‘The Walking Dead’: Ranking All 11 Seasons, From Worst to Best

Josh Stringer/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains spoilers for all seasons of The Walking Dead.]

2022 saw us say goodbye—well, kind of—to one of the biggest shows of the 2010s: The Walking Dead. While the walker-verse will shuffle on in a trio of spin-offs, as of “Rest in Peace,” the main program—which once brought in record numbers of viewers on Sunday nights—is no more.

To help us bid farewell to the beloved zombie drama, we ranked all eleven of its seasons from worst to best.

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The Walking Dead, Season 8 - Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes

11. Season 8

If you’ve ever stayed in a pool too long and walked out with wrinkled fingers, that’s how it felt to watch Season 8 of The Walking Dead in real time. The show’s choice to stretch the All Out War arc into two whole seasons left many longtime viewers either bored or irate. On the subject of controversial decisions, the show never fully recovered after knocking itself off-balance by killing off Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) in the midseason premiere, “Honor.” That nasty gut-punch upended the source material and left The Walking Dead in a constant state of trying to fill Carl-shaped gaps in its story.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan and Andrew Lincoln as Rick - The Walking Dead - Season 7
Gene Page/AMC

10. Season 7

Here’s a fun experiment: ask someone who used to religiously watch The Walking Dead when they stopped. Chances are pretty good—at least 75 percent, we’d say—that they’ll tell you how Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) gory death by Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) hand was the straw that broke the walker’s back. Despite the fact that it happened in the source material, plenty of viewers were left cold when good-guy Glenn got such a drawn-out, agonizing death (and that’s to say nothing of Abraham [Michael Cudlitz], whose equally sadistic end felt tacked on to throw a curveball at source-material fans). Simply put, Season 7 was bleak: a chain of endless suffering, slow-motion camera pans, Negan beat-downs and Daryl (Norman Reedus) grunting. With hope constantly vanishing down the drain, Season 7 became too joyless for many who’d stuck with the show for years.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee in The Walking Dead
Jace Downs/AMC

9. Season 11

In many ways, Season 11 is a tragedy of lost time (the creators weren’t aware Season 11 was to be the show’s last when it was planned out). It’s not that there wasn’t anything to appreciate, but the overall awkwardness and jarring nature of the series’ ending were hard to swallow. The “Reaper” arc didn’t go anywhere significant, and it anchored itself to a rushed relationship that managed to unify pretty much all sides of the Daryl ‘shipping wars in dislike. The uneven Commonwealth story brought in some fantastic actors (Josh Hamilton and Laila Robins made excellent villains), but it never managed to climb back up to early-seasons levels of tension or intrigue. It flirted with interesting concepts like “variant” walkers only to toss them largely aside… or, more likely, preserve them for a spinoff. The series finale was passable, but missed opportunities were evident. Was Season 11 bad? Not quite—it just felt empty.

Danai Gurira as Michonne
Eliza Morse/AMC

8. Season 10

If we based this list on individual performances, Samantha Morton’s turn as the vile, dead-people-wearing Alpha would’ve put Season 10 higher on the list. However, when taken as a whole, Season 10 suffered from many of the same issues as 7 and 8. It stretched out the Whisperer War for much of the season—too much of the season, some might say. Carol’s (Melissa McBride) characterization suffered as she made increasingly illogical decisions for the sake of revenge, and Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) exit, while passable, wasn’t handled with as much grace as Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln). That said, the “bonus episodes” filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic offered one of the show’s best installments in “Here’s Negan.”

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier

7. Season 6

Before we had the Reapers, we had the Wolves. But while they weren’t really ever fleshed out, the Wolves at least gave us two epic showdowns: “JSS” and “No Way Out.” Season 6 knew how to ramp up the horror and suspense when it counted, counting on a disguised Carol to wipe out an initial wave of Alexandria’s attackers, and eventually drowning the imbalanced community in a sea of walkers. A blood-soaked Carl staring up at his father after taking a bullet to the eye (“Dad?”) remains one of the show’s most chilling shots.

