'Walking Dead': Ranking All the Bloody and Deadly Finales

10:15 AM 12/13/2016

by Josh Wigler and Lesley Goldberg

From season one's CDC explosion all the way through the season 10A finale, THR takes a look at which ones had the most impact.

The Walking Dead - Season 6, Episode 16 -Still 2-Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan-H 2016
Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: Massive Walking Dead spoilers through season 10A are ahead.]

Given how its seasons are structured, AMC's The Walking Dead often feels like it's starting and stopping all the time. It's sometimes best to view the zombie series on an eight-episode basis, measuring it by half-season, rather than the full 16-episode order. The show is often defined by arcs — the time spent on Hershel's farm, the time spent in Woodbury, the time spent on the road after the prison's fall — and just as often close those arcs with explosive midseason and proper season finales. 

And then there are the finales where Beth (Emily Kinney) gets shot in the head and nothing makes sense.

As is often the case with Walking Dead, the show's growing catalog of finale episodes is a mixed bag of incredibly exciting chapters and serious head-scratchers. Here are our rankings of these episodes, from the very first year's CDC explosion all the way through the midseason 10 finale.

  1. 18


    Between the Terminus escape and the subsequent cannibal cleansing, season five of The Walking Dead came out of the gate with three of its strongest episodes ever. And then came the hospital story. Every moment spent back in Atlanta amounted to very little (save for introducing Tyler James Williams' Noah, memorably and graphically eaten by walkers later in the season), culminating in Beth's (Emily Kinney) absolutely baffling execution by a crooked cop. Few episodes have crushed momentum quite like this one.

  2. 17

    "Start to Finish"

    With the exception of the 90-minute Morgan (Lennie James) flashback, the entire first half of season six played out over the course of a single day, a 24-hour period so bad that Jack Bauer wouldn't go anywhere near it. Despite what the episode's title implies, "Start to Finish" did not result in the end of the day; it stopped just as poor Sam started crying out for his mom, cookie monster nightmares running through his head. As with "Coda," another incredible momentum killer.

  3. 16

    "Hearts Still Beating"

    Following a fractured first half of season seven, in which the zombie drama set up new communities including the Hilltop and Kingdom — as well as Negan's Sanctuary — season seven ended its first eight episodes with a big comic book moment, even though the writing had been on the wall from the start. Negan gutting Spencer (Austin Nichols) was a big moment for comic book loyalists and Olivia's (Ann Mahoney) death was surprising in its suddenness. In addition to the big comic book moment, the episode's other big saving grace was finally rebuilding Rick up to the point where he's ready to go to battle against Negan and his Saviors in the second half of season seven. Who's ready for All Out War? Every single viewer of this show. 

  4. 15

    "Last Day on Earth"

    Call it the worst cliffhanger ever: Season six ended with 11 series regulars left on their knees before Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), as the new villain is introduced in a supersized and super-manipulative season finale. Whether it was the repetitive nature of the episode with Rick's group trying to get around the Saviors or the fact that the show's legion of dedicated viewers were left to spend all summer wondering if the drama would follow the events of the comic (it did), "Last Day on Earth" redefined "baiting." 

  5. 14


    Rick's mercy prevails over his wrath as he decides not to kill Negan and the Saviors in one fell swoop. Instead, he invites his enemies to join him in building a better tomorrow, while Negan himself will be forced to rot in a prison cell for the rest of his life. It's among the more hopeful and optimistic finales in Walking Dead history... but is it earned? The preceding episodes of full-blown violence suggest otherwise. Credit where it's due: Eugene (Josh McDermitt) finally returning to the right side of the fight with his rigged bullets will go down as one of the show's most entertaining plot twists. Otherwise, the season eight finale is a subdued affair, if mostly inoffensive.

  6. 13

    "Pretty Much Dead Already"

    Walking Dead fans tend to come down on two different sides of season two's midseason finale. On one hand, it finally resolved the situation with Sophia (Madison Lintz). On the other hand, she was right there in the barn the entire time. Both satisfying and frustrating all in one turn, "Pretty Much Dead Already" is pretty much The Walking Dead in a nutshell.

  7. 12

    "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life"

    Following a rather exhausting seventh season in which Rick and company rallied the troops from the Hilltop and Kingdom in a bid to take down Negan, the communities finally converged in the finale which set up the long-awaited "All-Out War" arc from the comics. While Sonequa Martin-Green's casting in Star Trek: Discovery meant Sasha's fate was pretty much a given, seeing the character turn into a walker in a bid to take down Negan was worth it. It was only the second time the show featured a single walker in an episode since Dale (Jeff DeMunn) turned in season two.

  8. 11

    "The World Before"

    The gang goes looking for the Whisperers' herd. The gang finds the herd — and by the way in which the discovery is made, one imagines the gang wishes it didn't go down this path. The midseason ten finale ends with Daryl, Carol and several other fan-favorite figures in a subterranean chamber surrounded by way too many walkers for comfort. Will they get out of their predicament alive? Hard to imagine they won't, which is why the midseason finale rates relatively low for now: a relative lack of stakes at the moment. Should the series return and take some major swings at major players? Depending on the execution, it could move the needle one way or the other. Regardless, the episode scores additional points for some harrowing scenes surrounding Dante — namely, his fight against Rosita, and his death at the hands of Father Gabriel.

