This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Walking Dead Universe Special Collector’s Issue, which is available for international pre-order online at TheWalkingDeadMag.com and is available nationwide on newsstands now.
What better way to celebrate the upcoming 11th and final season of The Walking Dead than by taking a look at what led to where we are? Below, we take a look at the best episodes of the AMC drama, including heartbreaking deaths and where it all began.
10. “Clear” (Season 3, Episode 12)
Before aikido stick–wielding survivor Morgan Jones (Lennie James) showed up in Alexandria, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) stumbled upon his old friend (they met in the pilot)—and found him writing on walls, obsessed with “clearing” the dead, his mental state in shambles after the death of his son. James turns in a moving performance as a father consumed by grief, and the growing bond between Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) in the episode’s other plotline provides levity.
9. “No Way Out” (Season 6, Episode 9)
If only scared Sam Anderson (Major Dodson) had kept his mouth shut! In one of the show’s most pulse-pounding hours, Alexandria is overrun by a massive horde that kills the kid when they hear him whimper. His vengeful brother Ron (Austin Abrams) blames Rick and attempts to shoot him…but instead hits Carl in the eye. “No Way Out” adapts some of the scenes from Robert Kirkman’s comic books with aplomb, most notably Rick’s son Carl’s chilling realization that he’d been shot in the face (“Dad?”) before he collapses.
8. “The Calm Before” (Season 9, Episode 15)
The Walking Dead has had plenty of scenes that left us with pits of dread in our stomachs, but the heads-on-pikes moment in “The Calm Before” stands out. Bringing to life villainous Alpha’s (Samantha Morton) most brutal moment from the comics, this hour features the deaths of 10 characters, including both longtime survivor Tara Chambler (Alanna Masterson) and Carol Peletier’s (Melissa McBride) adoptive son, Henry (Matt Lintz). Especially notable is composer Bear McCreary’s haunting score as Carol and Co. stumble upon the zombified heads of their friends and family.
7. “Here’s Negan” (Season 10, Episode 22)
How did fan-favorite antagonist turned antihero Negan Smith (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) become a man who murdered people with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire? “Here’s Negan” answers that question. Morgan and real-life wife Hilarie Burton are a flawless onscreen pairing as Negan and his beloved, cancer-stricken spouse Lucille—making Negan’s agony at her death all the more palpable, and his transition from caring husband to killer chillingly believable.
6. “Too Far Gone” (Season 4, Episode 8)
The psychopathic Governor (David Morrissey) wasn’t done with Rick after Woodbury’s destruction—and in this Season 4 nail-biter, he returns for an all-out assault on Rick’s sanctuary at the prison. “Too Far Gone” features one of the show’s most jaw-dropping deaths: the Governor’s decapitation of kindhearted veterinarian Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), and both Morrissey and Lincoln give fantastic performances.
5. “Pretty Much Dead Already” (Season 2, Episode 7)
Gun in hand, Rick’s former best friend, Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), let loose the walkers locked up in Hershel’s barn with the intent to kill them all. The group’s search for Carol’s missing daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz) then ends in tragedy as the child comes stumbling out the door as a zombie, leading Rick to take her out with a bullet. It’s an utterly startling, game-changing moment, as The Walking Dead proved it would not spare the innocent or the young in its survivors’ search for safety.
4. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (Season 7, Episode 1)
Undoubtedly the show’s goriest installment, “Day” adapts one of the comic’s biggest heartbreakers. In retribution for attacking a Saviors outpost, Negan lines up members of Rick’s group and kills Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) by bashing his head in with “Lucille,” the aforementioned bat he named after his late wife—and then takes out Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) in the same manner. It’s an episode that’s shocking, and disturbing, and it sets the table for the groups’ war in an unforgettable fashion.
3. “No Sanctuary” (Season 5, Episode 1)
In Season 5’s adrenaline-soaked premiere, it falls to exiled Carol to save the group from getting killed and grilled as she breaks into the Terminus compound and takes down many of its cannibalistic inhabitants. Rick and the group then undertake a gripping battle to escape. “No Sanctuary” demonstrates just how far formerly meek Carol has come since her Season 1 days—and makes it clear that she is one of the group’s strongest.
2. “The Grove” (Season 4, Episode 14)
Carol’s tragedies involving children continue as her adoptive daughter Lizzie Samuels (Brighton Sharbino) murders her own sister in a twisted attempt to prove the dead are still human. Recognizing the danger Lizzie poses, Carol puts her down, telling her to “look at the flowers” before shooting her in the back of the head. McBride’s performance is heartbreaking and masterful, and “The Grove” is Dead at its most powerful.
1. “Days Gone Bye” (Season 1, Episode 1)
More than a decade after it first aired, the series’ pilot still inspires us to go on a journey with upstanding lawman Rick. From the moment he wakes from a coma in the hospital to find the whole world has changed to his mercy killing of the “Bicycle Girl” walker, it’s clear that The Walking Dead is unique. In its first hour, it creates a postapocalyptic universe unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Do you agree with our ranking? Which episode is your pick for the best ever? Sound off in the poll and comments below.
The Walking Dead, Season 11 Premiere, Sunday, August 22, 9/8c, AMC