Warning: contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead seasons 1-6.
This article first appeared at Den of Geek UK.
The world of The Walking Dead is a cruel one. That’s the lesson its showrunners have impressed upon viewers time and again through six seasons of walker attacks, bloody beheadings, surprise crossbow bolts to the brain, and—how could we not mention it—bludgeonings by psychopaths wielding barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bats.
That’s why you won’t find much fun in the selections below. The world of The Walking Dead isn’t really a birthday-parties-and-puppies kind of place. It’s more a viscera-and-machine gun sort of deal.
Bear that in mind as you join us on this tour of the show’s thirteen most unforgettable moments so far…
13. Daryl and the RPG (Season 6, Episode 9 “No Way Out”)
“Son of a bitch was tougher than he looked.”
Short and sweet, the opening of “No Way Out: saw Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham threatened by a group of Negan’s Saviors looking to find out the location of Alexandria.
“Usually, we introduce ourselves just by popping one of you off the bat,” jeers their spokesman (a nifty bit of Lucille-related foreshadowing there). Before they get the chance though, Daryl Dixon saves the day by obliterating the motorcycle gang in a burst of flames courtesy of a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
It’s one of The Walking Dead’s rare wins for Rick’s team, and ultimately a short-lived one that provokes Negan’s murderous ire, but in terms of impact and surprise, it’s hard to beat. The glorious sight of Daryl emerging from behind the truck with a smoking RPG on his shoulder is right up there with that time he lobbed a grenade down the turret of the Governor’s M60 Patton tank.
12. Morgan’s Monologue (Season 3, Episode 12 “Clear”)
“I see red, I see red, everything is red.”
From literal pyrotechnics to acting pyrotechnics. Written by Scott Gimple before he became The Walking Dead showrunner, “Clear” is a stunning TV episode. It’s tense as all get out and packed with meaningful character development for Rick, Carl, and Michonne, but the star turn is undeniably Lennie James as a traumatized, grieving Morgan.
James’ central monologue, in which he recognizes Rick as the man he and his son Dwayne met back in the season 1 pilot and relates the awful story of Dwayne’s death at the hands of his walker mother, is powerfully performed. It’s no coincidence that James is a respected Shakespearean actor here in the UK. He brings intensity and emotion to this scene worthy of any stage tragedy.
Gimple wrote the episode with the plan of bringing James’ character back, one that came to fruition properly in season six.
11. The Camp Attack (Season 1, Episode 4 “Vatos”)
“I remember my dream now. Why I dug the holes.”
Ed Peletier, Carol’s abusive husband, meets a deserving end in the Walker attack on the group’s season one camp, but that isn’t the only reason it’s among the show’s top moments. It’s also because it establishes a pattern for so much that follows.
It’s the first time of many that the group’s fragile peace is shattered by the arrival of the undead. Everyone has a full belly from Andrea and Amy’s fishing haul, Carol has taken Sophia from Ed’s clutches, and Ed has been punished by Shane… Things are, momentarily, looking up – always a dangerous time on this show. Duly, the horde enters, bringing with it death and chaos.
This is also the first time we see the group properly coalesce against a walker herd, with ex-pizza delivery boy Glenn stepping up his game following the successful provisions run to Atlanta. Finally, this is also the first time that an innocent regular character—Amy—dies unjustly in a surprise attack, now an established move for The Walking Dead. Good or bad, it proves that everybody who doesn’t get away fast enough in this show is walker meat.
10. Michonne vs. The Governor (Season 3, Episode 8 “Made to Suffer”)
“Don’t hurt my little girl.”
A reckoning was always on the cards between Michonne and the Governor, and this is part one. (Part two is him being skewered like a kebab on the blade of her katana). Always skeptical about what was at the heart of Woodbury, Michonne discovers the Governor’s creepy secret and leaves her mark on the man.
This close-quarters scrap is key to the Governor’s origin story. It leaves him with the iconic eye-patch and a blistering desire for revenge on Michonne and the prison group. It’s also, if you’ll excuse the pun, a blinder of a fight where every head-smash and impact is really felt. The scene’s shifts in tone from Michonne’s gentle encouragement of the Governor’s daughter, to her revulsion at discovering she’s a Walker, to his arrival and the final stand-off with Andrea, are tense, dramatic, and have real ramifications down the line.
