'The Walking Dead': Every Season, Ranked

12:00 PM 10/16/2017

by Josh Wigler

From Rick Grimes' wakeup call through the start of 'All-Out War,' here's how The Hollywood Reporter ranks the years in 'Dead.'

Gene Page/AMC

Several days have gone by since "Days Gone Bye." More than two thousand, in fact. That's a lot of trips around the sun since The Walking Dead became a global phenomenon, and that's not even accounting for when the comic books from Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard first burst into existence.

Since those days, the AMC zombie apocalypse has grown and grown, introducing countless new characters at a rapid pace, and killing many of them off just as quickly. The show that exists through seven seasons, featuring Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his companions breaking out into war against a group of humans more monstrous than the flesh-hungry undead, is a far cry from the show that existed at the start of this adventure, when the only thing that mattered was reuniting a hopeful law enforcement officer with his estranged family.

As Walking Dead prepares to celebrate its 100th episode with the launch of season eight, we're taking one last look back at everything that's come before. With that in mind, here's how The Hollywood Reporter ranks the seven seasons of The Walking Dead, from worst to best. 

The Walking Dead returns Oct. 22.

  1. 7

    Season 6

    Best Episode: "JSS"

    Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

    Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) versus the dumpster would have been enough to place the sixth season of The Walking Dead at the bottom of our rankings on its own. Same deal with the arrival of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a hallmark moment from the comics that was gravely overshadowed by the unnecessary cliffhanger focused on "who got the bat," taking the emphasis away from the much hyped villain proper. Take these two major misfires and combine them with the sluggish pace of the first eight episodes of the season — which all take place over the course of one very bad day — and you're left with the decisively weakest year in Walking Dead lore.

  2. 6

    Season 7

    Best Episode: "Rock in the Road"

    Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

    The seventh and most recent season of Walking Dead does not fare much better than its immediate predecessor, unfortunately. The brutal and bleak season premiere plays out almost as torture porn following the grueling wait to identify Negan's victim, and it's not helped out by the similarly torturous tone of the subsequent seven episodes. The action picks up starting in the back half of the season, once Rick and his allies decide it's time to stand up against the Saviors — but even then, the show remains steeped in heaps of trouble, quite literally with the arrival of Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and the Heapsters, among the most divisive characters in the franchise's history.

  3. 5

    Season 2

    Best Episode: "Better Angels"

    Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

    There are Walking Dead fans who swear by the show's second season, which spends virtually its entire run on the Greene family farm. While it might hold up better in full-blown binge mode, the week-to-week experience of watching Team Family run around in circles searching for Sophia (Madison Lintz), when she was secretly zombified in the nearby barn the whole time, was pretty painful. The behind-the-scenes woes involving the Frank Darabont shakeup are clearly evident in a season that never quite knows what it's doing, even if the final ride with Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) stands out as some of the show's most compelling character work.

  4. 4

    Season 3

    Best Episode: "Clear"

    Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

    Forgiving some pacing issues in the Woodbury side of the story, the third season of Walking Dead moved the show into some of the most iconic territory from the comic: the newly discovered prison and its struggle against the Governor (David Morrissey), the most notable nemesis in the source material short of Negan. Season three features one of the series' most shocking deaths in the form of Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) only four episodes into the year, not to mention one of the most unexpectedly emotional demises several episodes later when Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) makes his last stand. What's more, season three plays host to "Clear," the riveting Morgan Jones (Lennie James) comeback, among the best episodes in seven seasons of Walking Dead.

  5. 3

    Season 1

    Best Episode: "Guts"

    Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

    The one that started it all. Revisiting the first season of Walking Dead, it almost feels like watching a completely different show. The zombies operate at a different level, able to scale fences at certain points. The cast is almost completely foreign, with only five actors still on the show through seven seasons. The Vatos storyline remains one of the weirdest subplots in the show's run, but that aside, it's a compelling and compact season, clocking in at a mere six episodes. Darabont's influence is apparent all through the arc, a powerful reminder of his singular voice in the horror genre.

  6. 2

    Season 4

    Best Episode: "The Grove"

    Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

    There are few better moments in Walking Dead history than the fall of the prison, which sees poor Hershel (Scott Wilson) losing his head just as the Governor fully loses his mind — and his life, just a few minutes later. The back half of the season features some of the show's strongest episodes as the cast is scattered to the winds, forced out on the road for the first time in more than a season. If season four gave us nothing else, it produced "The Grove," the Melissa McBride breakout episode that deserves its place in the conversation of top five episodes in the whole Walking Dead catalogue.

  7. 1

    Season 5

    Best Episode: "No Sanctuary"

    Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

    The McBride show continues straight away in the fifth and best season of The Walking Dead, as the show kicked off with its most propulsive and compact arc to date: the swift fall of Terminus and Rick's righteous dismantling of the cannibal cult. The Grady Hospital storyline is not great (perhaps "not GREATM" would be more appropriate), but literally everything else about this season captures the spirit of Walking Dead at its best: the moving death of golden-hearted Tyreese (Chad Coleman), the brutal evisceration of newcomer Noah (Tyler James Williams), the iconic arrival at Alexandria, and the epic team-up moment as Team Family bands together in the thick of a storm to keep a horde of walkers from destroying everything. Pound for pound, season five takes the top prize every day of the week.