have had the poignancy that it would have had before the dumpster event, but Abraham’s noble, stoic, ‘suck my nuts’ death was an incredible moment for the show.
17. The Horde (season 2 episode 1 What Lies Ahead)
There were large groups of zombies on The Walking Dead before. After all, Rick rides a horse into zombie-infested Atlanta in pursuit of his family and then has the horse eaten out from under him. Still, he had something to crawl into to hide himself, and he was later saved from his ironclad tomb thanks to the aid of Glenn. However, it’s the first episode of the second season that gives Rick and the group a look at the true scope of the zombie apocalypse.
Stuck in traffic, rummaging through cars, looking for food while working on Dale’s RV, the group is mostly just hanging out and chatting amongst themselves. It’s not until Rick and Dale spot the oncoming zombie horde that things get troublesome. Rick and the group aren’t able to fight off these zombies, like they do in later seasons; the only recourse the group has is to hit the ground and hide, hoping against hope that the mass of moving dead will shamble on past them without tearing them to shreds.
These days, there’s no threat that Rick and his group have to actually take seriously; they did guide a thousand or so walkers out of a quarry using sheet metal walls and fireworks, and later on Rick and the Alexandrians just walk through the horde in kill-circles, leaving piles of bodies in their wake without much effort. However, back then, sometimes the better option was to hide from the horde, rather than wade out into it with guns blazing. Combat is more exciting, but hiding is a real test of the nerves.
16. The bar scene (season 2, episode 8 Nebraska)
Taking a page out of the book of Walter Hill, Nebraska ends with a good old-fashioned show-down, like in the Old West. The bad guys, a pair of thugs, drop in on Hershel while he drinks away his troubles at the local bar. Hershel’s farm has essentially been taken over by Rick, his walker family members have been slaughtered, and Hershel’s world is in a serious state of flux. Hence, drinking, and hence, Rick and Glenn are sent to go bring him back. They meet two other survivors there.
The episode is something of a turning point for The Walking Dead. No longer are the shambling corpses the major threat to the group; as we saw not long before this, they can dispose of large groups of walkers without much trouble, so long as they keep reloading. This is the first time we see humans as a major threat. Sure, there were the Vatos, but they were other good people struggling to survive. Dave and Tony, who escaped Philadelphia and rain on Rick’s plan to head to Fort Benning, are throwing their weight around to try and find their way to Hershel’s farm. A quick draw demonstration and a couple of slugs from Rick put that to a stop.
In a flash, Officer Friendly begins his metamorphosis into a cold-blooded killer, willing to shoot others when he has to to ensure the survival of his friends. All it took was one well-shot gunfight to turn a slow-burning fuse into an explosion of violence.
15. Rick wakes up (season 1, episode 1 Pilot)
The first season of The Walking Dead is full of iconic moments. There’s a reason why the show has carried on for seven years plus, and why it shows no sign of really slowing down in spite of the show’s behind-the-scenes drama. Multiple show-runners, entire writing staff changes, characters adding and leaving the show, and all the while, AMC’s zombie drama keeps right on chugging along thanks to the audience cultivated in the show’s opening moments.
Rick Grimes wakes up in an abandoned hospital. He falls out of bed, disconnects himself from the various lines and machines that kept him alive during his comatose state, staggers weakly to his feet, and begins to explore the world around him. It’s clear immediately that everything has changed. Dried blood on the walls. Garbage all over the formerly pristine hospital floor. And at the end of the hallway, chained and barricaded, a door with a spray-painted warning: “DONT OPEN DEAD INSIDE.”
The image remains terrifying, even now. And that’s before the cracked, ghastly fingers of the trapped corpses inside begin reaching through the cracks in the door in search of fresh meat.
14. Simon and Gregory (season 7, episode 5 Go Getters and season 7, episode 14 The Other Side)
Steven Ogg has been one of the best actors on the seventh season of The Walking Dead. Simon is just a delight. A dangerous, threatening, hilarious delight. And Gregory, well… if there’s ever been a fictional character with a more punchable face than Xander Berkeley when he’s sitting behind that big desk at Hilltop, I’m hard-pressed to think of one. Every interaction between the two characters has been, for me, one of the better moments of every episode they appear together in.
