Look, the Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead left a really bad taste in our mouths, and we have to wait half a year to find out who died in the finale's cliff-hanger. But instead of taking a "what have you done for me lately?" approach to The Walking Dead and getting down on the show, let's put a positive spin on things and remember that this series can be be good! Honestly.
I've compiled a list of 10 episodes of The Walking Dead that can save any fan of the show from the distress of the troublesome finale with a simple rewatch. Like the show itself, they come with lots of range, from character-building episodes to pivotal moments in the series to flat-out brutal action full of head shots. To the list!
Season 1, Episode 1: "Days Gone Bye"
Summary: The one that started it all.
No one knew if a zombie TV show would really work, particularly on a prestige network like AMC. But the extended pilot was a spectacular episode of television as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) woke up from a coma several months into a zombie apocalypse, rather than going through the tropes of the early outbreak days. It would define the show's characteristics: we're not worried about finding a cure, we're just looking to survive the day. The episode's measured pace fit perfectly with creator Frank Darabont's style, which is ironic because that same style would drag the series down and force AMC to make major behind-the-scenes changes just over a dozen episodes later.
Season 2, Episode 7: "Pretty Much Dead Already"
Summary: The one where zombie Sofia came out of the barn.
One of the first WOW!!! episodes of the series, "Pretty Much Dead Already" elevated The Walking Dead to a new level. The image of zombie Sofia (Madison Lintz) shambling out of the barn should be forever ingrained in the mind of anyone who saw it, and proved that The Walking Dead wasn't going to treat children any differently from the adults. And talk about a downer. Hope was never the same after this. Undead kids will do that.
Season 2, Episode 10: "18 Miles Out"
Summary: Rick and Shane go on a supply run... and things get heated.
The Rick-and-Shane (Jon Bernthal) dynamic was always the best part of this show, and things boiled over as the frenemies went looking for a place to feed a dangerous captive to the undead. They found time to fight each other before zombies came along and broke it up, but this was one of the best-written episodes at the time and the best of the "human problems" Rick ever faced.
Season 2, Episode 12: "Better Angels"
Summary: Rick and Carl kill Shane... twice!
The spillover from "18 Miles Out" came quicker than we thought, and as Shane was about to end Rick, Rick turned the tables and fatally stabbed Shane in the gut. Killing a perfectly healthy human being in order to survive would become a recurring theme in the series, but the personal connection we had with the Rick-Shane dynamic made this one the biggest deaths of all. And don't forget, it was Carl (Chandler Riggs) who put on his big-boy pants and killed zombie Shane! As a side note: We really, really miss what Shane brought to the series.
Season 3, Episode 4: "Killer Within"
Summary: Hallelujah, Lori dies!
One of the series' best episodes ended the nightmare that was Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) as she died in childbirth while trying to squeeze out Judith. Carl was forced to put his mom down before she turned, and as he and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) entered the yard with no Lori, Lincoln got to act his grieving ass off and gave the Internet the best The Walking Dead meme. Despite the universal hatred for Lori, her death resonated and was powerful, even though we never got the zombie baby eating her way out of Lori's tummy. This was also the episode in which T-Dog (IronE Singleton) died. R.I.P., buddy.
Season 3, Episode 12: "Clear"
Summary: Rick, Carl, and Michonne find Morgan, and he isn't well.
This stand-alone and standout episode was a critics' favorite, even if it wasn't a fan favorite. Low on plot but heavy on character building, "Clear" showed us what happened to Morgan (Lennie James) after meeting him in the first season, and explored how the zombie apocalypse could change a man. But since Morgan was off our radar, the usual gradual-to-a-fault change that most characters went through was swapped out for a 180-degree turn as Morgan coped with off-screen tragedy. Written by future show boss Scott Gimple, this was the episode that gave him the keys to the show after Glen Mazzara's departure as showrunner.
Season 4, Episode 13: "Alone"
Summary: Beth and Daryl connect on a beer run.
We're all allowed personal favorites that not everyone else likes, and this is mine. "Alone" was spurred by a pretty silly premise: Beth (Emily Kinney) wanted to get drunk because she couldn't deal (I can relate, Beth). But what unfolded was an episode that developed both Beth and Daryl (Norman Reedus) much more than the 47 episodes before it ever could, and forged one of the better friendships in the show. We saw different shades to both characters as Daryl showed a vulnerable side and Beth showed a tougher side, and it was capped off by a symbolic burning of a cabin and a few flipped birds.
Season 4, Episode 14: "The Grove"
Summary: Carol makes a tough choice and Lizzie looks at the flowers.
Once again, children were the centerpiece of one of the series' best as young sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy) became victims of a new world order. The Walking Dead is very effective when it shows, not tells, just how different the rules are for living in a zombie-filled existence, and Carol (Melissa McBride) made the tough decision to kill Lizzie after her mind had been warped beyond repair. This was a crucial part of Carol's evolution, which would become the best character transformation the series ever gave us (until it was ruined in Season 6). Has any other episode touched the emotional power of "The Grove"?
Season 5, Episode 1: "No Sanctuary"
Summary: Everything is CRAZY in Terminus.
Sometimes action is all we want from this show, and "No Sanctuary" was absolutely bonkers. Rick and pals were nearly slaughtered like cattle when a rejuvenated Carol went Rambo and provided the distraction to turn the tide. After that, it was a hail of gunfire as Terminus residents and zombies were slaughtered. The series has never been this intense for this long. And the thwacks of the baseball bats finishing people off over the trough still echoes in my head.
Season 6, Episode 9: "No Way Out"
Summary: Rick solves the zombie horde problem by killing them all by hand
If you're looking for an episode with shocking moments, "No Way Out" was it. In the span of a few minutes, three annoying characters were killed and Carl got his eye shot out. Then Rick went nutso on the horde of zombies and his flock followed. Daryl broke out his RPG, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) unleashed their automatic rifles, and even Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) got into the fray. For an hour, The Walking Dead just went for it, and it was damned entertaining.
What episodes of The Walking Dead were your favorites?