The Walking Dead is set to end in 2022 – but it’s not done yet. Over two-dozen episodes still remain, but news of its conclusion gives us a good excuse as any to look back at the crème de la crème of the post-apocalyptic hit AMC series.
From 2010’s first season which redefined what we could expect from genre television, through to Rick Grimes’ explosive exit, there have been plenty of episodes that will live long in the memory.
Common logic – and fan reaction – would suggest that the best days of The Walking Dead are behind it. While this rundown of the best Walking Dead episodes very much sticks to the first half of the show’s run, there are still a handful of classic episodes from recent years well worth seeking out. We highlight them here, as well as episodes every Walking Dead fan, new and old, should be watching in celebration of a series that dared to be different.
15. "Scars" (season 9, episode 14)
Coming late in the show's ninth season, "Scars" takes place after The Walking Dead’s well-worked time jump, which allowed the show's characters to emotionally develop without having to show every minor event in their lives on screen.
The scars of the episode's title are both literal and metaphorical. In flashbacks, we see that Daryl and Michonne are mentally wounded after Rick's death as they go out searching for the hero's remains. However, they are soon captured, with the episode coming to a head with a scene that ranks up the show’s most harrowing – what we'll call the "Michonne massacre" to avoid spoilers.
After the doldrums of the Negan years, this is the show reborn once more, bursting at the seams with fresh ideas and instantly iconic moments.
14. "The Calm Before" (season 9, episode 15)
The pike episode... The One Where Everyone Dies.... Call it what you will, "The Calm Before" is proof that the Whisperers, despite only having been around for a few episodes, deserve a place on the Mount Rushmore of Walking Dead villains.
While the episode’s first half – a B-plot about a film screening – may not be particularly tense, it acts as the perfect window dressing for the horror to come. Alpha and her Walker-skinned gang soon close in on our survivors and deliver a gut-punch unlike any other. At first, as you see Siddiq tied to a tree, you may think the show has, once again, pulled back from the abyss. It doesn’t. Instead, several of the ensemble cast are murdered, their heads displayed on pikes and lined up as a makeshift border across Whisperer territory. This is The Walking Dead at its brutal, excruciating best.
13. "A" (season 4, episode 16)
Some episodes belong here simply because they either shook the show’s foundations or delivered devastating deaths. "A", the season 4 finale, belongs here because of neither. There are no beheadings, no baseball bat bludgeonings – just a group of people who have suffered through four seasons of torment and are no longer going to take things lying down.
Rick’s final speech, despite being trapped in a boxcar in Terminus, is immensely cathartic – even if the F-bomb was cut for syndication. As the camera flits between each individual, from Daryl and Sasha, to newcomers Tara, Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita, it feels like the beginning of a new era in The Walking Dea; one which, as we came to learn, is filled with a steely determination and a desire to do the right thing, no matter the cost.
12. "TS-19" (season 1, episode 6)
"TS-19" is unlike any Walking Dead episode for one reason: there's actual hope of a cure being made. Only six episodes in, The Walking Dead provides a chastening, unique reminder of the irreversible post-apocalyptic world which the group inhabits.
The episode takes place entirely in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where Rick meets the sole surviving scientist Edwin Jenner. Soon enough, the bottle claustrophobic environment starts to weigh on the group, and, as the scramble for a solution to the undead pandemic begins to look hopeless, Rick and Edwin butt heads. It’s one of Andrew Lincoln’s most commanding early performances, as he starts to grow into the well-worn cowboy boots of Rick Grimes. The explosive final scene put everyone at home on notice – and placed The Walking Dead firmly at the top of many people’s must-watch list that year.
11. "No Sanctuary" (season 5, episode 1)
The immediate follow-up to “A” does not mess around. In the space of an hour, "No Sanctuary" squeezes in more fist-pumping moments and fan-favourite reconciliations than most seasons achieve in 13 episodes.
Rick is reunited with Judith, Carol completes her transformation into full-on badass, and the group takes down the cannibals who held them captive at the tail-end of season 4. It’s an episode filled with action but, unlike some later seasons, all of it is meaningful as it adds extra dimensions to each character.
While the fifth season would eventually falter somewhat by the time the survivors reach Alexandria, "No Sanctuary" races out of the blocks and proved that, in a packed Peak TV landscape that, at the time, included the likes of Game of Thrones and Mad Men, The Walking Dead could still slug it out with the best of them.
10. "What Comes After" (season 9, episode 5)
It’s hard to say goodbye. While The Walking Dead may conclude for a long, long time to come, this is as close – and perhaps as perfect – an ending as we'll get for the foreseeable future.
Rick's on his last legs and, thanks to some lucid dreaming, goes on one more trip down memory lane. Not only do the flashbacks serve as a proper goodbye for the show’s leading man, but they are also well-measured fan service for those who have followed his eight-year journey. The best scene, amid the handful of returns, involves Scott Wilson, who plays Herschel. The actor passed away just weeks before the episode aired, making this final farewell all the more poignant.
9. "Better Angels" (season 2, episode 12)
Shane and Rick were never going to kiss and make up. It’s not in their nature. The two alpha males eventually lock horns in the tense penultimate episode of The Walking Dead’s second season, which takes place on Hershel’s farm while an army of Walkers closes in.
In many ways, this is the show’s Red Wedding. Sure, the body count's nowhere near as high as that infamous Game of Thrones episode, but "Better Angels" is the moment you realise no one is ever safe on The Walking Dead, not even the leads. After Shane dies, Carl shoots his re-animated corpse through the head, helpfully elevating Chandler Riggs from background child actor to bonafide star – a role he would seize without skipping a beat.
8. "Conquer" (season 5, episode 16)
Arguably one of the most overlooked episodes in the show’s run, "Conquer" is a pressure cooker of a season finale, letting several tensions boil over as Alexandrians run amok, left, right and centre.
Chief among them is Rick. Fresh from being rightly slapped silly by Michonne in the previous episode, Rick eventually escapes the threat of exile thanks to Pete murdering Reg, the husband of Alexandria's leader. That, coupled with Sasha and Gabriel’s tense stand-off, plus Glenn and Nicholas’ showdown, makes for a perfect example of pacing done right. Everything comes to the fore here, and it’s done in such a way that you’re unlikely to take a breath during the 64-minute runtime.