Simon is what I wished Negan was. He’s charming, but in a completely phony way that makes his threatening somehow more ominous. It’s an act, and it’s blatantly an act, and it only works to further intimidate Gregory, who is a spineless little weasel who is willing to throw his entire town under the bus to save his own skin for longer than a few minutes. He can’t even kill a zombie without throwing up; a pregnant, sick woman who has been working out in the hot sun has to come to his rescue.
Gregory’s going to end up on the wrong side of the Saviors, sooner rather than later. Even Simon doesn’t seem to tolerate suck-ups, as gratifying as it might be to have someone dust off their best tequila and gin every time you visit. Simon’s going to end up on the wrong side of Rick, and that’s going to be gratifying, as well. I can only hope that Simon gets a death as awesome as the character deserves, because like most of the Saviors, he’s more than just a simple thug. He’s entertaining, and more nuanced than most of the show’s so-called “good guys”.
13. Daryl and the RPG-7 (season 6, episode 9 No Way Out)
Short and sweet, the opening of No Way Out saw Daryl, Sasha and Abraham threatened by a group of Negan’s Saviors looking to find out the location of Alexandria.
“Usually, we introduce ourselves just by popping one of you off the bat” jeers their spokesman (a nifty bit of Lucille-related foreshadowing there). Before they get the chance though, Daryl Dixon saves the day by obliterating the motorcycle gang in a burst of flames courtesy of a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
It’s one of The Walking Dead’s rare wins for Rick’s team, and ultimately a short-lived one that provokes Negan’s murderous ire, but in terms of impact and surprise, it’s hard to beat. The glorious sight of Daryl emerging from behind the truck with a smoking RPG on his shoulder is right up there with that time he lobbed a grenade down the turret of the Governor’s M60 Patton tank.
12. Morgan’s monologue (season 3, episode 12 Clear)
From literal pyrotechnics to acting pyrotechnics. Written by Scott Gimple before he became The Walking Dead showrunner, Clear is a stunning TV episode. It’s tense as all get out and packed with meaningful character development for Rick, Carl and Michonne, but the star turn is undeniably Lennie James as a traumatised, grieving Morgan.
James’ central monologue, in which he recognises Rick as the man he and his son Dwayne met back in the season 1 pilot and relates the awful story of Dwayne’s death at the hands of his Walker mother, is powerfully performed. It’s no coincidence that James is a respected Shakespearean actor here in the UK; he brings intensity and emotion to this scene worthy of any stage tragedy.
Gimple wrote the episode with the plan of bringing James’ character back, one that came to fruition properly in season six.
11. The camp attack (season 1 episode 4, Vatos)
Ed Peletier, Carol’s abusive husband, meets a deserving end in the Walker attack on the group’s season one camp, but that isn’t the only reason it’s among the show’s top moments. It’s also because it establishes a pattern for so much that follows.
It’s the first time of many that the group’s fragile peace is shattered by the arrival of the undead. Everyone has a full belly from Andrea and Amy’s fishing haul, Carol has taken Sophia from Ed’s clutches and Ed has been punished by Shane… Things are, momentarily, looking up – always a dangerous time on this show. Duly, the horde enters, bringing with it death and chaos.
This is also the first time we see the group properly coalesce against a Walker herd, with ex-pizza delivery boy Glenn for one, stepping up his game following the successful provisions run to Atlanta. Finally, this is also the first time that an innocent regular character—Amy—dies unjustly in a surprise attack, now an established move for The Walking Dead. Good or bad, it proves that everybody who doesn’t get away fast enough in this show is Walker meat.
10. Michonne vs The Governor (season 3, episode 8, Made To Suffer)
A reckoning was always on the cards between Michonne and the Governor, and this is part one. (Part two is him being skewered like a kebab on the blade of her Katana). Always sceptical about what was at the heart of Woodbury, Michonne here discovers the Governor’s creepy secret and leaves her mark on the man.
