This Walking Dead article comes from Den of Geek UK. It contains spoilers.
Like Daryl’s crossbow or Negan’s Lucille, shock is The Walking Dead’s weapon of choice. Over the seasons, the AMC show has sprung nasty surprise after nasty surprise, killing off beloved and despised characters in ever-more grisly and inventive ways. Eight years in, making a death on the show haunt viewers long after the event requires more than simply having a character pulled apart by Walkers. It takes ingenuity, boundary-pushing, and creativity.
We reminisce about a handful of The Walking Dead‘s most memorable and shocking character deaths right from day one. Tell us which we missed below.
Watching our hero Rick Grimes shoot a little girl in the head in the opening minutes of The Walking Dead pilot was excellent preparation for the show to follow. Unsettling, brutal and with a taste for shock-value, the death of young ‘Summer’ paved the way for many, many more gruesome executions.
Incidentally, to mark its 100th episode, The Walking Dead invited Addy Miller, the young actor who played Summer in the pilot, to return in the same make-up to play another gas station walker.
Shane’s death is one of The Walking Dead’s most memorable exits. Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal held nothing back in their performances as former partners turned mortal enemies. Rick’s gambit with the gun—pretending to hand it to Shane then stabbing him in the heart with a knife—was a shock as great as the one little Carl faced when he arrived on the scene and took in what had happened.
This one is shocking in its sadness. Like so much of The Walking Dead, Dale’s season two demise was characterised by needless cruelty. Dispirited by the group’s decision to execute prisoner Randall, Dale wandered alone back to the RV, where he was attacked by the Walker Carl had earlier tormented and left to roam. Said Walker pulled Dale apart with his bare hands, leading Hershel to declare him a lost cause. Putting Dale out of his misery, Daryl pulled the trigger with two powerfully simple words, “Sorry, brother.”
After Rick delivered an impassioned plea to The Governor promising that everyone was capable of change and pulling back from the brink, it almost looked as though it might work. The sword David Morrissey’s character held to the throat of a kneeling Hershel dropped, and it seemed as though Rick’s words were taking hold. That just made the shock even greater when The Governor paused, called Rick a liar, and slashed the blade at the man who had been the show’s moral compass.
This entry is shocking for the sheer awfulness of it all. Not only does a Walker invasion cause Lori Grimes to go into early labor with no medical assistance, things get steadily worse from thereon in. Lori hemorrhages and decides the only way to save the baby is if Maggie performs an anesthetic-free cesarean section using Carl’s hunting knife. Maggie does just that and the baby survives but Lori, after a tearful goodbye, dies. Finally, to stop her from turning, little Carl Grimes shoots his own dead mother in the head. This show may be distressing at the best of times, but that really takes the bleakness biscuit.
“Don’t hurt my little girl, please.” The Governor begged Michonne to spare his undead daughter, but, knowing that Penny was already long gone, Michonne ignored his plea. In a moment shocking for its speed and brutality, that katana blade went straight through Walker-Penny’s skull, emerging from her mouth like a bloody steel tongue. Unforgettable.
It came as no surprise that The Governor turned on former minion Merle, killing him after he switched sides, but Daryl having to put down his own brother-Walker was shocking in its sadness. It was heart-rending to see the realization spread over Norman Reedus’ face as Daryl recognized the Walker crouched over a pile of guts. Watching Daryl push away his dead brother’s attacks before doing the necessary was also deeply moving. Even if you didn’t mourn Merle, you felt his little brother’s pain.
Carl Grimes may have been his mother’s “sweet, sweet boy”, but for a while there it looked as though growing up post-zombie apocalypse was turning him into a… how did Negan put it? A “little future serial killer”. In the season three finale, Carl killed a Woodbury boy after he’d peaceably surrendered, much to the chagrin of Hershel and Beth. There’s nothing especially shocking in this death’s guts or gore, but seeing a 13-year-old kill another kid at point blank range is horribly unsettling.
