12 years, 11 seasons, 177 episodes and 'The Walking Dead' has finally come to an end. Yes there are still several spin offs still running with several more in the pipeline but the main story of a group of survivors led by Rick Grimes trying to make their way through a world overrun by zombies (or should I say Walkers) is now over. At the height of its popularity it pulled in 17.29 million viewers in America but many felt the show overstayed its welcome and the death of some fan favourite characters amongst other reasons led to a significant decline in viewership. There is no arguing that the storylines were quite repetitive with plot holes galore but the thing that always drew people back to the show (well myself anyway) was the characters. So much time had been invested in their journey that you wanted to see if and how they would make it through the challenges posed by this post apocalyptic world. Without further ado here are my 10 favourite episodes of the show:
10. Rest In Peace - Season 11, Episode 24
When it was announced that season 11 was going to be the final season of The Walking Dead, the countdown was on to tie up a lot of loose threads within the show. Even the week leading up to the episode it was hard to know how it was all going to end (with Norman Reedus jokingly teasing that everyone was going to die) but as someone who watched the show from day one it packed quite an emotional punch. To a casual viewer it may have appeared to be nothing more than pure melodrama but it was a show that unashamedly wore its heart on its sleeve, particularly in the latter seasons. Not only did the episode bring a satisfying conclusion to the Commonwealth storyline but it brought the appropriate amount of closure to the show in general leaving things on a positive note as much as possible.
9. Better Angels - Season 2, Episode 12
Although there was a drop in quality the second season of the show, Shane's character arc as he succumbed to the darker side of his nature was a major draw. This was all down to Jon Bernthal who gave a great performance episode after episode. The return of Rick rocked Shane's budding romance with Rick's wife Lori (who thought Rick was dead) and also led to tension between the two over who was leader of the group. The growing resentment between the two which came to a head in the final scene of penultimate episode of season two. It's a shame that we never got to see more of Bernthal on the show (save for the odd cameo here and there) but his final scene with Rick on the outskirts of the farm stands as one of the show's best.
8. What Comes After? - Season 9, Episode 6
Heading into season 9 it was revealed that Andrew Lincoln would be leaving the show halfway through the season leaving viewers shocked since the series had revolved around Rick from episode one. This led to many theories around his fate and not knowing if the show could even go on without him. The episode opens with Rick impaled with a piece of rebar from a concrete block. He manages to free himself but the severity of the injury leaves him at the whim of the Walkers that stalk him. What makes this one of the best episodes of the show is that it is a great celebration of the character and the selflessness he possesses as lucid dreams allow him to converse with characters from his past (including the likes of Shane and Hershel). It ends with a moment of sacrifice as he blows up a bridge saving his people from a horde of the undead. The ending leaves Rick's fate open ended as he is taken away to safety on a helicopter never to be seen again, or so we thought.
7. Last Day on Earth- Season 6, Episode 16
Season 6 introduced another threat in the form of The Saviours. A group of gangsters who would move from settlement to settlement demanding that the groups there would pay tribute in exchange for their "protection". Fans of the comic book series knew their inclusion meant the inclusion of iconic villain Negan. A larger than life tyrant brandishing a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, Jeffrey Dean Morgan played the foul mouthed fiend with relish with this episode marking his first appearance coming in the series. From the second he whistles The Saviours tune as he steps from Rick's RV an aura of menace is cast over the episode. We have never seen Rick's group as helpless as they are at his mercy so when he decides who is to be punished by a chilling game of "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" you're on the edge of your seat waiting to see who is going to feel his wrath. With the power of hindsight we all know his decision but at the time when the show cut to black after Negan made his choice viewers were left waiting for nearly a year to see the outcome making it one of the biggest cliffhangers in the show's history.
