When The Walking Dead premiered back in 2010, it’s safe to say that no one saw it being anything more than a one season horror series. It had a cast of actors that were barely known to the average television audience member and it looked to have a pretty small budget. The show came from a comic series of the same name created by Robert Kirkman. The story followed sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes as he awakens from a coma in the midst of the zombie apocalypse and has to adapt quickly in order to survive and relocate his family and friends. Television network AMC took a chance on this small zombie show, premiering it on Halloween night.
Fast forward to 2018, the year in which the ninth season of The Walking Dead is set to premiere and the show has become a global hit, with die-hard fans swarming every convention and event that has to do with the cast and creators of the show. Celebrities even follow the show and get as excited about the next episode as any other fan. The actors have become more popular than they could’ve ever imagined when they began this journey years ago. The show has reached so many viewers with its emotional story and sudden character deaths that kept everyone guessing. As we prepare for season nine and the departure of our main character Rick Grimes, let’s take a look back at the top 10 episodes that made this series what it has become. I’ll try to not spoil everything, but there’s some things that I’m going to have to talk about!
10. The Grove – This was a unique episode in the second half of season four that had some of the most gut-wrenching moments of the series up to that point. The group of survivors is scattered and sent in different directions. Carol and Tyreese, along with baby Judith Grimes and two young sisters Lizzie and Mika, come across an untouched house in the middle of the woods. They take refuge there and begin to make themselves at home, finding that the property is filled with vegetation and pecans. Although they are safe from outside threats, one of the young girls begins to display violent behavior that leads to an ending that shocked fans and broke our hearts. This episode has become famous for a line that Carol hauntingly says: “Look at the flowers.”
9. JSS – The title of this episode stands for Just Survive Somehow, a character’s motto in life that we learn about throughout the episode. This is the second episode of season six and it surprised fans with a fast-paced, violent and unexpected fight scene. After the group enacts a plan to lure walkers (zombies) away from their new home Alexandria, a surprise attack on Alexandria occurs while most of the known fighters are away helping with the walker issue. This episode gave some smaller characters a chance to shine while once again proving how badass Carol and Morgan are in close combat. The attackers, known as the Wolves, prove to be a formidable opponent for our survivors.
8. Four Walls and a Roof – The first half of season five had a few episodes that, even to this day, have been some of the goriest and brutal of the series. In the third episode of the season, Rick and the group are being hunted by a group of crazed cannibals after escaping their compound with the help of Carol. After one of their own is captured and mortally wounded, Rick’s dark side comes out and brings out a fury in the rest of his group that concludes in a bloody end to the cannibals in a small church in the middle of the woods. Up until this point, fans had only seen glimpses of how violent Rick could be. This episode was the boiling point of all the loss and pain the group experienced and their leader finally saying that enough is enough.
7. Killer Within – Season three had our group living in an old prison and slowly clearing out the dead in order to make it their own. In episode four, Rick is dealt the biggest blow of the series up to that point when his pregnant wife, Lori, doesn’t survive childbirth. The episode ends with his son Carl and Maggie holding a newborn baby and Rick putting together that Lori didn’t make it. He collapses to the ground as a broken man unable to stop the pain. This is the first time we get to see Rick as a human man and not as a badass walker killer. The death of Lori creates a psychological issue for Rick in the episodes following as he copes with the loss in a strange and unhealthy way.
6. No Sanctuary – The first episode of season five begins with Rick and his group trapped in a railroad car after being tricked by a group of friendly cannibals. Led by a strange man named Gareth, our group is herded like cattle into a slaughterhouse and seconds away from being turned into dinner when Carol, channeling her inner Rambo, single-handedly frees them from captivity and helps the group destroy Terminus, the location that was promised to be a safe haven. This episode is insane and seeing the group fight together with whatever weapons they can find is truly what this show is all about. And although the group does well, it’s Carol that steals the show and solidifies herself as a fan favorite character.
5. No Way Out – This show knows how to make a season premiere (and mid-season premiere) worth the wait. With season six, episode nine, Alexandria has been breached by walkers and the entire community is stuck among them. Every character has their moment to shine in this massive episode. This episode brings a very popular storyline from the comics to life in an almost perfect recreation. There are explosions, betrayal, death, a little humor and Carl fulfills his comic destiny and loses his eye. And after being alerted to his presence in the post-credits scene of episode eight, Negan is finally acknowledged in the show. After waiting all winter for the show to return, this episode made fans lose their damn minds with all that it brought to the story.
4. Too Far Gone – Another episode that heavily calls back to the comics, episode eight of season four closes a few major story points and opens just as many. The prison is under attack by The Governor, one of Rick’s arch enemies throughout seasons three and four. He has Michonne and Hershel hostage and is giving Rick a chance to give up the prison. In one of the best speeches Rick has given, he pleads with the Governor to see that they can live together at the prison and they can still come back from all the bad things they’ve done. The Governor chooses to kill Hershel and demolish the prison and whoever gets in the way, leading up to the clash between Rick and the Governor that fans have always wanted. The episode ends with the group being spun off in different directions, not knowing who survived the attack.
3. Days Gone Bye – The first episode of a series can either make or break the future of it. The first episode of The Walking Dead was directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), premiered on Halloween night, and felt like an actual feature film. The episode beautifully captures the story of the first issue of the comic and sets up the premise of the show. You’re introduced to Rick Grimes, Morgan and his son Duane, and the city of Atlanta. There are shots in this episode that still amaze me. Whenever someone asks me why I like this show and why I still watch it all these years later, I tell them that this episode on its premiere night was all it took to make me want more.
2. Pretty Much Dead Already – Season two was a bit of a rough season for this show. It took place on a farm and didn’t really stray too far from it. The first half of the season was pretty straightforward, that is, until you reach episode seven. The group ends up on this farm because someone gets injured while searching for Carol’s daughter, Sophia. It just so happens that the person that causes this injury lives on a farm with Hershel, a doctor. We get to know Hershel and his family, including daughters Maggie and Beth, and they seem incredibly normal. Hershel shares knowledge with Rick throughout the episode, but something just isn’t right. What unfolds in this episode leading up to the last few seconds is what caused me to lose sleep over a television show for the first time ever. If you watch the first season and still aren’t sure if you like it, make it to this episode and you’ll make up your mind pretty quickly. I know what happens and I still watch this particular episode and relive the stress and shock again.
1. The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be – And now we come to season seven’s first episode. The episode that answers the question “Who’s Negan?” and makes you want to throw up and cry simultaneously. After the biggest cliffhanger the show has ever attempted with the season six finale, fans were left praying that this episode would be worth the wait. Not only did the show writers not disappoint, they surprised us in the worst possible way. This is the most talked about episode in the series for so many reasons. It’s so disgustingly violent, painfully depressing, and just plain upsetting to watch. To put it lightly, the cast of the show isn’t the same after this episode in more ways than one. We see what happens when you mess with Negan and the Saviors and we see the breaking of the man that’s been our fearless leader for so many years. This is the most traumatic episode of television I’ve ever seen and also the most well-crafted hour of television I’ve ever seen. With a character like Negan, who is made to be Rick’s greatest challenge, this episode does its job of making the audience absolutely hate Negan.
The Walking Dead season nine premieres October 7 at 9/8c on AMC.