Karen and David
We initially didn’t see these deaths, only their aftermath. When Tyreese discovers the charred bodies of girlfriend Karen and David in season four, it sparks a mystery that takes Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes to solve. Karen and David had contracted the fatal illness sweeping through the prison, so Carol put them out of their misery and destroyed the bodies to stem the spread of the infection. As she put it, “they would have drowned in their own blood. I made it quick.” Like Carl killing Jody, this marked a turning point for Carol’s character. The zombie apocalypse had changed her beyond recognition, and this act earned her banishment from the group as a result.
Kids killing kids never fails to shock, and the murder of little Mika by her disturbed sister Lizzie is one of The Walking Dead’s most unsettling moments ever. Lizzie repeatedly failed to grasp the threat represented by the Walkers, instead treating them like pets by giving them names and feeding them mice at the prison gates. Nobody, not even sister Mika, whose head was screwed on, could convince her that they were dangerous. When Lizzie stabbed Mika to death, cheerfully telling Carol and Tyreese that it was all okay, her little sis would be back again soon, it was clear that Lizzie was too far gone. Cue: yet another shocking murder, this time by Carol.
This season four finale demise was so gruesome and unexpected (unless, of course, you’d read the comics) it has to appear on a list of The Walking Dead’s most shocking deaths. When it looked as though Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Carl were about to face rape and slaughter by Joe’s evil motorcycle gang, Rick pulled out a move so savage it marked a new phase in the Ricktocracy. With no weapons, Rick used only what nature gave him to kill Joe – he bit out a chunk out of his neck, Walker-style. That was distraction enough for Daryl and Michonne to do their thing and for the group to get away safely, but never quite the same again.
The circumstances of Bob’s demise, rather than his actually fairly peaceful death, are what’s truly shocking. While Stookey actually dies smiling in bed, between being bitten by a Walker and him drawing his last breath is the really unsettling part. Gareth’s Terminus gang catch up with Bob, knock him out, cut off his leg, cook and eat it. Admittedly, Bob takes it pretty well, laughing hysterically about Gareth’s gang having eaten “tainted meat!” That’ll teach them.
Beth’s death didn’t only come as a surprise to us, but also to her killer, villainous cop Dawn. After Rick and co. had made the hostage exchange to get Beth back from Grady Memorial Hospital, it felt as though things were quietening down. Noah was, albeit unhappily, going back to the hospital in Beth’s place, and Maggie’s little sister was going home.
Not so. Beth’s surprise scissor attack on Dawn made her accidentally fire her weapon, shooting Beth in the head and killing her immediately. Daryl returned fire, and it all happened so quickly, nobody could quite believe it – least of all us.
By this point in The Walking Dead, when we’ve seen such horrors enacted on people by their fellow men, selfishness should feel par for the course. The craven cruelty of Nicholas, though, when he needlessly sacrifices first Aiden, then Noah in his attempt to survive, is still somehow shocking. Compared to Glenn’s loyalty and even pre-Negan Eugene’s collaboration and support, Nicholas forcing open the revolving door in which he, Glenn and Noah are trapped so that he can escape but Noah will be killed by Walkers, is horribly shocking. And that’s before we even come to the sight of Noah’s blood spurting onto the screen. Shudder.
Denise’s death will have even come as a shock to comic readers, as in Robert Kirkman’s book series it was originally not her exit, but Abraham’s. The trainee psychiatrist was shot and killed by a crossbow bolt mid-monologue as she gave it to Daryl and Rosita straight about how they needed to step up and not be afraid to face things. The crossbow bolt was intended for Daryl, but Dwight missed and instead killed Tara’s girlfriend, which would have consequences for him later on.
Glenn and Abraham
Perhaps this entry should belong solely to Abraham, as most people were expecting Glenn to follow his comic book counterpart and fall foul of Negan’s baseball bat. The brutality of Glenn’s death though, with its truly stomach-churning prosthetics and make-up, made it no less shocking than the unexpected addition of Sgt Ford. As punishment for their attack on the Savior satellite outpost, Negan famously beat Abraham to death after a massively publicized season six cliff-hanger. When Daryl punched Negan in retaliation, he provoked the Savior leader into additionally murdering Glenn.