This close-quarters scrap is key to the Governor’s origin story. It leaves him with the iconic eye-patch and a blistering desire for revenge on Michonne and the prison group. It’s also, if you’ll excuse the pun, a blinder of a fight where every head-smash and impact is really felt. The scene’s shifts in tone from Michonne’s gentle encouragement of the Governor’s daughter, to her revulsion at discovering she’s a Walker, to his arrival and the final stand-off with Andrea, are tense, dramatic and have real ramifications down the line.
9. Dale buys the farm (season 2, episode 11, Judge, Jury And Executioner)
There are no big speeches in this scene, just a lot of characters dumbstruck by pain. It’s one of the first truly emotional death scenes in the show (needless to say though, not the last).
Dale’s surprise death is one of The Walking Dead’s many reminders that life, especially in this new world, isn’t fair. A good, wise man who’d proved something of a father figure to the group has his belly torn apart by a monster and nobody can do anything about it.
Character-wise, the almost silent scene in which Rick is unable to put Dale out of his suffering and Daryl wordlessly steps in to do the job also cements the fraternal nature of their growing relationship. The mournful ending, with just two words from Daryl, “sorry, brother”, followed by a cut to black sum up the group’s loss here.
8. Rick’s campfire speech (season 2, episode 16, Beside The Dying Fire)
Rick plus campfire equals emotional speech; that’s one of the rules of The Walking Dead. In season five’s Them, when the group has all but lost hope following the deaths of Tyreese and Beth, Andrew Lincoln delivers a monologue on the need to resign themselves to the fact that they are the walking dead and that their chance at life only comes after they’ve done what’s necessary. It’s said quietly in a reflective scene that sees everyone questioning their situation.
This season two finale speech finds the group in a similarly unsettled mood but has an entirely different tone. Rick’s suitability as a leader is under question following Shane’s death and the chaos after the horde invasion at the farm. Rick’s patience, it’s fair to say, has been exhausted. He stalks aggressively around the camp, spitting mad at the dissent in the ranks. “You can do better, let’s see how far you get” he snarls before delivering the line of the episode: “Get one thing straight. You’re staying? This isn’t a democracy anymore”. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Rickocracy.
That teasing glimpse of the prison over the treetops cements this status as one of the show’s most thrilling moments.
7. Carol kills Lizzie (season 4, episode 14, The Grove)
If adults in The Walking Dead have a tough time hanging on to their sanity, it’s little wonder that the kids growing up in this world of cut-throat violence and nightmares also struggle.
No-one struggled like season four’s Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino), the little girl who saw the Walkers as harmless friends. It was Lizzie luring Walkers to the prison fence with rat-bait, and Lizzie who turned a splayed-open dead rabbit into a piece of wall art that would give even the Blair Witch shivers. It was also Lizzie who stabbed her little sister to death and was seconds from doing the same to baby Judith, in her belief that both would come back, just a little different.
There was no place for Lizzie in this new world, forcing Carol into the heart-breaking act of mercy-killing her surrogate daughter. “I love you Lizzie, and everything works out the way it’s supposed to”, she lies comfortingly here. “Just look at the flowers, Lizzie. Just look at the flowers”.
6. Sophia comes out of the barn (season 2, episode 7, Pretty Much Dead Already)
Season two’s hunt for Carol’s missing daughter Sophia climaxes in a highly emotional scene when it’s discovered that she’s been at the farm with them the whole time. After a volley of gunshots as the group picks off the Walkers spilling out of the farm building, there’s a pause before a pair of children’s sneakers appears at the barn door. It’s Sophia, now a snarling, snapping Walker.
When the realisation hits the assembled shooters, it’s not just Carol who breaks, but everyone. Shane, whose rant opened up the barn in the first place, simply hangs his head. Daryl catches a screaming Carol and keeps her away from her daughter. Carl and Lori collapse too. Only Rick musters the strength to do what’s necessary and put Sophia out of her undead misery. In a wide shot, he shoots, the Sophia-Walker falls and everyone weeps as the camera sweeps over a litter of undead corpses.
5. Lori gives birth (season 4, episode 3, Isolation)
If Maggie makes it through the season seven premiere and all the way to giving birth, this scene is bound to come back to traumatise her. Walkers are roaming the prison—welcomed in by a prisoner with a score to settle with Rick—and Lori goes into labour. Bleeding profusely, Lori knows she’s not long for this world, so begs Maggie to perform an emergency caesarean section using Carl’s hunting knife.
