Originally aired: February 15, 2015
“Them” sees the group at its lowest: Its members recently lost not one, but two of their own in rapid succession, they’re starving and roasting in the heat and they can’t find shelter on the road. This leads everyone to some character-defining breakdowns, including Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) heartbreak in the woods and Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) upset about a walker trapped in a car trunk. The episode also features one of Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) most notable speeches, in which he delivers the classic line, “We are the walking dead.”
9. “Pretty Much Dead Already”
Originally aired: November 27, 2011
2011 was an interesting year because there was no Walking Dead in the earlier half (imagine!). Instead, after its six-episode first season, the show took the first part of the year off and returned in October. Season 2 is somewhat polarizing for fans — it seems you either despise the slower pace that comes with the farm setting or you enjoy it for the character development — but one moment almost everyone can agree was exceptional is Shane (Jon Bernthal) taking matters into his own hands and opening Hershel (Scott Wilson)’s barn… only to find a zombified Sophia (Madison Lintz) inside.
Originally aired: November 25, 2018
It was a close call between this and “What Comes After,” which saw Rick fall off a collapsed bridge and get ferried away from the show via helicopter. But “Evolution” barely edges it out based on the tone it sets; the whole thing feels very horror-influenced, it introduces the next antagonist and it features one of the coolest sequences in recent memory in a foggy graveyard — and one of the show’s most devastatingly memorable deaths. “You are where you do not belong.”
7. “Better Angels”
Originally aired: March 11, 2012
Goodbye, Shane. In an episode that saw Rick go from clear-cut “good guy” to more of an antihero, Rick was forced to take his best friend’s life before his pal could kill him — and while all of this was happening, a huge horde was descending on Hershel’s ranch. It sets up one of the most tense episodes in the franchise and proved that when pushed far enough, Rick would do anything to anyone to protect his family — an aspect of his character viewers saw over and over again throughout the seasons.
6. “Too Far Gone”
Originally aired: December 1, 2013
Poor Hershel. “Too Far Gone” is yet another pivotal battle episode in the TWD universe, and it sees Rick lose the prison and the sanctuary it offered to the Governor (David Morrissey). Beth (Emily Kinney) and Maggie lost their dad, Glenn (Steven Yeun) is separated from Maggie, and Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) believe they lost Judith. It’s action-packed and devastating in equal measure, and sets up a grim second half of the season.
5. “No Way Out”
Originally aired: February 14, 2016
Were you annoyed by Jessie, Ron and Sam Anderson? Then this episode probably tops your list. Even setting the deaths of that trio aside, No Way Out deserves a place on this list simply because of the accuracy with which it translates certain events from the source material. In addition, it shows the group coming together as one and fighting, at the time, its most dangerous foe to date. And if you didn’t get chills when Carl, right after losing an eye, looked across the horde and said “Dad?”, then you just might be a walker yourself.
Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC
4. “Children of Wrath”
Originally aired: July 9, 2017
Regardless of how you feel about Seasons 4 and 5 of Fear the Walking Dead, certain Season 3 episodes rank among the best of the franchise. Such is the case with “Children of Wrath,” which saw Madison (Kim Dickens) make a startling revelation to her kids about her past — and with that, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) are forced to come to terms with their mother’s violent side and question her motives. It’s quieter than many of the high-ranking TWD installments, which oft feature gigantic horde battles or the group fighting their way through assembled baddies. But the splendor of this episode is in the building horror, right up until the moment a (literal) Chekhov’s gun fires.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
3. “The Calm Before”
Originally aired: March 24, 2019
Alpha (Samantha Morton) proved she was not to be trifled with in this horrific episode, which saw the group lose 10 of their own including Tara (Alanna Masterson), Enid (Katelyn Nacon) and Henry (Matt Lintz). The pike-reveal sequence is masterfully done, juxtaposing characters asking about their friends at the fair while unveiling their decapitated heads in a field far from the festivities. Bear McCreary’s score for the scene is spectacular, too. And even if it’s unintentional, it’s pretty interesting that the names of the pike victims spell “art of death.”
2. “No Sanctuary”
Originally aired: October 12, 2014
The Termites really were screwing with the wrong people, huh? In what’s surely the best TWD season premiere aside from the Pilot, Carol (Melissa McBride) proves her badassery by blasting her way into the cannibalistic compound to save her friends’ lives, and Rick and his pals shoot, stab and slash their way out. It all culminates in some of the most emotional scenes from the show: Carol and Daryl’s reunion and Rick and Carl’s reunion with baby Judith.
1. “Days Gone Bye”
Originally aired: October 31, 2010
The episode that started it all. While it might not be the most suspenseful installment, “Days Gone Bye” deserves a place atop this list merely for what it set up: 10 seasons of the main show, (soon to be) six seasons of its spinoff and, now, another spinoff show. Its first few minutes are still intense and grim, and Rick’s “I’m sorry this happened to you” before he mercy-kills the “Bicycle Girl” walker is still a fantastic moment for his character. Plus, Lennie James has some great scenes as Morgan.
In 2020, The Walking Dead will reach a milestone unfamiliar to many shows (especially dramas!).
October 2020 will see the zombie-battling AMC mainstay reach a whopping 10 seasons and join the ranks of programs like Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural and The X-Files, which also hit double-digit season numbers. In honor of that accomplishment, we’ve chosen the best episode from each year the franchise has been running and ranked them from, well, best to even better.
The Walking Dead, Season 10 Midseason Premiere, February 23, 2020, 9/8c, AMC
Fear the Walking Dead, Season 6 Premiere, 2020, AMC