It was hard to mourn the death of Spencer Monroe, Deanna’s out-for-himself son, but that didn’t make it come as any less a shock. Spencer died at the hands of Negan, who used his death to make a very public point about the kind of behavior he sought in his outpost leaders. Rick may be trouble, but Negan could respect him. Spencer, sidling up to the Savior boss behind Rick’s back and asking to be put in charge, was a coward and Negan couldn’t respect that. To show Spencer that he lacked guts, Negan cut a hole in his stomach and let his innards spill out all over the Alexandrian pavement. Point made.
Over the years, The Walking Dead has become a master of making you expect something horrible will happen, and then surprising you by making something really, really horrible happen. That’s exactly what it did with the death of Dr Carson. We thought the Saviors’ doctor was going to get the hot-iron-to-the-face treatment as punishment for helping Sherry escape (he didn’t do it, of course, Dwight framed him) but in fact, his entire body was thrown live into the furnace. As Negan laughed about it being lucky they had a spare Dr Carson in Emmet’s brother, the good doctor’s screams could still be heard.
Richard’s murder is a turning point for Morgan, signaling his descent back into his unhinged killing days that followed the loss of his son Duane. After learning the art of Aikido, Morgan regained a sense of self through pacifism. Towards the end of season seven though, the grief of losing Benjamin made Morgan revert to his former violence. When he learned that Richard was indirectly responsible for Benjamin’s death after his plan to kickstart war between the Kingdom and the Saviors, Morgan strangled him with his bare hands. That’s what makes Richard’s death by strangling so significant, and shocking – not what it meant to Richard, but what it signified for Morgan’s character journey.
If we’re counting shocks to Negan, then Sasha’s death takes pole position. When she emerged from that coffin after taking her own life and turning, panic broke through his cocky demeanor for perhaps the first time.
Negan was right about Sasha, she was something else. She may not have fulfilled her plan to avenge Abraham’s death by killing Lucille’s owner, but her heroic sacrifice provided just enough distraction for Carl and co. to regain the upper hand in the battle for Alexandria.
The Walking Dead audience, or what’s left of it, had an entire midseason break to get used to the idea that Carl Grimes was a goner. We all saw the bite-mark, we all knew what it meant. Even if you’d ignored the set leaks and behind-the-scenes rumors, it was clear that in a world without a cure, that boy was no more.
Somehow though, having that certainty made it no less surprising when that final gunshot signifying Carl’s suicide rang out from the destroyed church. They finally really did it, those maniacs! A character we’d known since the pilot had breathed his last.
It was a bit of a shocker to see Jesus go the way he did in The Walking Dead season 9 midseason finale, which introduced a new enemy faction called the Whisperers. The flesh-wearing survivors snuck up and surrounded Jesus, Daryl, Michonne, Eugene, and a few others in a foggy graveyard, ready to slaughter the trespassers. But Jesus, being the selfless hero he’s always been, decided to stay behind and fight what he perceived to just be a horde of walkers while the others escaped.
After a few awesome martial arts moves, Jesus discovered that these walkers were actually the living, as one of the Whisperers ducked his attack and stabbed him in the heart. It was a shocking moment that marked the debut of the series’ most perverse group of villains yet.
Enid, Tara, and Henry
The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead season 9, “The Calm Before,” took no prisoners, killing off three regular cast members in one swift stroke. In what people are calling The Walking Dead‘s very own “Red Wedding,” Enid, Tara, and Henry were kidnapped, executed, and their decapitated heads were placed on pikes by the Whisperers.
While this event is taken straight from the comics, no one expected these three to end up on the pikes that mark the border between the Whisperers and the other communities. In the comics, 12 people are decapitated by Alpha, including Rosita and Ezekiel, and the show goes as far as to tease their deaths throughout the fateful episode. So when Enid, Tara, and Henry’s zombified heads were revealed one by one in the dramatic and shocking scene, it was a major surprise we won’t soon forget.