  9. 10

    "How It's Gotta Be"

    It's not quite the final hurrah for Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), but the hour is drawing near. Rick's fearsome son leads his fellow Alexandrians to safety in the dark midseason eight finale (dark both in terms of the grim content as well as the dimly lit sequences), all while secretly nursing a zombie bite he incurred two episodes earlier. As shocking as it is to begin the process of losing Carl, the way in which he's leaving the show — killed by a zombie bite we're only learning about in hindsight, two episodes after the fact — is reminiscent of the dumpster drama with Glenn in season six; an unfair way to play with viewers in order to maximize shock factor. With that said, Carl's looming death is undoubtedly the biggest deviation from the comic books in Walking Dead lore. The initial impact of learning about his fate won't wash away anytime soon.

  10. 9


    The Whisperers have officially arrived. Among the deadliest enemies in the Walking Dead canon, wearing human skin suits in order to blend in with the dead, the Whisperers made their debut in a horrifying display of tactical violence. The result: the death of Jesus (Tom Payne), a major deviation from the source material, and one that's bound to upset fans of the comics and the show-only crowd in equal measure. The controversial demise aside, the Whisperers' first act of war is one that sets the stage for several deadlier acts still to come.


  11. 8

    "Made to Suffer"

    Comic book fans waited for Michonne (Danai Gurira) to get her hands on the Governor (David Morrissey) all season long, and when the violent confrontation finally played out, it did not disappoint. Season three paused down on a pretty compelling cliffhanger, too, putting long lost Dixon brothers Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Merle (Michael Rooker) in the same space together since season one. 

  12. 7


    Rick Grimes knows what it takes to survive in the zombie apocalypse. The people of Alexandria don't. He illustrates this lesson when a walker accidentally sneaks into the community, killing the thing and proving to the people why he's so valuable. He even goes the extra mile and kills the unfriendly neighborhood drunk doctor, who himself had just killed Deanna Monroe's (Torvah Feldshuh) husband. A violent but contemplative ending to easily one of the show's best seasons, hospital drama notwithstanding.

  13. 6

    "Welcome to the Tombs"

    The season three finale had the biggest detour from Robert Kirkman's source material when series regular Laurie Holden's Andrea — who [spoiler alert!] is still alive in the comics and ranks as Rick's love interest — was shockingly killed off. The writing for Andrea's dismissal had sadly been on the wall all season long when the former civil rights attorney opted to side with the Governor and stay at Woodbury, turning her nose up at Rick's group at the prison. Despite warnings from Michonne (Danai Gurira), Andrea winds up locked in a room with Milton (Dallas Roberts) whom the Governor (David Morrissey) kills and leaves to do the same to Andrea. Knowing that she's going to die from Milton's bite, Andrea ultimately takes her own life. For comic book loyalists, this one is atop the list of shockers. Her death set the stage for Rick's romance with Michonne, leaving a major void for the show to fill.

  14. 5


    The season one finale is Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman's biggest regret of the entire TV franchise. Noah Emmerich's CDC doc Edwin Jenner whispers to a very young and optimistic Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) that everyone is already infected and will "turn" after death (unless suffering from a head injury) defined the rules of the new world. Of course, it was a secret that Rick would hold for a few episodes and use to help establish the so-called Ricktatorship. "It possibly gave away too much information and was such a big change very early on in the series," Kirkman told THR.


  15. 4

    "Beside the Dying Fire"

    We'll say this much for The Walking Dead: The drama knows how to introduce a long-awaited character. Unlike Negan's arrival at the end of season six, Michonne's introduction in the sophomore run's finale was used to push the story forward in a big way. In addition to Rick finally revealing to the rest of the survivors that everyone was already infected, Michonne was introduced as a way to offset the hopelessness of Jenner's big secret. Plus the episode finally got the group away from Hershel's farm with an explosive fire and zombie attack. This finale had everything.

  16. 3


    Now this is how you do a cliffhanger: toss Rick Grimes and every single one of his companions into a train car with no discernible way of escape, punctuated by Rick's accurate battle cry: "They're screwing with the wrong people." (Not as good as the uncensored version of the line, but still a great parting shot.) There's no suspense about head-bashings or whodunnit, only the uncertainty of what's going to happen next, and the equal certainty that Rick will figure something out, like he always does. The episode scores bonus points for Rick biting out a bad guy's throat, high on the list of the show's most savage kills.

  17. 2

    "The Storm"

    After nine years on television, few fans expected Walking Dead to delve into a snowstorm, despite the frozen walkers glimpsed in the early days of Robert Kirkman's comic books. But showrunner Angela Kang never forgot about the wintery arc, modernize the story for her time-jumped season nine finale. The result: an emotional and elemental episode that picks up the pieces from the heartbreaking (and head-lopping) "The Calm Before." "The Storm" is as visually distinct as it gets in the world of the Dead, a mournful episode that embodies the strongest qualities of Kang's inaugural year as showrunner — easily the highest-quality Walking Dead run since the AMC drama's prison days.

  18. 1

    "Too Far Gone"

    Before Negan came along and clubbed Glenn to death, the Governor's assault on the prison was the single most iconic moment from the Walking Dead comic books, resulting in several main character deaths and untold amounts of minor character casualties. The show's version did not disappoint, delivering with stunning kills (rest in peace, Hershel), propulsive speed and an extraordinary sense of dread as Rick and his people are scattered to the nine winds. If you're looking for Walking Dead at its best, an episode that satisfies the comic book diehards and the show-only crowd alike, look no further.