6. Too Far Gone - Season 4, Episode 8
The final face off between Rick and The Governor didn't disappoint as their action packed final battle saw the demise of the prison. The Governor may not have been the greatest villain in the show's history but David Morrissey's strong performance certainly made it memorable. The thing that made the episode one of the greats was how the tension between Rick and the Governor exploded in such a visceral way. For all of the impressive set pieces in the episode it is the brutal destruction of Rick's faith in humanity with the execution of Hershel (the very man who inspired this sentiment in him) that packs the biggest punch of all. The episode ends with the group scattered and on the road once again in search of sanctuary. Although it was a repetitive trope throughout the show, at the time the possibilities of what could happen next left you wanting more.
5. No Sanctuary - Season 5, Episode 1
Carol goes full on Rambo to save her people in one of the best season openers in the show's history earning the highest ratings in the show's history. Opening with most of Rick's people being held by the cannibalistic Terminus community in a train car their situation looks hopeless. There are so many elements to the episode that makes it an all timer. The smarm in Andrew J. West's performance makes him a really loathsome villain, the sense of peril facing Rick's group is palpable throughout and the completion of Carol's arc from meek housewife to bonafide badass makes it so damn entertaining and a must watch.
4. Killer Within Season 3, Episode 4
This was the episode that truly let audiences know that no character was truly safe on the show as it marked the final appearances of both Lori and T-Dog. After Andrew (one of the prisoners) lures a group of Walkers into the prison chaos ensues as the group become separated and panicked. In the midst of this Lori goes into labour bleeding profusely between contractions and orders Maggie to perform what will be a lethal Cesarean section to save her child. Whilst all bets are off, the nature of the episode came as a shock, it is the bleak undertones that would define the first half of the entire show's run that makes it stand out as one of the all time great episodes. Although the ending has been mocked online through various memes it carried a lot of emotional weight as Rick finds out about Lori's fate.
3. No Way Out - Season 5, Episode 9
A real no holds barred episode, the invasion of Alexandria by a herd of Walkers is a barnstorming piece of television. Opening with Rick making his way through a crowd of the undead with a band of fellow survivors all hell breaks loose when Jessie's son Sam has a breakdown he gets devoured by a group of Walkers. In the ensuing chaos Rick's son Carl gets shot in the eye. Despite it being another episode full of action and jaw dropping moments the sense of hope sparking unity amongst the group in protecting their home is what makes it a memorable crowd pleaser.
2. The Grove - Season 4, Episode 14
A low key episode, The Grove marks one of the best performances from Melissa McBride as the pragmatic yet compassionate Carol who must make a heart wrenching decision off the back of a moral dilemma. It opens with Tyreese and Carol alongside sisters Mika and Lizzie caring for baby Judith as they make their way to Terminus. On their way they come across an abandoned house in a pecan grove and decide to take shelter. Tyreese is concerned that Mika is too soft while Lizzie's friendly behaviour towards Walkers is a growing concern. The episode deals with a lot of moral issues including the likes of nature versus nurture before culminating in an ending that owes a lot of credit to Of Mice and Men. It is emotionally devastating and haunting, staying with you long after the credits roll. The performances from everyone in the episode are nothing short of outstanding and the mature manner in which the themes are handled is what makes this one of the greatest episodes yet.
1. Days Gone Bye - Season 1, Episode 1
The episode that started it all and easily the best of the entire run. Waking up from a coma we follow Rick through a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the dead experiencing the horror that surrounds him through his eyes. Andrew Lincoln makes a major impact as the headstrong sheriff trying to find his family. We share in his confusion, his horror and despair in his search and with Frank Darabont behind the camera these moments really land and resonate. The episode also produces so much iconic imagery associated with the show such as the "Bicycle Girl" Walker and the image of Rick travelling into Atlanta on horseback and perfectly setting up the bleak world of The Walking Dead to help make it a cultural phenomenon.
This Sorrowful Life - Season 3, Episode 15. Four Walls and a Roof - Season 5, Episode 3. Here's Not Here - Season 6, Episode 4. The Calm Before - Season 9, Episode 15. On the Inside - Season 11, Episode 6
- Joseph McElroy