'Walking Dead': Every Season Premiere, Ranked

8:00 AM 2/13/2017

by Josh Wigler

From Rick's awakening through the season 10B premiere, THR runs down the best opening episodes in the zombie drama's history.


A cowboy rides his horse along an abandoned highway. Days later, that same highway is crawling with the dead. Months later, the cowboy and his posse battle their way into a prison. Months after that, the prison is a picturesque sanctuary — and it's burned to ashes within weeks.

The list of vivid images from the Walking Dead season premieres stretches on and on. Just like the show's various season finales, the AMC zombie drama's premieres can be a mixed bag — but the highs are just about as high as it ever gets when it comes to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and the rest.

Here are our rankings of the Walking Dead season premieres, current through the season 10B premiere.

  • "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be"

    Season 7A

    Gene Page/AMC

    After teasing Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) arrival for multiple seasons, AMC finally introduced the character in what was poised to be an epic season six finale. Intsead, the season ended with a cliffhanger, leaving the fate of Negan's victim(s) to be revealed months later, much to the audience's chagrin. What resulted was an over-stuffed season seven premiere that revealed the show was indeed remaining loyal to the comics by killing Glenn and putting a remix on the source material by also killing Abraham, confirming multiple leaked reports that surfaced over the long break. The episode was also criticized for its excessive violence and generally opened the season on a sour note, critically speaking. — Lesley Goldberg

  • "Nebraska"

    Season 2B

    Gene Page/AMC

    Season two returns from its midseason break with the charge of dealing with the Sophia (Madison Lintz) of it all, and it's... fine? Unmemorable, really, except for the final scene at the bar where Rick is forced to kill two strangers in cold blood — his first human kills of the series, initial police shootout in the pilot notwithstanding. Among the murdered: Dave, played by Michael Raymond-James of True Blood, Terriers and Once Upon a Time fame.

  • "The Suicide King"

    Season 3B

    Tina Rowden/AMC

    Another midseason premiere with only a few memorable moments, including the long awaited Dixon brothers reunion, and Rick's continued descent into madness as he sees ghostly visions of his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) roaming throughout the prison. Not a bad episode, but a mostly forgettable one.

  • "Mercy"

    Season 8A

    Courtesy of AMC

    One hundred episodes. It's a heck of a milestone for any show. The season eight premiere honors the 99 episodes that came before with some acknowledgements of its own past, including Carl effectively walking in his father's foot steps as he enters a gas station that looks eerily similar to the one from the pilot, as well as Negan and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) trapped inside a trailer with an aerial view that mirrors the shot of the tank in Atlanta from the pilot. There's another bit of fan service in the form of curious flash-forwards, teasing at a time jump comic book fans have anticipated for several seasons now. Outside of these winks and nods, "Mercy" mostly centers on chaotic violence, with Rick and friends firing aimlessly at the Sanctuary, when a little more tact might have ended this war with a single bullet. Making it to episode 100 is certainly an accomplishment, but there's a rushed feeling to the occasion that causes "Mercy" to fall a little flat.

  • "Squeeze"

    Season 10B

    Jace Downs/AMC

    An easy last place for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia, "Squeeze" otherwise ranks as a solidly mid-tier Walking Dead episode, if ultimately a lower-tier premiere. It's action-oriented, assuming you can make out the action; Daryl and friends are trapped underground with Alpha's Whisperer horde, and they undertake many convoluted maneuvers to see the light of day — and the maneuvers don't quite work out for everyone involved. Meanwhile, Alpha and Negan have sex, and no one's going to let you forget about it anytime soon.

  • "30 Days Without an Accident"

    Season 4A

    Gene Page/AMC

    Is this the most peaceful episode of The Walking Dead ever? It just might be, at least up to that point in the show's history — and that's even with the added scenes of Rick joining a deranged stranger in the woods for her final days on Earth, plus the supermarket raid gone wrong. Seeing the prison community up and at them, actively carving their way in the world, provides early shades of what the Alexandria days will eventually look like.

  • "After"

    Season 4B

    Gene Page/AMC

    It's all Carl (Chandler Riggs), all the time, or at least most of the time; there's some compelling Michonne (Danai Gurira) action in there as well, as she slays a small cluster of walkers. But the meat of the hour (or should that be the pudding of the hour) belongs to Carl, forced to keep watch over his badly beaten up father, in the wake of losing the prison, baby Judith, and the rest of their friends.

  • "No Way Out"

    Season 6B

    Gene Page/AMC

    The timing of the episode was a bit of a letdown, as most comic book readers expected these big moments to play out in the midseason six finale. Instead, it happens here: Jesse and her family devoured by walkers, Carl's eye incident, the Alexandrians beating back the walkers through sheer force of will... a testament to how well they can work together as long as they, you know, work together.

  • "What Happened and What's Going On"

    Season 5B

    Gene Page/AMC

    After Beth's (Emily Kinney) senseless death in the midseason five finale, the show returns with yet another main character death: Tyreese (Chad Coleman), killed via zombie bite and subsequent infection. It's a mournful and soulful episode as Tyreese, the guy with the biggest heart in the group, comes to peace with his fate, played off this mortal coil by a who's who of ghosts from the past.