That’s not even the horrific part. However much Maggie is shaken by cutting open the womb of her friend sans anaesthetic, it’s nothing compared to what Carl experiences watching his mother die as his baby sister is wrenched from her insides. And then he has to put a bullet in Lori’s brain to stop her from coming back and eating them all.
Lori’s death scene is high on emotions, blood and horror. Poor dead Lori, poor little dead-eyed Carl, poor motherless Lil Ass-kicker, and once he realises what’s happened, poor, poor Rick.
4. The Governor vs The Prison #2 (season 4, episode 8, Too Far Gone)
The Governor’s first prison attack in season 3, episode 10, was child’s play compared to this stunt, which leaves the prison in ruins, everybody scattered to the four winds and David Morrissey’s character dead in the dirt (alongside his customised chess piece for added symbolism).
It’s full of memorable moments – Daryl vs the tank is one, Lizzie and Mika saving Tyreese’s life is another, Michonne piercing the Governor with her sword is yet another…, but the most memorable has to be the death of Hershel Greene.
Echoing Dale’s unfair demise in series two, Hershel’s beheading here is cruel and unforgettable. A wise man who preached morals, caution and hope, the loss of Scott Wilson’s character took its toll on the whole group, not least his daughters and Rick, whom he’d helped back from the brink after Lori’s death.
3. Shane is killed. Twice. (season 2, episode 12, Better Angels)
The farm proved not to be big enough for two of The Walking Dead’s alpha males, Rick and Shane. Stellar performances by Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal anchor this eventful scene in which Rick is forced to kill his former partner.
Mistrust and hostility had grown between the pair since Rick made his own return from the dead by coming out of his coma, and this is where it all comes to a head. A deeply unstable Shane, whose affair with Lori left him thinking he was the father of her baby, lures Rick away from the group, planning to shoot him.
“I’m a better father than you, Rick” Shane cries, “You got a broken woman, you got a weak boy”. Before Shane can pull the trigger though, Rick gets in first with his knife. And then to increase the tension, Shane is resurrected and Carl shows up with a gun in his hand… Unforgettable.
2. Rick turns savage (season 4, episode 16, A)
This entire scene is horrible, from the rape threats against Carl and Michonne to the sight of Rick at his least human and most desperate. It’s also one of The Walking Dead’s most memorable season climaxes.
In the show’s characteristic style, Rick and Michonne’s cosy campfire is interrupted by the gang Rick had escaped from episodes earlier by garrotting one of their members. Seeking retribution, the gang leader threatens the following course of events: “First we’re going to beat Daryl to death, then we’ll have the girl, then the boy, then I’m going to shoot you and then we’ll be square.”
That’s not what happens. Instead, Rick uses the only weapon left—his teeth—to take a chunk of flesh out of the gang leader’s throat. To protect his son and friends, Rick turns feral, giving Daryl and Michonne a chance to get the upper hand on their attackers. But Rick doesn’t stop there, going on to disembowel the slavering redneck who was pinning down Carl and laughing while unbuckling his belt. Deserved? Probably. Healthy? God no. This moment signalled the emergence of a new, much more dangerous Rick Grimes. They’re screwing with the wrong people indeed.
1. Carol turns Rambo (season 5, episode 1, No Sanctuary)
Speaking of screwing with the wrong people, the gradual transformation of Melissa McBride’s timid, beaten housewife into a one-woman killing machine wearing a poncho covered in undead guts has to be The Walking Dead’s most satisfying character moment. Carol was good when she flung off her floral disguise in Alexandria and set about dispatching Wolves, but Terminus was her triumph.
Banished from the group after killing Karen and David, Carol earns her way back here by taking on the cannibals holding Rick and co. prisoner and allowing them to escape. Piercing a propane tank and using signal fireworks to cause an explosion, she infiltrates the compound, killing who she can and distracting the group’s jailers.
Daryl’s reaction and Rick’s gratitude when he realises Carol was their saviour (and sees Judith safe in Tyreese’s arms after believing her dead) is an emotional high, but nothing is more exhilarating than Carol-as-Rambo.
This article has been updated from the original post in September 2016.
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