9. Dale Buys the Farm (Season 2, Episode 11 “Judge, Jury, and Executioner”)
There are no big speeches in this scene, just a lot of characters dumbstruck by pain. It’s one of the first truly emotional death scenes in the show (needless to say though, not the last).
Dale’s surprise death is one of The Walking Dead’s many reminders that life, especially in this new world, isn’t fair. A good, wise man who’d proved something of a father figure to the group has his belly torn apart by a monster and nobody can do anything about it.
Character-wise, the almost silent scene in which Rick is unable to put Dale out of his suffering and Daryl wordlessly steps in to do the job also cements the fraternal nature of their growing relationship. The mournful ending, with just two words from Daryl, “Sorry, brother,” followed by a cut to black sum up the group’s loss here.
8. Rick’s Campfire Speech (Season 2, Episode 16 “Beside the Dying Fire”)
“This isn’t a democracy anymore.”
Rick plus campfire equals emotional speech. That’s one of the rules of The Walking Dead. In season five’s “Them,” when the group has all but lost hope following the deaths of Tyreese and Beth, Andrew Lincoln delivers a monologue on the need to resign themselves to the fact that they are the walking dead and that their chance at life only comes after they’ve done what’s necessary. It’s said quietly in a reflective scene that sees everyone questioning their situation.
This season two finale speech finds the group in a similarly unsettled mood, but has an entirely different tone. Rick’s suitability as a leader is under question following Shane’s death and the chaos after the horde invasion at the farm. Rick’s patience, it’s fair to say, has been exhausted. He stalks aggressively around the camp, spitting mad at the dissent in the ranks. “You can do better, let’s see how far you get,” he snarls before delivering the line of the episode: “Get one thing straight. You’re staying? This isn’t a democracy anymore.” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Ricktatorship.
That teasing glimpse of the prison over the treetops cements this moment’s status as one of the show’s most thrilling.
7. Carol Kills Lizzie (Season 4, Episode 14 “The Grove”)
“Just look at the flowers, Lizzie. Just look at the flowers.”
If adults in The Walking Dead have a tough time hanging on to their sanity, it’s little wonder that the kids growing up in this world of cut-throat violence and nightmares also struggle.
No-one struggled like season four’s Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino), the little girl who saw the walkers as harmless friends. It was Lizzie luring walkers to the prison fence with rat-bait, and Lizzie who turned a splayed-open dead rabbit into a piece of wall art that would give even the Blair Witch shivers. It was also Lizzie who stabbed her little sister to death and was seconds from doing the same to baby Judith, in her belief that both would come back, just a little different.
There was no place for Lizzie in this new world, forcing Carol into the heartbreaking act of mercy-killing her surrogate daughter. “I love you, Lizzie, and everything works out the way it’s supposed to,” she lies comfortingly. “Just look at the flowers, Lizzie. Just look at the flowers.”
6. Sophia Comes out of the Barn (Season 2, Episode 7 “Pretty Much Dead Already”)
“These things ain’t sick, they’re not people, they’re dead.”
Season two’s hunt for Carol’s missing daughter Sophia climaxes in a highly emotional scene when it’s discovered that she’s been at the farm with them the whole time. After a volley of gunshots, as the group picks off the Walkers spilling out of the farm building, there’s a pause before a pair of children’s sneakers appears at the barn door. It’s Sophia, now a snarling, snapping walker.
When the realization hits the assembled shooters, it’s not just Carol who breaks, but everyone. Shane, whose rant opened up the barn in the first place, simply hangs his head. Daryl catches a screaming Carol and keeps her away from her daughter. Carl and Lori collapse, too. Only Rick musters the strength to do what’s necessary and put Sophia out of her undead misery. In a wide shot, he shoots, the Sophia-Walker falls, and everyone weeps as the camera sweeps over a litter of undead corpses.
5. Lori Gives Birth (Season 4, Episode 3 “Isolation”)
“No, she’s my mom.”
If Maggie makes it through the season seven premiere and all the way to giving birth, this scene is bound to come back to traumatize her. Walkers are roaming the prison—welcomed in by a prisoner with a score to settle with Rick—and Lori goes into labor. Bleeding profusely, Lori knows she’s not long for this world, so she begs Maggie to perform an emergency caesarean section using Carl’s hunting knife.