  • "What Lies Ahead"

    Season 2A

    Gene Page/AMC

    The season two premiere features an iconic moment from the comics: Carl getting shot, facilitating the group's discovery of Hershel's farm. The less said about that place, the better. But it's an intense beginning to the season at least, thanks to an incredible set piece with walkers converging upon our survivors, trapped on a jammed-up highway.

  • "Lines We Cross"

    Season 10A

    Courtesy of AMC

    The tenth season — count 'em, ten seasons! — begins with a bang: a Russian satellite crashes onto Earth and escalates border dispute tensions between the Alexandria Safe-Zone and the Whisperers, who have gone sight unseen since beheading the likes of Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon). The result: some elemental action both by the sea and in the depths of a forest fire, with the added bonus of Daryl Dixon chopping down a flaming tree with a throwing axe. True story! It's a tense, action-packed way to launch into a season filled with paranoia and vengeance, not to mention the beginning of the end for Danai Gurira's time as Michonne.

  • "Rock in the Road"

    Season 7B

    Gene Page/AMC

    The first half of season seven was such a disastrously bleak slog that any subsequent drop of joy would have been a sight for sore eyes. Thankfully, the midseason premiere is positively oozing with joy. Among the highlights: Rick's trip to the Kingdom, the radio eulogy for Fat Joey, and the Fast and Furious inspired highway clothesline. Compared to the eight episodes that came before it, "Rock in the Road" is a welcome return to form for Walking Dead — however long that lasts.

  • "A New Beginning"

    Season 9A

    Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

    It's an appropriately titled episode, given what it's setting up: the beginning of an era without Rick Grimes. As The Walking Dead prepares to say goodbye to Andrew Lincoln, "A New Beginning," from new showrunner Angela Kang, sets new stories into motion: a time-jumped rush into the future of Alexandria, as civilization slowly marches back from the brink of destruction. Following the intense violence and despair that defined so much of seasons seven and eight, the season nine premiere is a welcome breath of fresh air, setting the tone for what The Walking Dead might become in the years ahead.

  • "Adaptation"

    Season 9B

    Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

    Whisperer Queen Alpha (Samantha Morton) makes her debut, stepping out of the pages of the comic books and into frightening light, shotgun in hand. Really, it's the full coming out party for the Whisperers en masse, as director Greg Nicotero unleashes a brand new kind of monster upon the world of The Walking Dead, one that directly impacts the show's storytelling structure. Case in point: Daryl and Michonne luring a sect of walkers onto a bridge, dealing with the battle in a way designed to ferret out the Whisperers. If this is the first stage of a brand new era of Walking Dead, it's a bright era indeed — even if there's the very valid argument that it's all coming "too little, too late."

  • "Seed"

    Season 3A

    Gene Page/AMC

    The prison is the single most iconic location from the comic books, the source of so many highs and lows for Rick and his group. So purely from a comic fan's perspective, watching Rick and everyone rip their way into this new compound was an enormously satisfying experience, a fiery way to hop back into Walking Dead after its meandering second season.

  • "First Time Again"

    Season 6A

    Gene Page/AMC

    There's nothing quite like a hair-brained Rick Grimes scheme in action. The season six premiere takes that notion and blows it up bigger than ever before, as Rick leads the Alexandrians through an operation to lead a massive herd of walkers away from their community. It does not go well, but it's enormously entertaining to behold — even if the high concept of the subsequent seven episodes, which all take place within the same 24-hour span (the Morgan flashback notwithstanding), is a bit of a misfire.

  • "Honor"

    Season 8B

    Gene Page/AMC

    Goodbye, Carl Grimes. Rick's son departs the world of The Walking Dead in an incredibly emotional (and extra long) episode, featuring Chandler Riggs' finest work in the series without peer. The biggest shift from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book series to date, Carl's death leaves Walking Dead viewers with several unanswered questions about the show's future. For the purposes of this episode, the answers matter less than the immediate impact of Carl's departure, which is played tastefully and meaningfully all the way through, some lingering irritation about the circumstances leading up to Carl's death notwithstanding. With that said, "Honor" loses a few points for tonal dissonance, as the sad and mournful death of Carl runs completely counter to the episode's parallel storyline: Morgan (Lennie James) diving deeper into madness, delivering his most violent streak in the entire series so far by far. Compelling action, sure, but incredibly jarring when compared to the emotional core of the episode.

  • "No Sanctuary"

    Season 5A

    Gene Page/AMC

    "How the heck are they going to get out of that train car?" It was the question on every Walking Dead fan's mind following season four's cliffhanger ending. The show answered the question with a resounding boom, shooting up Terminus to smithereens and launching season five with an incredible boost of adrenaline. As a bonus, if episodes like "The Grove" didn't already prove her worth, Carol (Melissa McBride) became one of the show's single most essential characters following the Terminus rescue mission.

  • "Days Gone Bye"

    Season 1


    It's the one that started it all, and still the high watermark for season premieres. It's a thoughtful and intense introduction to the world of the dead, packed with powerful performances from Andrew Lincoln as Rick and Lennie James as Morgan. The slow crawl through the hospital, the gut-pulling ambush in Atlanta, the Bicycle Girl of it all... no matter how much Walking Dead has crawled forward in recent years, there's no denying the sheer power of this very first episode.