The second batch of eight episodes mostly served as shivers up the spine—various reminders that Negan, the Big Bad to end all Big Bads, was coming. The finale, “Last Day on Earth,” was a masterclass in mounting dread… until it tossed out all the tension with an enraging cliffhanger.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes
Gene Page/AMC

6. Season 9

After Season 8, The Walking Dead committed itself to a creative overhaul—and it mostly worked. Angela Kang took over as showrunner. The dialogue relied less on “epic speeches,” eschewing them in favor of characters talking to, rather than at, each other. Daryl spoke in sentences, not grunts! For a show in its ninth go-round, these sixteen episodes did a superb job navigating the loss of a major character in Rick, as well as reminding the audience why they’d fallen in love with the world of walkers in the first place. In every aspect, from the music to the writing and acting, the infamous “pike scene” showed The Walking Dead at levels of terrifying it hadn’t reached in years.

David Morrissey as The Governor
Gene Page/AMC

5. Season 3

The Walking Dead’s third season is perhaps best remembered in chunks of two words. The prison. The Governor (David Morrissey). Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) dies. Michonne appears. The Woodbury arc certainly had its detractors, with many decrying the massive shift in Andrea’s (Laurie Holden) character as compared to the comics—and her odd arc ending in one of the show’s most controversial deaths. Yet, setting aside some strangeness, when Season 3 shines, it really shines. The initial conquering of the prison still offers plenty of thrills and chills, David Morrissey remains one of the show’s best actors for his turn as the villainous Governor, and Michael Rooker’s Merle Dixon gets a redemption arc that ends in one of the show’s saddest scenes. Poor Daryl!

the walking dead season 5 group

4. Season 5

To remember Season 5 is to call up its unforgettable premiere, “No Sanctuary.” If it’s not the show’s best episode, it’s certainly top five… or even top three. Between Rick and pals fighting their way out of Terminus’ deadly cannibal compound and a fully transformed Carol burning the place to the ground to save her friends, the episode sweeps through tension, terror and genuine emotion with aplomb. Whether they were taking down the last of the Termites or pulling some carefully weighed deception in Alexandria, “the group” was never stronger or tougher than in Season 5. Character beats—save for the clunky Grady Memorial storyline—mostly land, and Morgan’s (Lennie James) appearance at the very end elicited cheers from fans who’d waited to see him since Season 1.

the walking dead season 2 group

3. Season 2

There’s an argument to be made that Season 2, and not 7 or 8, is the slowest season of The Walking Dead. We’d suggest there’s a pronounced difference between “Seasons 7-8 slow” and “Season 2 slow.” While not packed with action, Season 2 devoted its breathing room not to slow-motion shots or cringeworthy attempts at humor, but to fleshing out its characters and building relationships. It cemented The Walking Dead’s longest-standing fan-favorite bond in Daryl and Carol, and it introduced another essential survivor in Lauren Cohan‘s Maggie Rhee (back then, she was Maggie Greene). The heartbreaking barn scene alone earns it a high ranking on this list, as does Shane’s (Jon Bernthal) masterfully portrayed descent into villainy.

Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) - The Walking Dead - Season 4, Episode 10
Gene Page/AMC

2. Season 4

From beginning to end, Season 4 always had something to offer. While the “outbreak” storyline hit a little too close to home during the pandemic, back in 2013, it made for truly enrapturing TV. It gave us Carol’s oft-tragic metamorphosis from abused housewife into hardened survivor; this was, after all, the season in which she killed two people in an attempt to stop the spreading disease, got exiled from the group for that decision, and then had to kill a psychopathic child she’d semi-adopted as her daughter. (Carol went through it in Season 4.) “Too Far Gone” formed rivers of tears as it toppled the prison, killed off the beloved Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) in gruesome fashion, and split up the group for a second half that culminated in the nail-biter finale, “A.”

the walking dead season 1

1. Season 1

There’s simply no topping the original. “Days Gone Bye” is a phenomenal Pilot episode, brimming over with suspense, horror and raw emotion. The first six episodes showed both the dead and the living as true enemies and expertly set the tone for everything to come. (Plus, it featured some of the franchise’s most iconic walkers.) Rick might’ve been sorry for what happened to the “Bicycle Girl” walker, but we’re glad we got to witness this show’s incredible journey.