That’s not even the horrific part. However much Maggie is shaken by cutting open the womb of her friend sans anaesthetic, it’s nothing compared to what Carl experiences watching his mother die as his baby sister is wrenched from her insides. And then he has to put a bullet in Lori’s brain to stop her from coming back and eating them all.
Lori’s death scene is high on emotions, blood, and horror. Poor dead Lori, poor little dead-eyed Carl, poor motherless Lil Ass-kicker, and once he realizes what’s happened, poor, poor Rick.
4. The Governor vs. The Prison #2 (Season 4, Episode 8 “Too Far Gone”)
“Don’t look back, Carl, just keep walking.”
The Governor’s first prison attack in season 3, episode 10, was child’s play compared to this stunt, which leaves the prison in ruins, everybody scattered to the four winds, and David Morrissey’s character dead in the dirt (alongside his customized chess piece for added symbolism).
It’s full of memorable moments – Daryl vs. the tank is one, Lizzie and Mika saving Tyreese’s life is another, Michonne piercing the Governor with her sword is yet another… But the most memorable has to be the death of Hershel Greene.
Echoing Dale’s unfair demise in series two, Hershel’s beheading here is cruel and unforgettable. A wise man who preached morals, caution and hope, the loss of Scott Wilson’s character took its toll on the whole group, not least his daughters and Rick, whom he’d helped back from the brink after Lori’s death.
3. Shane Is Killed. Twice. (Season 2, Episode 12 “Better Angels”)
“I’m a better man than you, Rick.”
The farm proved not to be big enough for two of The Walking Dead’s alpha males: Rick and Shane. Stellar performances by Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal anchor this eventful scene in which Rick is forced to kill his former partner.
Mistrust and hostility had grown between the pair since Rick made his own return from the dead by coming out of his coma, and this is where it all comes to a head. A deeply unstable Shane, whose affair with Lori left him thinking he was the father of her baby, lures Rick away from the group, planning to shoot him.
“I’m a better father than you, Rick,” Shane cries, “You got a broken woman, you got a weak boy.” Before Shane can pull the trigger though, Rick gets in first with his knife. And then to increase the tension, Shane is resurrected and Carl shows up with a gun in his hand…
2. Rick Turns Savage (Season 4, Episode 16 “A”)
“What the hell are you gonna do now, sport?”
This entire scene is horrible, from the rape threats against Carl and Michonne to the sight of Rick at his least human and most desperate. It’s also one of The Walking Dead’s most memorable season climaxes.
In the show’s characteristic style, Rick and Michonne’s cozy campfire is interrupted by the gang Rick had escaped from episodes earlier by garrotting one of their members. Seeking retribution, the gang leader threatens the following course of events: “First, we’re going to beat Daryl to death, then we’ll have the girl, then the boy, then I’m going to shoot you and then we’ll be square.”
That’s not what happens. Instead, Rick uses the only weapon left—his teeth—to take a chunk of flesh out of the gang leader’s throat. To protect his son and friends, Rick turns feral, giving Daryl and Michonne a chance to get the upper hand on their attackers. But Rick doesn’t stop there, going on to disembowel the slavering redneck who was pinning down Carl and laughing while unbuckling his belt. Deserved? Probably. Healthy? God no. This moment signaled the emergence of a new, much more dangerous Rick Grimes. They’re screwing with the wrong people indeed.
1. Carol Goes Rambo (Season 5, Episode 1 “No Sanctuary”)
“Did you do that?”
Speaking of screwing with the wrong people, the gradual transformation of Melissa McBride’s timid, beaten housewife into a one-woman killing machine wearing a poncho covered in undead guts has to be The Walking Dead’s most satisfying character moment. Carol was good when she flung off her floral disguise in Alexandria and set about dispatching Wolves, but Terminus was her triumph.
Banished from the group after killing Karen and David, Carol earns her way back by taking on the cannibals holding Rick and co. prisoner and allowing them to escape. Piercing a propane tank and using signal fireworks to cause an explosion, she infiltrates the compound, killing who she can and distracting the group’s jailers.
Daryl’s reaction and Rick’s gratitude when he realizes Carol was their savior (and sees Judith safe in Tyreese’s arms after believing her dead) is an emotional high, but nothing is more exhilarating than Carol-as-Rambo.